Child sexual abuse is any interaction between a child and an adult (or another child) in which the child is used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or an observer. Sexual abuse can include both touching and non-touching behaviors.

We can all agree that this is horrifying and most of us encourage children to speak up if someone is doing something uncomfortable or hurtful to them. Why, then, do most children fail to talk about what is happening to them?

I am the program coordinator for the Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center, a program of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services, serving the communities of Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties since 2005. The ACAC is an accredited, multi-disciplinary team made up of dedicated experts and professionals representing state, county and local law enforcement, Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the District Attorney’s offices in each county, mental health providers, medical providers and victim advocates.

The goal of the team is to reduce trauma experienced by a victim and their non-offending care provider by facilitating the disclosure of sexual abuse in a child-friendly, neutral setting. The team conducts a joint investigation by using a specially trained child forensic interviewer, thus minimizing the number of times a child must tell about the abuse. The collaborative team can then provide the necessary follow-up services to the child and their family.

So what makes it so difficult for a child to speak up?

The answer to this question is a rather complex emotional journey that is intertwined with elements of family, friends and community, self doubt and fear. Try for a moment to see things from a child’s perspective. The perpetrator, 90 percent of the time, is a sibling, family member or family friend, so the child probably loves the person who is hurting them.


Often, the child does not want to “get the person into trouble” and is afraid of the consequences for the offender, for themselves, and for others. The child may have been threatened that if they tell, something dire will happen to them or to someone or something they care about. They may also have been told that no one will believe them or that they will be seriously punished and even removed from their home if others learn about the abuse.

Abusers frequently employ persuasive and manipulative tactics to keep the child engaged. These tactics, referred to as “grooming,” may include buying gifts, arranging special activities, spending extra time with the child and gradually introducing them to sexual activity, often presented as their special game. Grooming is intended to confuse the child victim and can have the result of making the child feel complicit in the abuse, as if they “agreed” to participate.

Other reasons a child may not disclose or report the abuse include shame, guilt, embarrassment and believing that they are bad or they are to blame. Disclosing the abuse can feel like a huge risk to the child. Some who disclose are not believed, and then feel silenced by that lack of belief and support. And, disclosing the abuse and exposing the perpetrator can be a long and painful journey which can involve DHHS, law enforcement and the courts — a lot for a child to deal with.

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month as well as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. During this month we make focused efforts to educate the public about the long-term effects of sexual assault and abuse and how they can help combat the problem. We want victims to know they are not alone, and that we stand united to bring an end to this abuse. At the ACAC, we strive to provide a child-friendly environment allowing a child to share his or her story and to be a place where hope starts and healing begins.

If you know of or suspect a child is being abused, report it to local law enforcement. If you see something, say something. You could make a difference in that child’s life. Together we can help support the youngest victims of violence in our communities and end sexual violence.

Kat Perry is program coordinator for the Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center.

For more information about the Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center, visit or call 207-784-0436. For the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services website, go to: for other important services and support. The ACAC toll-free, 24 hour hotline is 800-871-7741.

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