While studies have shown that sex abuse of children is less likely today than it was in the 70s and 80s when these reported assaults took place, experts say we should all still be very much vigilant.

Dr. Donna Tonrey, director of the Counseling and Family Therapy Master’s Programs at La Salle University is a licensed psychologist, marriage and family therapist and professional counselor, and an expert in the field. She said that parents are their child’s best and most important advocate and guardian against abuse.

“I think parents have to be vigilant of all surroundings and people their children are engaged with, and to openly ask questions about their children’s experiences, understanding that if any aspect of their children’s reports are questionable, the parents are not to hesitate in looking further into the situation,” Tonrey told the Local. “Parents are their children’s best advocate, and at no time should a parent’s concern for someone’s feelings get in the way of them thoroughly checking out a situation, especially if it is not transparent.”

Tonrey said that any changes in a child’s behavior – eating, sleeping, mood, etc. – can be a cause for concern and reiterated that parents have regular conversations with their children and encourage dialog, making clear that the child will never get into trouble for sharing any information.

“When anyone victimizes a child, it is not uncommon for that person to use the fear-factor by telling the child that they would get into serious trouble if they told anyone about what had happened,” she said. “And to further complicate the situation, it is not uncommon for the perpetrator to be someone who is familiar to the child. This creates confusion for the child, and sometimes for the parent as well. If a trusted person victimizes a child, they are using the trust as a shield to protect them from being exposed. All the more reason parents need to know that the needs of their child comes first, regardless of how another may be affected by the parents investigating.”

If a child has been victimized, Tonrey said parents must be there to support their children, understanding that healing can take a long time.

“Parents need to be there to emotionally support the child and reassure the child that they are not at fault, she said. “Also, the child needs to have professional help to process through the trauma and to heal from it. It is also likely that the parents will need professional help for the same reason, and to know how to best support their child. Parents also need to understand that there is no time-frame for healing. It takes as long as it takes. It is a process that cannot be rushed.”