Failing Our Kids

A Resolution on Children’s Rights Day

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Human Rights for Kids’ Founder & President, James Dold, on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court

Today is Children’s Rights Day. You wouldn’t know it though if you looked at all the human rights abuses that are committed against children every day. In the United States, Child Protective Services estimates that 63,000 children are sexually abused each year. Roughly 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult, 93% of which are committed by an individual that the child knows. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 1 in 6 endangered runaways are likely child sex trafficking victims and that approximately 100,000 U.S. children are sexually exploited every year. And in 2015, more than 1,600 children died as a result of abuse and neglect in the United States alone. For the children that survive these human rights abuses the consequences of our failure to protect them will likely follow them for the rest of their lives.

The impact of childhood abuse and neglect on adult health and social development has been broadly studied, culminating in a large epidemiological study, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. A person’s ACE Score is measured by examining whether they experienced physical, sexual, & emotional abuse; physical & emotional neglect; family violence & parental separation; and household substance abuse, mental illness, and incarceration. Studies show that kids who have 4 or more ACEs are 2.3 times more likely to not graduate from high school and to be unemployed; kids with 2 or more ACEs are 4 to 12 times more likely to suffer from alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and suicide attempts; and kids with 5 or more ACEs are 8.3 times more likely to experience sexual violence as an adult. Adverse Childhood Experiences are also prevalent with kids involved in the juvenile justice system. Approximately 45% of girls and 27% of boys in the justice system had 5 or more ACEs.

When we fail to prevent our children from suffering harm or to adequately respond when they have suffered harm, we condemn them to a life of continued abuse and negative life outcomes. Unfortunately, I know the consequences of these failures all too well.

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Adverse Childhood Experiences Pyramid

I watched as one by one my siblings succumbed to the harsh realities of our inner-city community. Drugs, crime, abuse, and a broken-educational system left my sisters, cousins, nephew, niece, and friends in a seemingly never-ending cycle of pain & poverty. Of the eight of us who grew up living with my parents and attending public schools, I was the only one to finish high school. All 3 of my sisters dropped out of school by the 10th grade, struggled with drug addiction, and cycled in and out of the criminal justice system. Both of my cousins, who lived with us because their mother had died and father was in prison, followed a similar trajectory. The cousin I was closest to, Justin, who was like a brother to me growing up and was my best friend, tragically died of a drug overdose during my second year in law school. He was 23. My niece damaged her brain so badly doing drugs as a young teen she now suffers from schizophrenia and lives in a mental institution. My siblings ACEs scores were very high with some, like my cousins, having experienced all 10. It should come as no surprise then why only one of us was lucky enough to finish high school, not become addicted to drugs, or become involved in the criminal justice system. Even so, I should have been another statistic, having experienced 7 adverse childhood experiences growing up. The worst of it came during the beginning of my teenage years.

I was 13 years old when the mother of another scout in my Boy Scout troop began grooming me for what would become years of sexual abuse and labor trafficking. I met my victimizer the summer after my 7th Grade year of middle school at a Boy Scout Fundraiser. I was 13 at the time. Things started off innocently enough, as the mother began showing me care and affection that I felt I was not getting at home. She would take me to movies and concerts and buy me gifts. She would spend hours talking with me on the phone. As my trust with her developed, I confided in her sexual molestation I had experienced earlier in life. She used this to brainwash me into believing that my family didn’t care about me which led me to run away and live with her family. During this time she sexually abused and later statutorily raped me.

She exploited the traumatic bond I had formed with her by manipulating me emotionally and essentially turning me into her indentured servant. For nearly two years between middle school and my sophomore year in high school, I would cook for the family, clean her house, and take care of her children. I had developed a dysfunctional emotional attachment to her which made it nearly impossible for me to leave. I became depressed and at my lowest point contemplated suicide as I saw no escape to the hell that had become my life.

I was eventually able to escape and later came to recognize the horrible crime that had been committed against me later in life. Unfortunately, like so many child victims, by the time I reported what happened to the police the statute of limitations had expired. I was one of the lucky ones though. I’ve been able to move on from what happened to me after years of therapy and healing. Although recent high profile stories are beginning to bring the scope of the problem to light, we are just barely beginning to scratch the surface as so many children live in circumstances where no one is paying attention to their suffering.

Today, on Children’s Rights Day, let us resolve to ease the suffering of our children by doing all we can to prevent it from happening in the first instance; and where our children are harmed lets ensure that adequate responses are in place so that kids receive the treatment and resources they deserve. Our failure to do so can have devastating consequences. From drug addiction and death to poor health and continued victimization, the cost of not addressing these human rights abuses are simply too high. Every year, during this week especially, I’m reminded of what my siblings and I have lost. Let us make sure that no other child has to lose the same.

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