High-profile cases of child sexual abuse surface over and over again. Recently, “19 Kids and Counting” star Josh Duggar admitted to repeatedly sexually abusing his sisters when he was a teenager. The results have included suspension of the reality TV show from the lineup of the TLC cable network and increased attention to child sexual abuse.

As more bloggers and news outlets report on the different aspects of the Duggar case, it’s important to understand the issue of child sexual abuse – and what can be done to prevent it.

The best available research suggests that one in four girls and one in six boys are victims of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. We know that child sexual abuse is severely underreported and that many children delay telling or wait until they’re adults to tell about the abuse they suffered.

We know that the closer a child is to the offender, the less likely they will come forward. In addition to the confusion they may experience as a result of being victimized, they may also be fearful of what will happen to them if they disclose the abuse. Many offenders use threats and intimidation, and for some victims, sexual abuse may happen so often it becomes normalized.

Child sexual abuse causes individuals and families significant emotional and physical harm. Child maltreatment costs the United States billions of dollars annually.

The outlook seems bleak, and the issue practically unsurmountable. However, there are several reasons to be hopeful:


 Juvenile offenders are more easily rehabilitated than adult offenders. Juvenile offenders, like Josh Duggar, are less likely to re-offend when they access effective, evidence-based treatment. Studies demonstrate that fewer than 10 percent of juveniles go on to re-offend, and there are many resources available for juvenile sex offenders.

Child sexual abuse victims are not on a path to being offenders. Some sex offenders have experienced sexual violence of some kind, but most child sexual abuse victims do not become sex offenders. Having been sexually abused as a child does not cause a child to grow up to be a sex offender.

Support is available. Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine supports child sexual abuse survivors in Cumberland and York counties – both in childhood and adulthood. In fact, over 50 percent of calls to Maine’s sexual assault crisis and support line relate to incidents of child sexual abuse.

Sexual Assault Response Services is also an active member of the Cumberland County Children’s Advocacy Center (a program of Spurwink), which is a multidisciplinary team committed to making team decisions about the investigation of, response to and prosecution of child sexual abuse cases in Cumberland County.

Networks across Maine are mobilizing to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. There are several Maine-based organizations working to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. Visit the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Maine Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers for more information.

Prevention is possible – and it starts with adults. Adults who work with children and who have children play a critical role in child sexual abuse prevention. Research demonstrates that programming for children is helpful for children to respond to abuse, but does not prevent it in the first place.

Adults have several opportunities to create change, including knowing the warning signs about child sexual abuse, knowing how to talk about sex and bodies with their children, understanding age-appropriate sexual behavior and modeling good boundaries.

n Family support is paramount. There is still a lot of research being done about what exactly helps to prevent child sexual abuse, and a lot remains unknown. However, we do know that one of the most important protective factors in preventing child sexual abuse and child maltreatment is a supportive family environment.

Child sexual abuse is a community problem with many community solutions. However, it takes a commitment to culture change to prevent child sexual abuse. Our community can and should work together to protect our children before abuse is perpetrated.

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