She took the stand, held the microphone, and made direct eye contact with her abuser. As a little girl, she had been told that this man was her doctor and would be helping her and her teammates achieve their Olympic dreams. Instead, he took advantage of her and that relationship. Over 150 women – current and former athletes – bravely shared their accounts of child sexual abuse they endured under former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.
The details were difficult to hear, but each and every victim should be applauded for bravely sharing her story.
But we must remember that every day, in every zip code, cases of child sexual abuse and childhood assault happen in Philadelphia.
The athletes spoke of invasions of privacy, breaches of security, and a widespread abuse of power that is difficult to process. But the grim reality is that for every Aly Raisman, there is a little girl in Frankford; and for every Anthony Rapp, who was abused when he was 14 by Kevin Spacey, there is a small boy from Kingsessing. Every neighborhood in Philadelphia is affected.
In 2017, there were 3,318 reported cases of child sexual abuse in Philadelphia. Each child required a collaborative response, which is why the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, the Special Victims Unit of the police, and the Department of Human Services are located at one site to provide forensic interviews, victim services, child welfare, investigation, and mental health services to children. Medical exams are provided on-site by both Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. During the last year, PCA provided 1,901 forensic interviews, victim services to 2,210 nonoffending caregivers, and onsite trauma-focused mental health therapy to 182 children. An additional 800 kids were linked to trauma-focused therapy at our mental health partner agencies throughout the city. The coordination between multiple public and private agencies puts the child victim first. Forensic interviews are recorded so that the child can tell their story once, without needing to relive the abuse through the retelling to multiple professionals.
Every day, children tell us that they have been abused. They tell us their stories and how alone they have felt because they’ve been afraid to talk about their abuse.”
All of us must each take responsibility for this issue. Make your household a place that promotes open dialogue between children and adults. Establish your home as a “no-secret zone.” Your child should never feel like he or she is not allowed to report abuse to an adult. Explain to your children that they should feel comfortable saying no to touches that make them uncomfortable. Always monitor one-on-one situations with adults and make sure your child knows how to tell you if he or she feels unsafe.
Above all, we must keep the conversation going. Current events have an amazing way of shifting public discourse. We cannot allow child sexual abuse and sexual assault to just be this week’s conversation. As a community, we must stay informed, speak out, and protect our children.
If you suspect child sexual abuse, report it to Pennsylvania’s 24-hour hotline: 1-800-932-0313.
Chris Kirchner is the executive director of Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, an independent nonprofit organization that promotes healing and justice for sexually abused children in Philadelphia.
Cynthia F. Figueroa is commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services.