Samaritan SafeChurch – What Lies Beneath: Child Sexual Abuse and Suicide

May 26th, 2015 by admin

What Lies Beneath: Child Sexual Abuse and Suicide

Blog Post #3:  May 18, 2015

lindacby Linda Crockett, Director of Education & Consultation

With sexual abuse impacting one in four girls and one in six boys before they reach age 18, it is imperative that, along with resources to help those who have experienced it, leaders in every community take responsibility for making prevention a key priority.

Our work in Samaritan SafeChurch is to shift the culture of congregations so that adults move from denial or apathy about child sexual abuse (CSA) to proactive engagement in protecting them from molestation not only in church – but in all settings where they are at highest risk of sexual abuse: home/school/sports/scouts/clubs. Nearly 90% of children are molested by someone they know and trust.

In addition to a range of physical, social and emotional problems that can haunt survivors of CSA for decades, these children are also at greater risk for suicide – a reality that is too often overlooked when a family or community is reeling in shock over the suicide of a beloved son, daughter, class valedictorian, pastor, doctor.
A study in 2013 noted that about 45% of sexually abused children experience suicidal thoughts or behavior {Suicidal Thoughts/Behaviors in Sexually Abused Children, Wherry, et al, 2013}. A 2015 report by researchers at the University of Buffalo indicates that after analyzing data from more than 31,000 teens age 14 – 18, boys who were sexually abused were 33% more likely than non-abused boys to attempt suicide within the past year, compared to 3.5% of boys without a sexual trauma history. 26% of the sexually abused girls in the cohort attempted suicide, versus 8.2% of girls with no sexual trauma history.

A May 16 New York Times article “What’s Lurking Behind the Suicides?” described the most recent “epidemic” in which nine people aged 12-24 on the Pine Ridge Reservation took their lives. The reporter, Joe Flood, has spent the last few years living on this South Dakota reservation. Shortly after taking his first teaching position, a veteran teacher told him something he thought was critical to understand life on Pine Ridge: By the time they reach high school, most of the girls and many boys have been sexually abused.

His observation seems to track with the US Department of Justice statistic that Native Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other Americans. Flood points out that every few years, teen suicide “epidemics” come to Pine Ridge, with varying degrees of national media attention and local soul searching. What the media misses, and what tribal members only whisper, is that youth suicides are linked to a multi-generational dynamic of sexual abuse.
In the case of Pine Ridge, the legacy of forced removal of Native children from their homes and into federally funded boarding schools where many were sexually and physically abused factors into the social pattern of sexual abuse. Most of the schools were run by churches.

However, that multi-generational dynamic plays a significant role in the sexual abuse of children in communities across the country where the stigma, shame, and reality of the intimate circles in which CSA often occurs keep these children silent, regardless of whether they live in upscale neighborhoods or economically disadvantaged rural or urban areas.

Too many times, the suicidal thoughts or behaviors of these children are disconnected from the root cause of what is driving them. Parents and others rightfully become alarmed when a child is showing signs that indicate suicidality. Asking the question “Are you considering hurting yourself?” may not ultimately prevent death if the underlying cause is not uncovered. As adults, when we see troubling behavior in a child, we need to start asking the harder question…which is “Has somebody been hurting you in some way?” The answer to that one may truly save a life.

One Response to “Samaritan SafeChurch – What Lies Beneath: Child Sexual Abuse and Suicide”

  1. May 29, 2015 at 11:34 am, Linda Peacock said:

    Good article, Linda. Thanks for alerting me to your blog….not sure how I’ve missed this in the past….and I’m an “insider”. Your good work continues to inspire me! THANK YOU for all you do for the Center!! Linda


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