Know the Signs of Child Sex Abuse

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In light of the largest and most public sex abuse scandal in Pennsylvania history involving former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, parents may ask how they make sure their children don't become victims.

The child sex accusations against Sandusky got many people talking about a very sensitive subject.

Local child psychologists say there are lessons to be learned from the highly-publicized scandal.

"There are opportunities that are emerging for dialogs like this, or maybe even for parents who have a concern that their child has had an experience like this, to take that step that they might not have otherwise taken," said Dr. David Palmiter.

He is a child psychologist and professor at Marywood University. He said a parent who suspects abuse should look for some telltale signs.

Kids could relive the abuse in their own actions, they could, all of a sudden, fear things that remind them of the abuse, they could also jump or shy away from any kind of normal closeness.

The bottom line, Dr. Palmiter said, is to not only detect abuse but prevent it by spending time with your child.

"That hour a week is to a child psychologist, what a apple is to a pediatrician," Palmiter added.

Child sexual abuse may be more prevalent than you think. According to the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, nearly one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18, and nearly one in four girls. Boys, though, are less likely to tell a parent or other adult about the abuse.

Dr. Palmiter said it all comes back to the parent-child relationship. If there is trust, a child will feel more comfortable reporting the abuse.

"I think that if we have that relationship, a kid who is verbal is more likely to tell us," the psychologist said.

People in law enforcement locally said cases of sexual abuse still go vastly unreported because of the stigma surrounding that kind of abuse. But, they added, that stigma is changing.

"Child pornography and child abuse cases were just in their infancy of being reported and investigated, probably in the late to mid-80s. And now, it's almost become the bread and butter of our investigator's work. We do so much work," said Lackawanna County Detective Chris Kolcharno.

He added it's not that there is more sexual abuse, just that more of it is coming to light and more are getting caught.

Kolcharno said it all starts with the parents keeping track of their child's activity on the playground and online and being aware of who potential predators are.

According to the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, 60 percent of child sexual abusers are acquaintances, people you or your child knows, 30 percent are relatives and only 10 percent or predators are complete strangers.

Kolcharno said predators start by gaining a child's trust, by grooming potential victims with favors or gifts.

If parents suspect their child is being abused, "They need to tell someone. They need to call local police, call the district attorney's office, or they can report it directly to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children," Kolcharno said.

In Pennsylvania, all people who work with children in a professional manner are required by law to report suspected child sexual abuse.

It can be reported directly to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST, or 1-800-843-5678.