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Staggering child sexual abuse reports may be a fraction of the truth

Few things are more destructive to a person's life than being sexually abused as a child. Predators steal the innocence from children who looked up to and trusted adults and replaces that inner light with dark hole in their hearts.

One institution at the center of this darkness has been the Catholic Church. National outrage focused law enforcement's eyes squarely on members of the clergy who preyed on our children. They were wolves cloaked in holy robes, and 63 priests were the subject of a 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report in which four priests were incarcerated. Others suspected of abuse the church recommended for laicization (taking away the use of church power and authority), but only three actually left the clergy. Only eight of the 63 were subject to the church's Prayer and Penance Program as a way to atone for their sins. Many have since taken up residence in cities across the country.

How many children have been abused? The data is hard to gather.

Due to the tremendous shame victims of abuse carry with them throughout their lives, it's incredibly difficult for many to come forward and face both their accusers and public scrutiny. This has made it difficult to track the number of childhood sexual abuse cases and grasp the full breadth of this insidious problem.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 2015 national audit found 838 potential child victims across 123 dioceses. Most were adults citing abuse that dated back as far as the 1940s, while 26 minors spoke up. Seven of the minors' accounts were substantiated and more than 100 of the adult reports.

Pennsylvania Statistics

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Human Services also monitors child abuse and its 2015 findings identified more than 40,000 cases of possible abuse. Members of law enforcement found grounds in 10,000 of those reports to warrant a criminal investigation and more than 4,200 were substantiated.

Perhaps the most heart-breaking aspect of these statistics is that of the thousands of cases, only 20 perpetrators were unknown to the children. The vast majority were family members or authority figures these children were taught to trust.

Keep in mind that these figures may be just the tip of the iceberg. Only about one in 10 children report abuse due to:

  • Fear of retribution
  • Fear a loved one will be hurt
  • Fear of being removed from home and family
  • Fear of being called a liar

Some adults have also shown reluctance to come forward when a child is being abuse, due to:

  • Self-doubt
  • Fear of unforeseen consequences
  • Fear of retaliation from family members
  • Fear that reporting it will make things worse

Although great strides have been made to protect our children, the numbers are still frightening. Because pedophiles prey on their victims in secret and manipulate young minds, it's difficult to unearth many of these crimes. That leaves us knowing three basic things: how many cases have been reported; that the figure may be just a fraction of the real number; and that as adults we must remain vigilant to protect children.

If you have questions about legal options for holding abusers accountable and getting help with psychological and emotional recovery, contact Andreozzi & Associates, P.C., a Pennsylvania law firm focusing on helping abuse victims. 

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