Child victims of sexual abuse have safe place

The Western Slope Center for Children expects to see 300 victims of sexual abuse come through its doors at 259 Grand Ave. this year.

The child advocacy center provides a comforting environment for children who have been abused to be interviewed, seek therapy or be examined for sexual assault.

Shari Zen, executive director of the center, said sexual abuse of children is a horrific topic. But the more people educate themselves about the issue, the more Zen believes child victims will be able to get the help they need.

“Knowledge is power. The more we know, the more we can help,” she said.

Child sexual abuse has been in the news since former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested Nov. 5 on suspicion of molesting eight boys. Kendra Dunn, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Colorado, said she expects national attention surrounding the story will spur more children and adults to disclose sexual abuse.

That’s good, according to Dunn, because many children never tell anyone they have been abused.

“If (abusers) are not confronted, they will often continue to re-offend for years and years. Penn State is an example of that,” Dunn said.

There are signs of sexual abuse that a family member, friend or neighbor can watch for, according to Donna Bennett, co-chairwoman for Mesa County child-abuse-prevention program How Are the Children?

Bennett said some signals may indicate another problem, but signs a child may be experiencing sexual abuse or is in a situation that may lead to abuse include:

a child who was outgoing suddenly acting withdrawn.

a child protesting or getting ill any time a certain person is present or wants to spend time alone with the child.

an adult spending a disproportionate amount of time with one child.

a child acting sexually precocious.

overly compliant or aggressive behavior in a child.

depression or suicidal talk.

The good news for prevention is a child can indicate discomfort before abuse occurs. Victims know their abusers in nine out of 10 cases, and that person often spends time building up a trusting relationship with the child before touching him or her, Bennett said.

Sometimes a child will talk about abuse in clear terms. Other times it is more subtle.

Zen said the key is for adults to report suspected abuse to 911 or human services.


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