Over 120 million girls around the world have been raped or sexually assaulted by the time they turn 20 according to a new UN report based on surveys in 190 countries.
The study’s title “Hidden in Plain Sight” says it all.
“These are uncomfortable facts -- no government or parent will want to see them,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
Sadly, the number is probably higher. Statistics aggregate and calculate reported cases, not the millions that go unreported.
Between 30 and 80 percent of victims don’t disclose experiences of childhood sexual abuse until adulthood. Many others may never do so at all. Boys also report experiences of sexual violence, but to a lesser extent than girls. The most common form of sexual violence for both genders is cyber-victimization.
The study also shows that abuse "occurs in places where children should be safe: their homes, schools and communities.”
This brings up an urgent question: How can we keep girls and women safe?
While there are some obvious and necessary steps we can take as caregivers to little girls, they come with their own set limitations.
Teach your child about right and wrong activities, advances and requests
It’s not so easy to explain to children that they need to be careful around strangers and that certain activities with people they know and trust are inappropriate. Check out books that address the subject written for children or ask your pediatrician for suggestions. .
Keep an eye on your child, make a note of changes.
- Are they having frequent nightmares or facing sleeping problems?
- Is your child becoming withdrawn or very clingy?
- Have they been acting unusually secretive?
- Are they projecting behaviors associated with their younger days like whining, clinging or bed-wetting?
- Are they demonstrating sudden unexplainable outbursts of anger?
- Has their knowledge of adult words for body parts increased?
- Have they been speaking of a new, older friend and receiving unexplained money or gifts?
- Are they engaging in self-harm?
- Have you noticed any physical signs of abuse like unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth?
- Has your child indicated not wanting to be alone with a person?
“Unless we confront the reality each infuriating statistic represents -- the life of a child whose right to a safe, protected childhood has been violated -- we will never change the mind-set that violence against children is normal and permissible. It is neither,” says Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
He is spot-on.