By Susan H. Oliva \ Guest columnist
If you have a radio, television or Internet access, I guarantee you have heard the about the recent Cleveland child abduction case that involves three young women. As a nation, we should find this case very disturbing.
Every hour, more details are disclosed by the three young women held captive. These young women are survivors of both physical and sexual abuse. It is horrible to imagine 10 years of tragic abuse happening right next door. Child sexual abuse is a community problem and happens next door every day.
Everyone must be aware, and do their part, to prevent, report and protect our children. Child molesters are someone you know -- but you don't really know -- because they hide who they really are.
Stranger child abductions do happen, and it makes the headlines, but far more often children are sexually assaulted by their own family members or someone they know really well.
Where do we find, and who is, a child molester? Research demonstrates that the child sexual offender is a family friend or one of the many professionals or volunteer staff who come in contact with our children every day. Sex offenders work very hard to seduce and silence their victims, but they also work very hard to deceive adults, and pretend they are model citizens.
Child molesters do their best to appear stable, employed and respectable. They live in nice houses, go to church, eat in restaurants, and pay their taxes. In the Cleveland case one of the neighbors stated they knew the alleged offender "all of their life, and believed he was a good person."
As hard as it is to believe, three out of four sexual offenders were already preying on victims before they reached their 18th birthday. They want to be perceived as "good people."
Talk to your children. It is essential that you believe and support your child. If your child tells you about "inappropriate touching," do not automatically make excuses for the adult your child disclosed about. If they say they do not want to go to someone's house, ask why.
The child is telling you because they trust you, and they want the abuse to stop. Children need to know you will believe them, as well as protect them. They may feel they have let you down because they were touched and never told, despite your warnings.
Unless we step-up and pay attention, we will be no match for child molesters. A child molester is active in the child's life through family, school, neighborhood or church. They are very good at convincing people that the child is mistaken, or that they were "just wrestling or playing." The molester may know you (the parent) and without a doubt, they believe that you will believe them, and not your child.
Let your child know that if something happens it is not their fault, and they will not be in trouble. Let your child know that if they cannot tell you, they should tell another adult, perhaps a relative or school counselor.
Child abuse prevention programs help, but they cannot do it alone. As parents you must talk to your children. Let them know that they are able to tell you anything. Listen, communicate and believe. Child abuse is an extremely underreported crime. Tragically, most child abuse cases will never be reported. Nationally it is believed for every one child abuse victim identified, 10 additional children are being victimized that no one will ever know about.
If you suspect that a child is being victimized, call 911 or report to the Child Protective Services hotline (800) 252-5400. Visit the Advocacy Center for the Children of El Paso's website: advocacycenterep.org on tips on child abuse prevention and awareness.
It's the law. Do your part and protect El Paso's children.
Susan H. Oliva is executive director, Advocacy Center for the Children of El Paso.