By Joy Oesterly, Executive Director, Missouri KidsFirst
Child sexual abuse is one of the most intimate, stigmatized and demonized forms of violence in our state. The relationships and dynamics surrounding child sexual abuse are complicated at best. Research tells us that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abuse by their 18th birthday. There is no single cause that accounts for child sexual abuse. Rather, a combination of forces – both those that increase the risk of violence (risk factors) and those that reduce the chances that violence will occur (protective factors) – largely determine whether or not child sexual abuse will be committed.
In 2011, the Missouri General Assembly passed legislation that created the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children to make recommendations for reducing child sexual abuse in Missouri. The task force is charged with gathering information concerning child sexual abuse; receiving reports and testimony from individuals, state and local agencies, community-based organizations, and other public and private organizations; and creating goals for state policy. The task force will meet throughout 2012 and issue a final report with recommendations to the governor, general assembly and the State Board of Education by Jan. 1, 2013.
As the presiding officer for the task force, Missouri KidsFirst wants the task force to be a participatory and inclusive process and has been intentional in inviting others who may have an interest or expertise related to the topic of the sexual abuse of children to be involved in the process. Missouri KidsFirst wants to create opportunities for the task force to learn from experts and stakeholders, share information, and discuss the research related to preventing child sexual abuse and then come to consensus on recommendations for the governor, general assembly and the State Board of Education.
At the last meeting on Feb. 17, the task force reached consensus that the recommendations should be multifaceted, coordinated and comprehensive in scope and focus on education for adults (including parents and other caregivers, professionals working with children, justice and law enforcement professionals), bystander engagement, environmental and policy change, education for children, pre-service education in higher education, harm mitigation, and mental health services for victims. At the March 9 meeting, task force members will continue define priority focus areas.
In addition to meetings, the task force will be conducting public hearings in Springfield, St. Louis, Kansas City and Kirksville. In Springfield the public hearing will be April 13, 2012. Dates for the St. Louis, Kansas City and Kirksville events have not been set and will be announced later.
Kansas City area residents serving on the Task Force include Senator Kiki Curls and Dr. Jim Anderst, Children’s Mercy Hospital.