Editor's Note: This column was co-authored by Jerome Elam.
In the darkest recesses of our minds we have always known that monsters exist. It is only when we are involuntarily thrust into an unfolding human tragedy that shocks our senses and devastates our hearts that we truly acknowledge their presence.
Our collective eyes have been opened by the discovery of monsters lurking at Penn State University in the form of Jerry Sandusky, in an Ohio house of horrors run by Ariel Castro, and the list goes on. But have we as a society drifted into a false sense of security with the removal of these harbingers of evil or do we realize that the next monster is just waiting to strike?
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that there are currently 617,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, and typically 100,000 of those are unaccounted for.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in six boys and one in four girls are sexually abused before the age of 18, and 550 million children worldwide are survivors of child sexual abuse. Only one in 20 cases of child abuse is reported, and every victim of child abuse has to tell an average of seven adults before they are believed.
If as a society we allow child sex abuse to drift to the “back burner,” we unknowingly permit the proliferation of an evil that corrupts humanity at its very core. We invite a path of devastation that vandalizes childhoods and permanently eclipses the innocence of infinite generations.
I am a survivor of child sex abuse, and the pain of my stolen childhood haunts my hours to this very day. In reflecting on my life I have been fortunate to survive the devastating effects abuse victims suffer such as increased rates of drug abuse, alcoholism, incarceration and suicide.
In my darkest days I sat alone in a self-imposed desolation thinking no one could love someone as damaged as I had become. In the end it was the hand of God that guided me on the path to healing and taught me a profound sense of peace and happiness by bringing my wife into my life and giving me the blessing of my children. Every day I work to protect innocent children because God has steadied my wayward course in this life by giving me a purpose and that purpose is to not allow one more child to suffer as I have.
To prevent the epidemic of child sex abuse from continuing, education must be the first line of defense. We must open a dialogue that empowers both parents and children. We also need to inspire those trapped by fear and guilt to break their silence, and that is best accomplished by hearing those who have survived child sex abuse speak out.
In this great country of ours we have changed history through the force of our collective wills. We now face an enemy that attacks the most precious gift we have, the manifestation of our hopes and dreams -- our children. We must once again join together to make sure that our history is not written on the doorstep of defeat but in the arms of victory.
Please join me in the fight to save innocent children by educating yourself about the signs of child abuse. If you suspect a child is being abused call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). Visit the Childhelp website at http://www.childhelp-usa.com or Arrow Child and Family Ministries in Texas (www.arrow.org/mrc/Overview.html); and the Joyful Heart Foundation (http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org) to learn more about how you can save a child from a lifetime of pain and guarantee them the right to embrace happiness and not spend countless years just wanting to be loved.