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Cultural shifts drive child sexual abuse, therapist says

Data from the Children's Bureau shows between 800 and 1,000 cases being referred to Child Protective Services in Oregon each year.

Posted: Jan 8, 2020 6:55 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- With a rash of child sexual abuse cases in headlines in the past week, experts are speaking up about what drives abusers to abuse.

On Tuesday alone, KEZI 9 News covered three sexual abuse cases. Lane County man Michael Creech pleaded guilty to 10 counts of child sex abuse and will spend more than seven years in prison. RiverBend nurse Larry Wilt signed an agreement to not practice while he faces charges of sexually abusing a minor. Lastly, officials are searching for more possible victims of Eugene man Robert Davis, who is facing five counts of sex abuse charges.

RELATED: AUTHORITIES SUSPECT MORE VICTIMS IN CHILD SEX ABUSE CASE

According to experts, it's hard to know if child sexual abuse is on the rise. Data from the Children's Bureau shows between 800 and 1,000 cases being referred to Child Protective Services in Oregon each year.

Certified clinical sex offender therapist Peter Shannon thinks widespread online availability of child pornography and a sex-saturated pop culture can influence some people to act on impulses.

"Some people who have desires for power, to get over on people who can't protect themselves. They have desires for intimacy for which they feel inadequately skilled to address with age-appropriate people," he said. 

Still, Shannon thinks a holistic approach to therapy can help sexual abusers improve. 

"If they do time, they are going to return to the community eventually, and if they get probation they are going to be in the community now. We need to do something to encourage a restoration of health," he said. "They will respond to a therapeutic approach that takes the total package of their character into consideration. Not just their sexuality."

Pennie Saum was sexually and emotionally abused by her father as a child. Now, working as a children's advocate, she wanted to emphasize that there's no stereotype for a child sexual abuser.

"He was a decorated ex-Marine, now Army officer, and he was doing this in our home," she said. "We were the perfect family on the outside. People didn't want to believe who he was and what he did."

She thinks that the influence of the Me Too movement has trickled down to children, who are in some cases being educated about what sexual abuse is and why they should report it.

"Believing is the number one thing that needs to happen. If someone discloses to you, 'I hear you, I see you, I believe you. Let's take action and see what we can do to help,'" she said. 

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