Why we need to talk about childhood sexual abuse | KUOW News and Information

Why we need to talk about childhood sexual abuse

Sep 14, 2017

There is a crisis that many of us would rather not face — childhood sexual abuse. 

According to Janice Palm, who works with adult survivors of sexual abuse at Shepard’s Counseling Service, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

"There isn’t a part of that we want to see. I think we have a visceral reaction to the whole topic,” Palm said, speaking to Bill Radke on KUOW's The Record.          

The danger in that, Palm said, is that when we don’t talk about sexual abuse, it continues.

“The talking helps,” said Dan Knoepfler, a certified sex offender treatment provider in South King County. “By having this cloud of silence over sexual assault, we’re actually making it worse for people who’ve been sexually abused.”

Knoepfler said by not talking openly about both the victims and abusers, we are exacerbating symptoms that don’t need to be exacerbated. He said because we aren’t willing to hear these stories, we make the lives of victims more miserable and difficult.

“It is a wound that needs to be exposed and cleaned so that it can heal right,” he added.

Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray resigned this week because of allegations that he sexually abused teenage boys decades ago. Murray denies those allegations.

But this issue goes beyond the Murray case. Palm faults our society's "conspiracy of silence."

“We’re all guilty of it,” she said. “This causes enormous harm. We need to understand it happens, but we also probably need more compassionate ways of dealing with it when it happens.”

Palm finds hope in her work. She said it can be hard to witness human suffering and to consider what humans being are capable of doing to other humans, but she has the lucky job of watching people reach out for help.

“All the effort that’s gone into coping and keeping this pushed aside now can go into living your life — having vitality, having spontaneity and creativity, growing relationships that are truly healthy and good,” Palm said.