Chicago (CBS) — It looks like an ordinary children’s playground, but it’s unlike any other in the city. The children that regularly play with these toys are victims of sexual abuse.
“Every year in Chicago we see over 2,000 reports of child sexual abuse,” said Char Rivette, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center.
All of those young children come to the Children’s Advocacy Center; with its playlots, family rooms, and teams of child advocates.
Due to its secretive nature, child sexual abuse is vastly under-reported.
“Maybe 20 to 40 percent of cases ever actually get reported. So, if you do the math, we’re looking at thousands more cases that are happening in Chicago right now,” Rivette said.
Child sexual abuse is an equal opportunity destroyer; with no racial, geographic, or socioeconomic boundaries.
“If you look at the cumulative effects of abuse, and these couple thousand children multiplied by every city in this country throughout the nation, we’re talking about an epidemic,” Rivette said.
Experts say this epidemic is the most widespread health problem children face. One in seven girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
Tabatha West knows that all too well. Her sexual abuse nightmare began when she was a 7-year-old first grader.
“When you’re a kid and that’s happening to you, you feel like you’re the only one that this is happening to,” West said. “You feel like you’re alone. You feel like this is just your life. It’s a horrible feeling.”
A feeling felt by far more children than adults, because kids are more than twice as likely to be sexually abused.
But such assaults can be prevented, and experts say that could save up to $9 billion a year in abuse-related costs.
It’s too late for West, but she believes more money for prevention could save the next child from being raped. That’s why she’s telling her story for the first time.
“I was young and severely depressed,” West said. “I don’t know how much longer I could have lived with it.”
To report abuse, call 911 or in Illinois 1-800-25-ABUSE.
If you have a story to tell, you can reach out by emailing CBSChicagoTips@cbs.com.
In the coming weeks, CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli will sit down again with Tabatha West, who will demonstrate how she’s using spoken word to conquer her demons.