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There is no major college football power in the Texas Panhandle, no wall of silence within a program to protect a reputation that could allow a former assistant coach to turn a country on its stomach with 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys over 15 years.
There is no major college basketball power in the Texas Panhandle, where a longtime assistant coach has been fired following allegations of continued sexual assault on three former ball boys.
What has unwound in the last month, through lurid details from grand jury testimony at Penn State and personal accounts and a taped phone conversation at Syracuse, has no borders, no limitations on human cesspools.
Sexual abuse among children is everywhere. It’s certainly here.
Does the general public understand the magnitude of sexual abuse? April Leming, executive director of The Bridge, paused. Then she said no.
“A lot of people try to categorize it,” she said. “But it happens in all socio-
economic backgrounds, all neighborhoods, any ethnicity. People always think it happens to someone else. It can happen to virtually anyone.”
The Bridge, a children’s advocacy center for the 26 counties of the Panhandle, has specialists who interview abused children as part of the criminal investigation process.
They meet and tape interviews only after referrals from law enforcement or child protective services.
The Bridge sees between 900 and 1,000 children, age 17 and younger, a year. About 60 percent are female. A staggering 80 percent of the cases, Leming said, are sexual abuse cases.
And just about every victim knows who abused them.
“It is incredibly rare to be molested by a stranger,” said Troy Timmons, one of several therapists who counsel children after they have given statements at the Bridge. “It just so seldom happens here.”
Child Help, a national organization for the treatment and prevention of child abuse, said 90 percent of juvenile sex abuse victims know their perpetrators. Leming and Timmons said that number in the Panhandle is 99 percent.
“If you take a major city like New York and compare to Amarillo, there’s more potential for stranger contact,” Leming said. “In the Panhandle, in rural communities, most everybody knows everybody.”
Across the U.S., 1 out of 4 females experience some form of sexual abuse before age 18.
For males, it’s 1 out of 6. It would be naive to believe the numbers would be that different here.
“I’ve used that number for years, and some have changed to 1 out of 3, but when the Penn State story broke, it was 1 out of 4, and 1 out of 6,” Timmons said. “That’s hard for people to get their head around when you’re talking about fully a quarter of the female population.
“What I tell people is what if over the next 18 years, 25 percent of all commercials airlines would crash. When you frame it like that, it’s like ‘Holy cow!’”
There’s hardly a therapist in Amarillo, Timmons said, who doesn’t see sexual abuse victims, some therapists more than others. Timmons, who wrote a book, “Mommy, Please Read This: The Facts About Child Sex Abuse,” counsels victims and offenders.
“A big myth is people abuse because they were abused,” Timmons said. “That is simply not true, and it’s incredibly unfortunate to suggest that.”
What’s certainly not a myth is the road to psychological and emotional recovery victims must make.
Time and again, when the sordid Penn State scandal came to light, it was couched by the young boys struggling to get their lives back.
No two cases are quite alike, but Timmons works with sexual abuse children on trust issues, intimacy and fear.
There is likely post-
traumatic triggers like smells, sounds, a song — reminders of the abuser that time can’t completely heal.
Victims, Timmons said, are more likely to have higher rates of substance abuse, relationship problems, divorces rates, and for women, unplanned pregnancies.
A lot of bad stuff, Timmons said.
“Therapists and clients are working toward not letting the abuse become the controlling factor in one’s life,” he said. “In so many ways, that’s allowing the abuse to maintain the power.”
The Bridge and child therapists like Timmons can only help those who come forward. Law enforcement can only arrest those when abuse is reported.
“And that’s the thing,” Timmons said. “Because of all the stigmas, still only about 15 percent are ever reported. Most people never tell. Most abusers are never caught.”
Jon Mark Beilue is a columnist for the Globe-News. He can be reached at jon .firstname.lastname@example.org or 806-345-3318. His blog appears on amarillo.com.