In a soon-to-be-released autobiography, Senator Scott Brown reveals that he experienced as a child what is every parent's worst nightmare: He was sexually abused by a male camp counselor when he was 10 years old.
Brown writes in the book, "Against All Odds", that the abuse occurred when he went to the infirmary at a religious summer camp on Cape Cod. He said he didn't tell his parents about the abuse but insisted he didn't want to go to the camp again. Nevertheless, he was back the next summer -- along with the counselor, whom Brown took pains to avoid.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18, and, of course, it can occur anywhere from school to church to summer camp to home.
"It occurs at every level of society, but parents shouldn't be keeping their child from experiences like summer camp because they're worried about the possibility of abuse," says Jonathan Slavin, an instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School who has a private therapy practice in Boston.
Parents should talk to their children about unwanted behavior from adults, he says, long before kids head off to sleep-away camp, which can be anxiety-provoking enough. I usually remind my kids about who's allowed to touch what and where whenever they go to the doctor for their yearly visit.
Slavin applauds Brown for speaking out about his own abuse. "What he did was purely courageous, a heroic service to thousands of people." Boys, he adds, often have a tougher time than girls bringing unwanted sexual touching to the attention of their parents. They're afraid they won't be believed.
"I've had patients who've been abused and confident enough to tell their parents who believed them and provided a protective response," Slavin says. "That's far more healing than when they choose to keep it hidden."
Abuse doesn't always manifest itself with obvious signs in a child, he adds, but many children may show signs of suddenly withdrawing, not being accessible or emotionally present in family interactions.
Parents who see these signs in their children should try to raise the topic gently, asking if there's something the child is afraid of or if he or she would like to talk to a counselor in school.
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