Chicago (CBS) — Over 400,000 children born this year in the U.S. will become victims of sexual abuse, according to recent statistics. Unfortunately, many of them will never speak up to try to get help.
As part of CBS 2’s Child Abuse Prevention Month coverage, Mike Puccinelli has been looking into why victims, in most cases, don’t tell.
“Seven years I grew up holding on to your dirty big secret that was silently breaking me,” Tabatha West says to her abuser through spoken word.
It was sexual abuse that was breaking West from the age of 7, when she was still smiling big, to when she finally spoke up at 13.
Now at 43, she’s broken her silence to share her story.
“I told God, ‘Okay, I’ll tell my story if it will set at least one person free,'” West said.
While much attention is placed on churches, camps, and schools; West urges parents and loved ones of children to look in a far more obvious place.
“For me, home was the most dangerous place,” she said.
Statistics back West up.
“Over 90 percent of children who experience sexual abuse, their perpetrator is someone that they know, and about 60 percent of those cases are people that are within the same family as those children,” said Char Rivette, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center.
It’s a reality that’s so disturbing that the problem is all too often ignored while children suffer in silence.
“It’s hard to fight something that a lot of people just don’t want to admit is actually happening,” Rivette said.
Rape is the most underreported crime. For children, it’s far worse; with just 12 percent of child sexual abuse reported to authorities.
So, it’s especially maddening for the head of the Children’s Advocacy Center when victims are asked this all too common question — why didn’t you say something?
“It’s so common for kids not to tell, and so common for people to push down those feelings and push down what happened to them that I think the better question is ‘why would you tell?'” Rivette said.
West told one adult, who didn’t believe her; but then she told her father, who brought her into his home, ending years of abuse.
“He saved my life,” she said.
Now, she’s hoping to save the lives of other young children by telling her story and giving them hope.
“You’re not alone. Don’t be ashamed, and it’s time to end it. Speak up to end it,” West said.
There are 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the United States.
CBS 2 will next shine a spotlight on abuse prevention.