Op-Ed

Fight child abuse with facts, not with fear

Gary Bentley
Gary Bentley

Education is the first step to success and understanding, except in the case of a former Boyd County high school teacher. This is only one case of many in which someone whom our children are told to look up to and obey has been accused of sexually assaulting a minor.

We must educate our children at very early ages to know and understand their personal space, proper relationships between adults and children, and about sexual conversation and behavior.

We also as adults must educate ourselves on the truths of sexual abuse, not only for children but for ourselves.

I have a lovely daughter who, at the age of only six, was able to open my eyes to the lack of education I had given her about child abuse and the world in which she lives.

It was a beautiful day as I walked her to the park. As we crossed the street, a man standing at the corner of the block waiting on traffic waved and said, “It’s a lovely day to be outside isn’t it?”

I waved and gave a polite reply. Then instantly my daughter tugged on my hand and looked up to me and said, “Daddy, you shouldn’t have waved at that man. He’s a stranger.”

This was a simple but very poignant notion that caused my reaction to this subtle sign of fear from my daughter. We have been taught from a young age, across many generations, to be wary of strangers.

We have been teaching our children to fear those they do not know and more often than not the people whom the parents do not understand.

The problem is that we’re not educating our children with facts and truth, but through fear.

Yes, children should know not to take candy from strangers and not get into cars with them, but three out of four children who are sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well, and who had a relationship with the family.

Looking at the statistics, we should be terrified. One in five girls and one in 20 boys are victims of sexual abuse. As I studied these facts, I felt uneasy with myself and the way I had been educating my daughter. I learned from the U.S. Justice Department’s National Sex Offender Public Website:

▪ 60 percent of abused children are victimized by someone in their social circle of friends and family.

▪ 30 percent of sexually abused children are victimized by someone who knows the family or the child but is not in a close-knit relationship with the family such as a teacher, coach or church member.

▪ Only 10 percent of sexual assaults are committed by strangers.

These numbers prove that we are misleading our children and are not focusing enough time and attention on education.

We must be comfortable discussing sexual abuse with our children. We must educate them that abuse is not always physical. Abuse happens in many different forms through sexual conversation, voyeurism, exposure and child pornography.

We must give our children knowledge so that they can understand what situations are safe and how to avoid those situations which are unsafe.

We should not be required to live in fear. Children should be offered the convenience of enjoying their childhood while we are responsible for ensuring that they are given the opportunity to grow and develop.

Gary Bentley, a Whitesburg native, lives in Lexington and works in manufacturing. Reach him at garybbentley@gmail.com

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