Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2016: Let's Give a Voice to the Voiceless

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The first year I even noticed there was a month dedicated to sexual assault awareness was in 2014, a few short weeks after I reported my childhood perpetrator to the police for crimes he committed when I was a member of his swim team.

At that time, I was still rather disconnected from what had happened to me. After living in denial for decades, keeping his secret from not only adults who could help, but also myself, I finally began to face my truth. I was a victim of sexual abuse.

While sexual assault on college campuses has received unprecedented publicity, child sexual abuse still remains highly stigmatized. Raising awareness of child sexual abuse means facing a terrifying reality. There are people we trust to care for our children -- coaches, teachers, pastors, mentors, relatives -- who abuse that trust to rape and abuse the children in their care. Raising awareness of child sexual abuse means facing our own secrets, ones that can disrupt entire families, communities, and even our sanity. Raising awareness of child sexual abuse can also mean

There is an upside, however. Raising awareness of child sexual abuse can save children from the nightmare I endured. Children often normalize the abuse they suffer, and adults around them ignore red flags, preferring to believe that the sexual abuse of children is such an anomaly that it could never happen in their community, or household.

Many adult victims of sexual assault choose to not report their crimes, afraid of retaliation and other negative reactions. Children, on the other hand, often depend on their perpetrators to meet their basic needs or see that their perpetrators are upstanding members of the community, trusted by their parents.

Reporting a perpetrator as a child doesn't just mean risking ridicule and disbelief. Paradoxically, reporting such a destructive and devastating crime can threaten their sense of stability and safety. When childhood trauma persists, children are at greater risk for substance abuse, mental illness, and physical illness later in life, according to researchers.

Facing the uncomfortable reality that child sexual abuse does exist and pervades our communities is the first step in giving voice to the voiceless instead of perpetuating the culture of shame and silence that enables perpetrators to continue their abuse unchecked.

Children who are being abused can't start hashtag campaigns on Twitter or advocate for themselves. For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, consider opening a dialogue about child sexual abuse in our communities. Raise awareness of an issue whose victims are often imprisoned by silence and fear. Give a voice to the voiceless.