Childhood can have a tremendous impact on our future, especially if that upbringing included trauma and violence. When children experience abuse, neglect or forms of dysfunction in the home, they are more likely to struggle with the long-term effects of trauma as an adult.
These negative experiences, which can range from witnessing domestic violence to having a parent who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, have been coined by researchers as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The more ACEs someone has, the more likely they are to face certain difficulties related to those experiences in adulthood. This is because the early stressors we experience as children can shape our perspectives as adults, including how we see ourselves, others, and the world around us.
In the most recent Utah Department of Health Adverse Child Experiences 2020 Report, an estimated 62% of Utah adults surveyed reported they have experienced one ACE during childhood and nearly 25% reported they had experienced three or more ACEs that had a negative impact on their health, behaviors, and life outcomes.
Noteably, 13.1% of those surveyed statewide reported experiencing child sexual abuse. The Younique Foundation was created specifically to address the negative impacts of this particular adverse childhood experience. The foundation has two major focus points: first, to offer hope and healing services to adult female survivors of child sexual abuse; and second, to provide prevention resources to parents, caregivers, and community leaders.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nationally one in five children will be sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. This equates to more than 1 million children in the United States who will be abused this year. Our teens are not exempt from these stark statistics. According to the CDC, over 21% of our high school age girls reported having been sexually assaulted in the last 12 months. And, a startling 11% of Utah high school age students reported experiencing rape sometime in their lifetime.
Like other adverse childhood experiences, the effects of sexual abuse can linger in the lives of survivors long after the abuse has stopped. In fact, survivors are significantly more likely to develop mental health disorders, attempt suicide, or engage in unhealthy relationships later in life.
The good news is that it is possible to prevent or reduce ACEs and their impact. Defend Innocence, a brand of The Younique Foundation, focuses on child sexual abuse prevention by providing parents, caregivers and community leaders with free online sources that support families and enhance prevention skills.
It is imperative that all adults learn the facts of child sexual abuse and how to reduce the risks. Find out how to talk to your children to keep them safe, and discover how you can teach about this topic in the community. This information isn’t only helpful in preventing child sexual abuse, but other ACEs as well. Helpful resources on these topics and more are available at defendinnocence.org.
We need to take action now to stop the cycle of abuse and protect future generations from adverse childhood experiences. We all have a role to play. When we come together as parents, neighbors and community leaders, we can create an environment where children can grow up in secure, loving environments and thrive as adults.
Chris Yadon is the executive director of The Younique Foundation, a nonprofit with offices in Utah and Georgia, that fights for the eradication of child sexual abuse and its effects. The foundation offers hope and healing services to adult female survivors of child sexual abuse, and provides prevention resources to parents, caregivers, and community leaders.