by CHARLES M. BLOW
Last Saturday, actor, playwright and impresario Tyler Perry posted a heart-rending message on his Web site recounting the abuses of his childhood. It was hard to read it without welling up.
His father had constantly belittled and savagely beaten him. Perry wrote that one beating was so merciless that “the skin was coming off my back.” When he was about 10 years old, while trying to leave a friend’s house, Perry wrote that the friend’s mother made lewd and disgusting suggestions and pulled him on top of her.
At another point, Perry wrote about a man from church who had molested him.
Coming on the heels of the arrest of Roman Polanski for his 1977 crime of plying a 13-year-old girl with Champagne and Quaaludes before raping and sodomizing her, and the revelation from Mackenzie Phillips that she had had a 10-year “consensual incestuous” relationship with her own father that she believes began when she was a teenager, it raises the question: How pervasive is child sexual abuse and how often do these crimes go unreported?
The statistics are sobering.
According to a 2000 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 70 percent of all sexual assaults are committed against children. While the age with the greatest proportion of assaults reported was 14, more than half of all child victims were under 12. And of those under 12, 4-year-olds were at the greatest risk.
According to a Unicef report released this week, “5 to 10 percent of girls and up to 5 percent of boys suffer penetrative sexual abuse.” Up to three times of those numbers experience some type of sexual abuse.
The good news: Reports of sexual abuse in the United States seem to be sliding. The not-so-good news: Reports and prevalence are not the same, and it’s not conclusive that they move in concert. The bad news: If up to 3 in 10 girls and 3 in 20 boys are still being assaulted, these are epidemic proportions. And, if most cases are never reported, it’s a silent epidemic.
Like Perry, most child victims — scared, confused and ashamed — tell no one. Instead, they shunt the unsavory secret into a dark corner of the mind, where they try, alone, for years to make sense of it.
We must do a better job of helping these children realize that they are not alone, not at fault and not powerless, that there is hope and help and healing.
We need a public education campaign that speaks directly to children — on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, at the beginning of G-rated movies, on classroom bulletin boards, everywhere. Nothing graphic, just something simple: “If it feels wrong, it’s wrong. Say something. It’s your body.”
Once again the bullet is proud to present New York Times Columnist & nationally known commentator Charles M. Blow; heartthrob of women, heartburn of men, with several hundred words of blistering political commentary: I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.