What would we do if young girls in York County had a 25 percent chance of contracting a disease before age 18 that would likely leave them scarred for life? Would we all be sporting dark blue ribbons and would merchants be marketing an array of products in navy blue as they now do for the highly successful pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer awareness that I fully support?
In the U.S., 1 in 8 (12 percent) women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. In York County, 1 in 4 (25 percent) girls and 1 in 6 (17 percent) boys before age 18 will be sexually abused.
Unfortunately, most of the abusers are family members or a person the child depends on for love and care. Sexual assault destroys a child's innocence and usually leaves him or her emotionally scarred for life. The victim's self-worth is often ruined, making normal relationships difficult. Those close to the child are also victimized as they struggle daily to deal with the emotional pain and anguish.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd, keynote speaker at a seminar held April 12 at Heritage Hills in York, stated in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on May 5, 2010, "Sadly, most sexually abused children -- 88 percent -- never come to our attention. Victims might exhibit no physical signs of harm. Fear, secrecy, and intense feelings of shame may prevent children, as well as adults aware of the abuse, from seeking help. Furthermore, assaults often go undetected because most occur in the privacy of the home and in the absence of witnesses."
The damage to the child cannot be undone, even when the sexual predator is punished. Therefore we must focus on prevention. We all have a moral obligation to do more, not less, for our children. This lesson came to light in the recent Penn State University scandal. The rights of innocent children must always be a higher priority than the reputation of any institution or any prominent member of our community.
Our local newspapers are to be lauded for not only their relentless coverage of the Jerry Sandusky case, but more importantly for their constant efforts to educate the public on the tragic ramifications of sexual abuse and regularly publishing the ChildLine number -- 1-800-932-0313. It is important to store the number in cell phones so that anyone can anonymously report any type of suspected child abuse.
For confidential victim counseling, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred, call 1-800-422-4453 or visit www.childhelp.org.
-- Beverly A. Hogan is a member of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of York County.