I'm saddened by the lenient sentence in the recent child sexual abuse case involving a former Oklahoma City police officer. Even though the officer is and always will be known as a sex offender, that's little justice compared with what his victims will endure for the rest of their lives.
Victims of child abuse are subject to illnesses and emotional problems ranging from depression and suicide to prostitution and teen pregnancy and much more. There is a great possibility of repeating the abuse as adults. Forty percent of sex offenders report being sexually abused as children.
What saddens me more is the lack of information available to parents on how to protect children from these predators. When details of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case came to light, people asked me, “How is abuse like that allowed to happen?” And “How do I protect my own child from someone like that?” There are no simple answers to these questions, but one fact is clear: Child abuse happens when adults don't know how to recognize the abuse or they fail to report what they suspect.
The statistics are staggering: One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before age 18; 90 percent of the perpetrators are people known and trusted by the child.
Parents need to know the warning signs. Sexual predators “groom” the parent first. They ingratiate themselves into the lives of the parent and child, just like in the Sandusky case. Then, the predator will try to find ways to spend time alone with the child. He may offer to take the child somewhere or baby-sit so the parent can have a break. Be wary of anyone who wants to spend time alone with your child.
Every day in Oklahoma, 84 children are reported as victims of some form of child abuse. Nationally, child abuse affects more than 1 million children a year. Child abuse costs our nation $220 million every day and will cost us more than $80 billion this year. Child abuse affects every one of us. It will take every one of us to stop it.
Oklahoma law requires everyone to report suspected child abuse or neglect. If a child is in immediate danger, call 911. The Child Abuse Hotline is (800) 522-3511. If you're a parent and are in a situation where you're afraid you might hurt your own child, or you just need someone to talk to, call the Family CareLine at 848-CARE (2273), or 211.
Child abuse is tragic, devastating — and preventable. Learn the warning signs and follow your hunch. If you suspect something isn't right, be the voice for that child and make a phone call. You'll likely be the only person to do so.
Gamble is executive director of Family Builders. The organization's website (www.familybuildersok.org) offers tips on protecting children from sexual predators. On. Aug. 21, former Oklahoma City police Sgt. Maurice A. Martinez pleaded guilty to molesting his three adopted sons and was sentenced to two years in the Oklahoma County jail, followed by two years of house arrest and 25 years' probation.