Complete Guide to be Protected from Sex Offenders
Sexual abuse takes an enormous toll on the United States in many ways, sometimes shaking communities to their core. It’s a larger problem than most people want to admit, and we often turn our eyes away from the truth that is so ugly: very young victims, vulnerable populations preyed upon by depraved individuals, and sometimes light sentences that don’t represent the impact the abuse has on a victim’s life.
However, recent public broadcast of widespread abuses, such as the Catholic church’s scandalous targeting of children, a doctor’s many victims within the elite gymnastics community, and the scope of the #metoo movement have forced the topic into the public conversation.
According to a victim advocacy group called RAINN, a new person is sexually assaulted in the U.S. every 92 seconds, and they come from all walks of life:
- almost 19,000 military personnel experience unwanted sexual contact each year;
- over 320,000 individuals over age 12 are sexually assaulted each year, and
- nearly 81,000 inmates are assaulted or raped each year.
In addition, some 60,000 children under age 12 indicate that they were sexually assaulted each year but getting clear information from someone that young can be difficult; numbers are derived from social services professionals. Because it can be so difficult to ascertain if an assault has happened to a child, only about 34 percent of such abuse of children older than 12 are reported to authorities.
Types of Sexual Assault or Abuse
Unwanted sexual contact can take many forms, including indirect contact by solicitation over the internet. Others may experience marital rape, drug-related sexual assault (date rape drugs), acquaintance rape, and coerced sex by a person in a position of authority. Others, such as members of the transsexual community, are targeted disproportionately because of their identities, raising the possibility of sexual hate crimes. The long-term effects of sexual abuse are devastating and have been documented as resulting in psychological problems, increased likelihood of future drug or alcohol abuse, and sometimes homelessness. The economic impact of sexual abuse amounts to billions of dollars in lost productivity, mental health care, hospitalizations, foster care, and law enforcement costs.
Reducing and Preventing Sexual Assault in Children
Since the crime of sexual assault does not know any boundaries, including age, race, gender, or location, part of preventing it is acknowledging its prevalence and frequency. Be alert for characteristics of a child predator, including:
- youth – about 40 percent of abusers of children are juveniles themselves;
- spending excessive amounts of time with children or others much younger than themselves;
- using sexual terms to refer to children;
- excessive masturbation and viewing of child pornography, and
- encouraging children to keep secrets.
It’s also important to educate children about their ability to tell any adult not to touch their body or to keep secrets about activities, because both tactics often used by predators. However it’s difficult to trust that sort of prevention because young children are unsophisticated and therefore prone to victimization by older individuals, particularly those they are familiar with (a cousin, uncle, babysitter, or friend of a parent). About 40 percent of child victims of abuse are under age 6, too young to understand what a predator may be doing or to articulate their fear of being with that person again. For those reasons it’s important for parents and other adults to recognize signs of abuse in young children, including:
- anxiety or unexplained fear;
- physical injuries to the genitals, including bleeding;
- sleep disturbances like nightmares;
- unexplained sudden changes in behavior like aggression, or
- acting out in a sexual way.
How and Where You Can be a Victim of Sexual Assault?
The vast majority of assaults of a sexual nature take place at or near the victim’s home, which can be additionally re-traumatizing if the victim has to see the same spaces or people repeatedly. As much as 30 percent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a family member (more than 95 percent are male perpetrators) or close family friend – only about 10 percent of perpetrators are strangers – and females are the most common victims by far, with about 90 percent of the cases.
Those who are likeliest to become sexual predators or abusers often have some of the following characteristics or sex offender history:
- family history of sexual abuse;
- drug or alcohol abuse history;
- Violent or aggressive behavior;
- poor relationships with parents, particularly fathers, and
- poverty, job loss, or other negative community factors.
Sexual Offenders in Campuses
One in five women is sexually assaulted during college, as is one in 15 men. The vast majority of college sexual assaults are unreported (estimated at 90 percent), and in eight of ten cases of rape the woman is likely to know her attacker, including having been on a date.
A Johns Hopkins University College of Public Health effort to examine ways to prevent campus sexual abuse and attacks concluded that physical changes to campuses was difficult to implement and changing behavior of perpetrators influenced a small portion of the intended audience. The result emphasized:
- teaching students who might be victims to avoid potential sex abuse or attack situations;
- for bystanders, how to recognize risky situations, and
- best steps for intervention.
Changing the campus environment in favor of supporting attack victims was key, they found.
Those who care for the elderly, children, and those in hospitals are generally screened for criminal histories that would disqualify them to work in such an environment, but the system is not perfect. Many incidences have been discovered in which a worker has a history abusing patients or residents at one facility after another over many years. A shortage of nursing home staff, as well as difficulty getting clear complaints and testimony from abused residents, complicates the problem.
Experts at the Consumer Voice, using the National Ombudsman reporting system for nursing home complaints, explain that nursing home residents are exposed to many potential abusers, whether they are staff members, visitors, family members, or other residents. Additionally, age-related and mental conditions like dementia can create a perfect set of victims who are unable to raise coherent complaints against abusers.
Signs of abuse among those in facilities like hospitals, rehabilitation centers, or nursing homes include:
- unexplained injuries, including bruising in the genital area;
- acquisition of sexually transmitted diseases;
- pain or difficulty sitting or walking;
- stained undergarments, and
- psychological changes including panic attacks, withdrawal, or agitation.
Preventing sexual assault and abuse of vulnerable populations such as the elderly in nursing homes includes acknowledging the problem, advocating for strict laws such as those that make elder abuse an automatic felony offense, requiring nursing homes to perform thorough screening of potential employees, and ensuring that nursing homes have ironclad training and reporting procedures in place so that abusers are not sheltered by claims of ignorance. Those who are helping a friend or family member to find placement in a nursing home may want to research the facility or owner’s record of complaints with state licensing boards or the local police. There is a national organization of Adult Protective Associations that can offer help and advocacy for those who suspect abuse.