This is how babies are made. This is what “that time of the month” means. Sound familiar? If not, let me refresh your memory—it’s sixth grade health class. We learned all the essentials of how to be healthy and what is “normal” for our bodies to do.
What we did not learn, though, is what to do if circumstances in our own homes were not normal. What we did not learn is what to do if we are or were a sexual abuse victim.
Some children might not even know what sexual abuse is. This is a huge issue, and it should be taught in health classes around the nation.
I’m not sure why it isn’t a unit in health classes already, as there were 61,472 cases of child sexual abuse in 2011 in the United States, according to the Child Maltreatment 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau (which is about nine percent of the total maltreatment reports that year, as reported by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network).
A national survey done by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control showed that 42 percent of female rape victims were raped before the age of 18, and about 28 percent of male rape victims were raped when they were only ten years of age —or younger.
What might be even more concerning is that, of course, so many cases of sexual abuse go unreported—but some of these crimes are committed by school personnel.
I could write an entire story on how much this enrages me, but that’s not where help or a solution comes from.
According to edweek.org, “Federal agencies are not doing enough to track incidents of child sexual abuse by school personnel, and they are failing to provide adequate guidance to states and districts about how to prevent and respond to such acts, a report by the Government Accountability Office says.”
The report reads that given the statistics, the sexual misconduct by school employees in elementary through high school is an issue, as much of it goes unreported.
Also on the site is information from 2004 where, “The U.S. Department of Education found that nearly 9.6 percent of students are victims of sexual abuse by school personnel at some point in their education careers.”
Perhaps, if an entire unit on sexual abuse and its harm was taught in schools, these incidences would be less likely—or be caught and reported more frequently.
The purpose of school is to educate. Too many times teachers have been too sheepish to discuss and teach the things that really matter.
The only time sexual abuse was even mentioned in my secondary schooling in Rhode Island where I grew up was the usual, “If someone touches you somewhere and it makes you uncomfortable, you should tell someone you trust about it or talk to your teacher or the police.” But, for a ten or 11-year-old child, what is that even supposed to mean? What happens when the person this child trusts is the same person abusing them?
In my schooling before becoming a student at Keene State College, we only barely skimmed the surface of this extreme issue in class. It was too much of an uncomfortable topic that no one wanted to talk about.
I think the only reason it was even mentioned in a sentence or two during health class time was because it was a requirement that it be mentioned.
Mentioning sexual abuse is not enough. I can’t imagine the confusion children go through who have been sexually abused and sit through health class, hearing one simple summary of a situation they might live through every day.
We owe more to these children, and other children alike, to educate them in more depth about what sexual abuse is, how to get out of it and how to report it to someone who will ensure that it ends.
Schools nationwide should rethink their health class curriculum.
We owe more to the children of the world than to pretend this isn’t one of the biggest issues in America.
Brittany Ballantyne can be contacted at email@example.com