New Florida Poll Documents Widespread Prevalence of Sexual Abuse

New Florida Poll Documents Widespread Prevalence of Sexual Abuse
Shocking findings: Many would blame the child, fail to believe,
or try to handle sexual abuse within the family.

A shocking new Florida poll documents a high prevalence of child sexual abuse and misconceptions about reporting and preventing abuse. And despite a legal mandate that a suspicion of sexual abuse must be reported, a surprising number of respondents doubted that children could be trusted to remember an incident correctly, preferred to handle it within the family or believed a child could entice abuse by acting provocatively.

Those are among the findings of a comprehensive new study of Florida’s attitudes toward the blight of child sexual abuse, released today by Lauren’s Kids.

The study found that more than one-third of female respondents and one-fifth of male respondents in Florida were sexually abused before they turned 18 – numbers that echo the national statistics of 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys. However, fewer than 20 percent of respondents ever received counseling to help them through the trauma of abuse. The poll pointed to numerous barriers to preventing child abuse, including the fact that one in five Floridians are unaware that under the law all people are required to report suspected incidents of child sexual abuse.

“For people in the field who deal with these issues every day, most of these findings are not shocking – we know this information, and the results of the study validate what we’ve known all along and see day in and day out,” said Lauren Book, M.S.Ed, CEO and founder of Lauren’s Kids. “However, even for someone like me who has made this work my life and is a survivor myself, the fact that 1 in 5 Floridians believe a child 12 or younger can act in ways that entice abuse clearly shows an extreme lack of understanding. We have a tremendous amount of work left to do.”

The Internet poll of 1,033 Floridians was conducted during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month, April 10-16, with a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percent. Commissioned by the Lauren’s Kids foundation, a nonprofit that raises awareness about child sexual abuse prevention, the poll represents a balanced sample of respondents based on region of the state, age and gender.

Among key findings:

  • 93 percent of respondents agreed that child sexual abuse is never the child’s fault when it involves children younger than 13, and 82 percent agreed regarding those age 13-17.
  • 18 percent believe children younger than 13 can sometimes act in provocative ways that could entice abuse. This figure jumps to 43 percent regarding children ages 13-17.
  • 30 percent of women and 14 percent of men said their first sexual experience was forced upon them. Of this group, 64 percent of women and 81 percent of men reported “some” or “quite a few” problems or difficulties in adult life as a result.
  • About one in five Floridians recognize that most child sexual abuse is preventable through education, safety training and awareness. Lauren’s Kids has previously reported that, in fact, as much as 95 percent of cases can be prevented this way.
  • 34 percent of Floridians said they have at least one close friend or family member who “definitely” was subject to sexual abuse prior to age 18. Another 14 percent answered “probably yes” to this question.
  • 15 percent of Floridians suspect that one of their own children “definitely” or “probably” has been subjected to some form of sexual abuse. This figure jumps to 21 percent among parents of girls, and to 29 percent among parents who are over the age of 45.
  • Just 18 percent of female and 16 percent of male child sexual abuse victims received counseling for their incidents of abuse.

Lauren’s Kids has developed a prevention curriculum for use in all Florida pre-K and kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade classrooms, with remaining grades through high school ready for classroom use this upcoming 2015-16 school year.

While previous research has clearly shown that almost all child sexual abuse can be prevented through education and awareness, this new study sheds light on the difficulties and barriers of properly educating adults and children about the tough issues involved in this area.

The poll found that 14 percent of parents believe their children have received no education through the school system on identifying or preventing sexual abuse, while another 33 percent responded their children have received “not very much.”

Other education-related responses include:

  • 18 percent of adults said they would not immediately report to authorities an incident of sexual abuse of a child in their family, but would instead try to deal with it as a private matter first.
  • Among the things that would stop them from reporting a suspected incident of child sexual abuse, 30 percent cited fear that the child would be ridiculed by peers; 24 percent cited fear of being dragged through a lengthy legal process; 10 percent cited that they would feel too much shame for the family; and 48 percent cited concerns that the child may not be accurately recalling what happened. Fathers of daughters are particularly worried that reporting suspected child sexual abuse could result in ridicule by peers (43 percent) while fathers of sons express greater concern regarding potential shame for the family (28 percent).
  • More than one-third (37 percent) of parents who have a child old enough to use a computer and still living in the home do not check the child’s Internet history, and nearly three-quarters (72 percent) do not log or store Internet history outside the child’s device.
  • Asked how confident they would be in knowing what to do or where to turn if they suspected that a child was being sexually abused, 54 percent of respondents said they would be “very confident” and another 34 percent said they would be “somewhat confident”.

Safer, Smarter Kids Curriculum

Because 95 percent of sexual abuse is preventable through education and awareness, Lauren’s Kids offers a comprehensive K-12, in-school curriculum that teaches children, teachers and parents the necessary tools to keep children safe. To learn more about this program, which is free for use in Florida’s public schools, visit Effectiveness testing of the pre-K and kindergarten curriculum showed children had a 77 percent learning gain in their knowledge of critical personal safety information.

Online Parent Toolkit

The Safer, Smarter Kids Parent Toolkit is an interactive Web tool designed to educate and encourage conversations between parents and children about making safer and smarter choices to protect against abuse. The tool leads families through scenarios to practice safe choices, videos to learn valuable lessons, and child and parent tips.

Trauma Informed Care Techniques Training

The Lauren’s Kids Trauma Informed Care training was created in collaboration with the Florida Department of Children and Families, Florida Council Against Sexual Violence and a trauma informed care expert to support families and organizations that care for abused children, especially those seeking support within the foster care system.

Tools for Youth-Serving Organizations

Organizations that serve youth have a strong responsibility to better protect children from becoming victims of child sexual abuse. An integral part of preventing, responding to and eliminating this form of child abuse is increasing the awareness of the key signs and best practices for prevention. Lauren’s Kids has created a handbook and training module for youth-serving organizations to help them take steps to keep children safe.

Download the poll highlights and graphics:

LK survey 1 pagers - with graphsLK_002_Facebook_2015

Additional detailed poll results are available upon request. Email [email protected].

Full question wording, results and methodology have been shared with reporters, and detailed results are available to anyone upon request. The poll findings are wholly consistent with those in prior telephone-based studies, which is one important measure of reliability. However, it would be inappropriate to request or expect to be given the identities of respondents, especially the identities of respondents alongside their responses. To be clear, this poll relied on random recruitment and avoided major interviewer bias by asking all questions online.

About Lauren’s Kids

An official 501(c)(3) since 2007, Lauren’s Kids is based in South Florida and educates adults and children about sexual abuse prevention through in-school curriculum, awareness campaigns and speaking engagements around the country and the world. The organization also leads an annual, statewide “Walk in My Shoes” awareness walk across the state of Florida – 1,500 miles from Key West to Tallahassee – and provides more than 7 million education and awareness materials statewide through direct mail every year. The foundation has helped advocate for the passage of nearly two dozen laws to support survivors and protect children from predators. The organization’s mission is to prevent sexual abuse through education and awareness, and to help survivors heal with guidance and support.