Men in My Town

Keith Smith, Stranger Abduction Sexual Assault Survivor Shares “5 Steps You Can Take to Keep Kids Safe”

Posted in Men in My Town by Keith Smith on August 17, 2014

For more than 15 years, I served as a member of the board of directors of one of New Jersey’s most respected child advocacy agencies providing crisis intervention counseling services to child  victims of sexual abuse, 6 of those 15 years as President of the Board. As I write this article, I’m writing not as a board member, social worker, psychologist or academic. I write this article as an adult male survivor of childhood sexual violence.

Men in My Town by Keith Smith. Based on Actual Events.

In 1974, at the age of 14, I was abducted, beaten and raped by a stranger, a  recidivist, pedophile predator hunting for boys in my childhood hometown of Lincoln, Rhode Island. Although my attacker was arrested and indicted, he never went to trial. He never went to trial because he was brutally beaten to death in the streets of Providence before his court date. Thirty-nine years after his murder, no one has ever been charged with the crime. Men in My Town is my story.

I’m writing not to tell my story, but to share my personal experience and what I’ve learned over the years, to help people understand the personal and societal effects of childhood sexual abuse and to share with you, 5 Steps You Can Take to Keep Kids Safe.

Children who are victims of sexual abuse often resort to inappropriate behaviors to cope as they suffer through physical, emotional, behavioral and social problems directly related to their abuse. Some turn to drugs and alcohol, drop out of school, run away from home, suffer from eating disorders, sleeping disorders, personality disorders, stress, anxiety, depression, disassociation, post-traumatic stress syndrome and life threatening sexually transmitted disease.

Some children have difficulty forming trusting relationships, resort to physical violence, sexual promiscuity and inappropriate and sometimes criminal sexually reactive behavior. Some resort to cutting, self-mutilation and in the most extreme cases they’ve murdered their abuser while others contemplate, attempt or commit suicide.

Directly attributable to their sexual abuse, victims often suffer these enduring problems throughout their adolescence and into adulthood, many suffering through decades of silence, never disclosing their abuse.

But why not? Why don’t they disclose?

Sexually abused children and adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse remain silent out of misplaced guilt, fear, shame, embarrassment and under threat of violence from their perpetrators, threats of violence directed at the child or their family.  In time, some victims of childhood sexual abuse get the strength to come forward, the strength to speak out, the strength to face the demons that haunt them and the perpetrator of their abuse, while many remain silent, living with the debilitating, destructive side effects forever, never disclosing their abuse to anyone.

It saddens me to say that I believe sex crimes committed against children will never stop. The life altering physical, emotional, behavioral and social side effects of sexual abuse, suffered by children into adulthood, last a lifetime. With the personal and societal cost of childhood sexual abuse so high, it’s necessary for parents, grandparents and anyone with responsibility for the health and safety of a child to be aware of 5 Steps You Can Take to Keep Kids Safe.

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Five Steps You Can Take to Keep Kids Safe

Step 1.       Know the Facts

  • Approximately 30% of children who are sexually abused are abused by blood-relative family members; parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.
  • An incremental 60% of children who are sexually abused are abused by someone known to them, non-family members including neighbors, teachers, coaches, clergy, instructors, camp counselors, baby-sitters, step-parents, older kids in the neighborhood and friends of the family.
  • Fewer than 10% of children who are sexually abused are abused by strangers.
  • Less than 1% of children who are sexually abused are abducted and assaulted by strangers. Although very real, and it happened to me, the “Stranger Danger” risk of a child being abducted and sexually assaulted by a stranger is very low.
  • While “Stranger Danger” abductions and sexual assault are rare, the risk is very high. Odds are 50-50 if a child is abducted and sexually assaulted by a stranger, and the abduction lasts over 3 hours, the child will be murdered.
  • While we teach our kids to be aware of strangers, the facts show that over 90% of sexual assaults perpetrated against children are committed by someone known to the child.  Since that’s the case, the risk you face may not be from the stranger at the park, but from the very person you allow to take your child to the park.

Step 2.       Know the Signs

There are physical, emotional and behavioral signs that could indicate sexual abuse.

  • Physical signs include bruises, swelling, pain, rashes, cuts, bed wetting, self-mutilation, excessive weight gain or excessive weight loss.
  • Emotional signs manifest themselves when a normally happy, healthy, social child suddenly becomes withdrawn, sullen, sad or depressed. Or when a child experiences recurring nightmares, is unable or unwilling to sleep or experiences and discusses thoughts of suicide.
  • Behavioral signs can be seen when a child becomes excessively combative or exceptionally defiant. Some children no longer want to do things they liked to do or no longer want to be with people they liked to spend time with in the past. Behavioral signs can also appear in the form of age inappropriate sexual behavior, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide attempts.
  • Be aware that sometimes there are no signs at all.
  • While the presence of some of these physical, emotional or behavioral signs may be associated with, or dismissed as “adolescence,” we should be aware they are well known, documented warning signs of sexual abuse.

Step 3.       Know What to Do

  • Since over 90% of sex crimes committed against children are committed by either family members or someone known to the child, we should minimize the amount of alone time any child spends in one-on-one situations with an adult.
  • Demand that adults with access to children involved in school, school bus transportation, extracurricular activities, sport programs, summer camps, music, dance, gymnastics, skating or other one-on-one teaching lessons are subject to mandatory background checks.
  • Don’t leave children in the care of adults with known alcohol or drug problems.  Nothing more needs to be said.
  • Understand why a child might not tell. Children remain silent because of manipulation and misplaced guilt, shame, fear and to protect others.  If you suspect abuse and your child won’t tell, don’t assume abuse isn’t happening.  If you suspect abuse, trust your instinct, understand why a child might not tell and get help.
  • Use positive stories in the news as a catalyst for discussion. When you hear about the next Amber Alert, discuss it with your child. Let kids know that there is a system in place that alerts adults and law enforcement that a child needs help. The next time the news reports a missing child being reunited with their family, talk about it. Fear is the tool of the perpetrator.  As scared as a child may be during an assault, or an abduction, if they know that people are looking for them, if they know people are going to help them, the child may find some peace and hope in those thoughts.  Positive stories in the news, discussed with children before they need to rely on them, may just be the hope they need to get through their own experience.
  • Tell your child now, that you will believe them, they can trust you and you will help them.One way perpetrators manipulate their child victim is by telling the child no one will believe them. If a child knows before they’re abused, that you will believe them, that they can trust you and that you will help them, you’ve taken away the perpetrators leverage over the innocent child.

Step 4.       Know Where to Go

  • If you suspect child sexual abuse, anonymous and confidential help is available, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Consider reaching out to ChildHelp at 1-800-4-A-Child. You can visit their website at www.childhelp.org or call RAINN, the Rape Abuse Incest National Network at 1-800-656-HOPE. RAINN’s website is  www.rainn.org

Step 5.       Know What to Say

  • I pray that you’ll never, ever need to know what to say, but should a child ever disclose to you that they’ve been sexually abused, the child needs to hear you say, I believe you. You can trust me. I will help you.

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Keith Smith, the author of Men in My Town, is a Survivor of a Stranger Abduction Sexual Assault and a Keynote Speaker on the topic of Childhood Sexual Abuse.

The story of Keith’s assault and his transition from sexual assault victim to survivor has been featured in newspapers and magazines and his program, “5 Steps You Can Take to Keep Kids Safe” has been discussed on radio and television.

Keith has lobbied government officials to prevent cutbacks to sex abuse prevention and counseling programs and he’s testified before the New Jersey State Senate Judiciary Committee seeking to eliminate the statute of limitation in civil actions relating to sex crimes committed against children.

Keith’s story has been covered by the New York Times. He participated in Oprah Winfrey’s award-winning show, 200 Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, was featured on Perspective : New Jersey with ABC Investigative Reporter Nora Muchanic and appeared on Anderson Cooper’s Special, State of Shame: The Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal.

More information is available at www.MenInMyTown.wordpress.com

Information about his novel, Men in My Town can be found at www.tinyurl.com/MenInMyTown

Keith’s Men in My Town LinkedIn Profile can be viewed at www.LinkedIn.com/in/MenInMyTown

Email Keith Smith at MenInMyTown@aol.com

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