In the past year and a half, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office has arrested eight people and charged them with sexual assault against minors. It’s the newspaper’s job to inform the public about crimes in our county, even when it’s an unpleasant subject. However, with the number of recent charges, we’ve been feeling powerless wondering what we may have been able to do to prevent these situations. Perhaps, as community members and parents you are, too. We wanted to find a way to give all of us a bit of our power back with a deeper understanding of what sexual abuse is, how to spot it and what to do if you think a child has been sexually abused.

What is sexual abuse? According to Childhelp, a nationwide nonprofit that helps abused children: “Sexual abuse occurs when an adult uses a child for sexual purposes or involves a child in sexual acts. It also includes when a child who is older or more powerful uses another child for sexual gratification or excitement.”

Sexual abuse doesn’t have to include violence; it ranges from making a child watch a sexual act to rape or sodomy, and everything in between.

How prevalent is child sexual abuse in Virginia? In 2017 there were more than 3,000 victims of child sexual abuse (including charges of child pornography), according to the Virginia State Police (VSP). There were more than 600 minor male victims, according to that online VSP database.

In the VSP’s sexual offender database, there 48 registered sex offenders in Greene County, not including those incarcerated or recently charged as they are innocent until proven guilty, and that doesn’t include the others in contiguous areas. Of those 48 offenders, 46 included charges with a minor. Not all of the crimes were committed in Greene County, but using online court records it’s possible to see whether the victim was underage at the time of the assaults.

As parents, we share our children with teachers, babysitters, step-parents and siblings, coaches and others with the expectation that they will keep our children safe while under their care. As we know, that isn’t always the case.

It’s important that as adults we start open dialogues with youths when they’re younger so they’re aware they can come to us if anything does happen. However, often children and teenagers are scared to come to an adult for fear of harm from the abuser. In that case, how can we know? Childhelp offers this list of signs to watch out for:

• Difficulty sitting, walking, bowel problems

• Torn, stained, bloody undergarments

• Bleeding, bruises, pain, swelling, itching of genital area

• Frequent urinary tract or yeast infections

• Any sexually transmitted disease or related symptoms

• Doesn’t want to change clothes (e.g., for P.E.)

• Withdrawn, depressed, anxious

• Eating disorders, preoccupation with body image

• Aggression, delinquency, poor peer relationships

• Poor self-image, poor self-care, lack of confidence

• Sudden absenteeism, decline in school performance

• Substance abuse, running away, recklessness, suicide attempts

• Sleep disturbance, fear of bedtime, nightmares, bed wetting (at advanced age)

• Sexual acting out, excessive masturbation

• Unusual or repetitive soothing behaviors (handwashing, pacing, rocking, etc.)

• Sexual behavior or knowledge that is advanced or unusual

• Reports sexual abuse

If you suspect a child has been abused, even if it’s not your own child, contact the Greene County Sheriff’s Office at (434) 985-2222. For more information about the VSP databases and crime reports, visit http://www.vsp.virginia.gov/. It’s cliché but it does take a village to raise a child; be a positive presence in your village and keep your eyes and ears open.

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