How Our Society Deals with Sex Abuse and Why it’s All Wrong

By Daniel Arturi

In a world plagued by so many pressing issues it can sometimes be difficult to retain compassion for each individual issue. However, the sexual abuse of minors is worth everyone’s rapt attention and absolute empathy. I myself have a very personal relationship with this issue, as I live a sliver of a reflection of misery vicariously through my mother’s stories, as she works in this field.  These aren’t abstract concepts; these children aren’t just a part of a numbers that is a part of a spreadsheet. These are kids with a favorite toy and a favorite cartoon. These kids lived like every other child should, and then suddenly, whether in an instant or over the course of years, they did not. The essential right to childhood was brutally stripped from them in a blinding moment of human savagery and cruelty. And now those same children whose greatest concern was getting their mom to buy them ice cream, have been violently thrown into a world far less innocent. 

 It’s not only childhood which suffers at the hard edges of the words rape and abuse. Trauma is an insidious and (some argue) an inescapable curse. 94% of women who are raped experience symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) following the rape. That’s a vast amount  of women who are not receiving proper care,  such as therapy. Further, this number does not include the many women who don’t come forward when abused. Trauma can be a horrible thing that can consume your life. When trauma is not properly treated it can lead to a host of other problems like increased drug use (harmful drugs) and social problems. And when we think of rape traditionally we imagine an adult, but to put that emotional and mental weight/damage on a mind not old enough to understand division is something that should trigger empathy within us all.

What Happens When Sex Abuse is Reported

It might have been a worried neighbor, or a teacher who caught one too many hints, but suppose a call has been placed to the police that there is suspicion of a case of sex abuse. hat are the steps that follow that report? First, the police will place a call to the State Central Registry of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR). Then, the police will come immediately to the house of the reported victim to do an initial gauging of what happened. Meanwhile the SCR will call the Instant Response Team (IRT), a team comprised of both the police and the Administration of Child Services (ACS), who then sort their cases into two categories. The first being a situation where danger is not imminent, ie the accused does not have access to the child or the family. In this scenario an appointment is made for the family to come in and speak with the police and ACS. If the situation is deemed not urgent the case will be passed onto the DA who will then decide whether or not to drop the case. If the situation is urgent (a parent or someone with regular access to the child is implicated) then the family will need to be seen the same day the call is made. 

After that a team of police and social workers will work together to find out exactly what happened. They’ll check phones, run forensics tests, and most importantly interview everyone involved. The most important of these interviews, and arguably the most difficult (definitely the most nuanced) in the interview held for the victim. It’s important to remember that the victims of child sex abuse are just that – children. It can be both heart wrenchingly sad and as just difficult as pulling teeth to get real, concrete answers about a rape from a child as young as two. Sometimes the situation is a misunderstanding, and a startling exceretion of blood is not evidence of a rape and instead just a horrified girls’ period. Sometimes the case has no perpetrator, and it’s just kids doing things they shouldn’t be. Unfortunately however, more often than not people don’t show up at the precinct and get to walk away with a light conscience. 

After the Report

New York City, however flawed, underfunded, and problematic it may be, does not mess around when it comes to child abuse. That means that after a report is made, interviews are held, and conclusions are drawn, the end is still far from near. After the report and subsequent investigation there is still a lot of work for the civil servants in this field to do. This is where the police and ACS begin to work in more separate ways. The responsibility of the police is to pursue criminal charges, if there are any to be made. This can lead to an arrest and prosecution but only if the victim discloses a time and place of occurence. The responsibilities of ACS are vastly different than this, and ACS needs no kind of disclosure to do their work. ACS will, in the vast majority of instances provide a free or heavily subsidized set of therapy sessions that are just short of mandatory for victims. Beyond this they have two more major responsibilities; follow up visits and family court. After any kind of call is made ACS will hold follow up visits for at least 60 days. That means that at random intervals within that 60 days a representative from ACS will come over to your house and interview your family, will snoop around every nook and cranny in your house, and search for anything even slightly amiss. And random in this context really means random. You could have a social worker banging on your door at 2:00 AM ready to ruin your night and you’ll have to be atent and present. And if anything is amiss those 60 days can be extended and extended until more severe action is taken. The final major responsibility of ACS is to follow up in family court. While criminal court (the kind that the cops deal with) pursues an indictment for the perpetrator (50% surety that they are guilty is necessary for an arrest while they must be guilty beyond reasonable doubt for a prosecution to take place) family court looks for ways to rearrange the family’s living situation to improve their lives. This might mean prescribing anger management classes to a parent, helping a family move out of a dangerous neighborhood, mandating drug tests, placing restraining orders on certain individuals, or in more extreme circumstances taking the children away from the guardian.

One of the largest problems found within the child welfare system is one that pervades countless corners of our society; racism. Racism is not a problem in that ACS won’t answer calls from people of color, they most certainly will. People of color are disproportionately affected by sexual and domestic abuse, as are low income households, the poorest Americans are twelve times more likely to be sexually abused in contrast to the wealthiest. Racism in child services comes in the form of overt suspicion that can have real consequences. Before diving into this there is some important context to know; what is a mandated reporter? Well, as the name implies it is someone who is mandated to report if they see any clues of sexual or domestic abuse. To a mandated reporter everything is a clue, a stray bruise, a day where a child acts strangely, anything can be cause for a report. But who is a mandated reporter? There are many professions that the state of New York recognizes as mandated reporters but most relevantly to the Beacon student body is, of course, teachers. Teachers are required to report if they see anything amiss, but even so think about all the red flags you see in the hallway every day of, if not abuse, at the very least suspicious behaviour. 

So where does the racism aspect come in? It turns out that black and hispanic children are “two to four times more likely to be evaluated and then reported (as suspected abusive head trauma) when compared with white, non-Hispanic patients”. Not only is this unfair, as all children should be treated equally under the law, this kind of racism can have serious consequences. When this might happen to a white parent they are likely to receive love and support as they should, but when something like this happens to a black or hispanic parent the reaction may be vastly different. These worried and confused parents who may have been trying to do nothing more than get their kid some medical attention after an unfortunate accident may be thrown into an expensive and protracted legal battle to keep their children in family court. This happens because child services will often pursue custody of the child as a quick and easy solution to a problem that unfortunately requires much more time and resource consumption to create a viable and fair solution. 

This has many negative consequences for the family involved, in many cases non-for-profit groups aren’t able to swoop in and provide experienced legal help for those families. This means that a lot of times, because of racism, innocent families don’t get the happy endings they deserve. Secondly, the child will be exposed to trauma when in the foster care system and throughout the turbulent process of ACS trying to persecute. Thirdly, it is ridiculous that the state is wasting precious resources, time, and effort, that are much needed across the city, to pursue meaningless cases where a modicum more of investigation could have saved everyone a lot of trouble. There should never be any situation in which two charitable organizations, both intent on helping the community, are pitted against each other to save the same people. 

Why We Don’t Believe Victims

We are programmed to be utterly revulsed by the thought of an adult being aroused by children, so it’s far easier to banish such thoughts to the recesses of places we will never visit or the fictional worlds of crime shows, but this mentality is harmful. Since adults also think this way about sex abuse, a lot of times when a child says something about a neighbor or a familial relation, adults tend to dismiss it out of denial and an honest belief that there is no way that this person that they know could have done this. People don’t seem to process the fact that there is no six year old (my mother has dealt with children younger than two), who can vividly recount a case of sexual abuse, and recounts said story as a lie. The rate of false reporting in cases of sexual abuse is between 2%-6% and for domestic abuse the rate is 4%. If anyone so much as hints at a sexual abuse everyone within earshot should be all over that. There are many times where parents should dismiss comments made by six year olds, “my train is flying”, “meet my pet unicorn mommy”, “I want pizza”, but “I got raped” should be a red flag so large it should be visible from space. It’s already very hard for people to come forward, the traumatic effects of sexual and domestic abuse are severe and deep seated, there is no reason to make it harder on the victims. 

Underfunding in the Protection of Children

In the world we live in there are some realities that we must acknowledge; one of those is that usually the more helpful to the community a profession is the less lucrative it will be. This holds true for teachers, employees of NGOs, and the employees of child welfare protection programs. They all do so much for the community but since they’re not making money in any concrete way their personal yields are less than what is fair. And just like a school that needs money just to maintain itself these child programs too need money to keep operating. There are many steps involved in the process that takes a call and turns it into a case, and those steps require money to operate. In England we see evidence of the consequences of underfunding such a basic and essential service. There children are suffering just as they do anywhere in the world, but because of improper allocation of national resources their child welfare program, even in a wealthy country, is woefully underfunded. And this underfunding has had real and tangible consequences for the people who need those essential services. No one casually needs child services to help them, if you’re at that point you need a lot of help immediately. In England these services have had difficulty answering all of their calls, and when they do it’s only when the situation is really really serious. This is already a glaring problem, any instance of child sex or domestic abuse should be responded to as soon as the call is made, as anyone with half a brain on the street could tell you. A secondary consequence of this underfunding is that social workers who would otherwise be working to find creative solutions to help heal the family are instead forced to act with extreme haste to reach a conclusion as quickly as possible, which often means taking the child away from the parent in the event of any allegations. This is not only a poor solution to a complex and varied set of problems but it also creates a distrust between the social worker, someone who is only trying to help, and the people who should be welcoming this help.

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