By Chris Edmonds
One in four children will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Sexual violence is the most underreported violent crime in the nation. There are more than 60 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse. When a child or adult is sexually abused, the victim and the perpetrator are almost always known to each other.
These points are facts, not opinions. These are national statistics as reported by the U.S. Department of Justice. They hold true for Southeast Missouri.
Knowing how common sexual abuse is, it is reasonable to assume that you know someone who was abused: a neighbor, a co-worker, a friend, a family member. This crime is one that victims don't talk about. They feel ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated and responsible for being a victim. To talk about this crime the victim risks being shunned or blamed.
Until I became a board member of the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence, I too was unaware of the staggering occurrence of this violent crime. I saw TV shows about this issue but felt it was something that happened somewhere else, not here in my own community. I no longer am unaware or uninformed, and I don't want you to be either.
The Southeast Missouri community is generally unaware of the work of the SEMO-NASV. That is because the agency serves children and adults who are victims of physical or sexual abuse. Only those who need the services of the agency know about them. Clients are formally referred by law enforcement, child welfare and juvenile authorities, but physicians, teachers, clergy and others refer victims to the agency for care.
As a board member, I know about the staggering statistics of the victims, from nine Southeast Missouri counties, who come to SEMO-NASV for forensic medical evaluations, forensic interviews, and advocacy services.
I know that children under the age of 1 and adults over the age of 85 have been sexual-abuse victims right here in our community, and without the help of this agency these victims would not have seen their offenders brought to justice or received the support and care they deserved.
I know that more than 600 victims seek care each year from the agency, for forensic care alone.
I know that more than 10,000 schoolchildren receive child abuse prevention education through the agency's Green Bear program.
I know that far too many children are abused every year, right here in this part of the state.
I know that if one child is abused, that is one too many.
Although the topic of sexual abuse is a difficult issue to discuss, it is one that must be addressed openly and publicly so that we can begin to put an end to this social ill.
I urge you to support the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence through your donations. Attend the 10th anniversary celebration Sept. 22 at the Bavarian Halle. Call SEMO-NASV, get involved, be informed. Don't hide your head in the sand hoping this problem will go away. It won't, but it can with your active participation.
Chris Edmonds of Cape Girardeau is the president of the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence board of directors.