Anytime there is a really sick child or adolescent, regardless of whether or not you are specialty trained in pediatrics, there is a visceral pain and wanting to immediately remedy the condition.  For many of those faced with such circumstances, there is rarely an opportunity to completely eradicate the underlying disease or offending circumstances.  We look to bring more eyes and minds together to stop the disease process, to reduce the suffering and to help the patient, their parents and caregivers. Often entire communities come together to raise support for a child or a family dealing with cancer.  Dozens or more people put their personal needs aside and focus intently on those of a family hoping to stop the cancer that is ravaging their child’s physicality, devouring their emotional existence and impacting their lives forever.   This occurs despite a complete lack of knowledge about the disease. Rather, there is a clear and ubiquitous motivation that anything and everything that can be done must be done to stop it.

It is so seemingly easy and sensible for this unifying connection between people to rise out of nowhere amongst those who never knew each other nor had any prior spiritual affiliations and in a moment’s notice are willing to do anything they can to help.  This is such a natural and genuinely humane act of caring, particularly, when the youngest and most vulnerable are in immediate need of that scalable and emergent attention required to remove them from harm or get rid of the disease.   What is so starkly disturbing and painful, is why that does not occur in an even remotely similar or consistent way for sexually abused children.

The occurrence and magnitude of child sexual abuse is far beyond disturbing, it is an atrocity, a criminal act that should not continue anywhere to anyone.  Supporting zero tolerance policies and outreach initiatives must be backed by punishments that offenders of all walks of life cannot be sheltered from. Public health awareness needs to be far more broadly and deeply disseminated regarding the salient details of child sexual abuse predators, what to look for, what must be done and what is truly actionable.

There are several misconceptions or myths regarding child sexual abuse, particularly that predators prey on those of lesser socioeconomic status or that perpetrators randomly select children who they come in contact with.  Refer to The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence.


1.       Normal appearing, well educated, middle-class people don’t molest children.

2.       People are too quick to believe an abuser is guilty, even if there is no supporting evidence.

3.       Child molesters molest indiscriminately.

4.       Children who are being abused would immediately tell their parents.

5.       Children who are being abused will show physical evidence of abuse.

6.       Hundreds of innocent men and women have been falsely accused and sent to prison for molesting children.

7.       If asked about abuse, children tend to exaggerate and are prone to making false accusations.

8.       By using repeated interviews, therapists or police can easily implant false memories and cause false accusations among children of any  age.”

Many victims are singled out by their predators, who are well-respected educators, coaches, religious leaders and family confidants, calculating in their selection processes and psychology nefarious in their tactics to isolate and demonize their victims.  The process is so insidious that the most innocent and unsuspecting of us all become infected by the predator’s cryptic cancer.  It frequently flourishes and grows undetected for years.  David M. Gordon, journalist and Jewish activist, wrote in Secrets Don’t Get Better with Age:  Why I’m Choosing Leadership Over Secrecy, Huff Post The Blog 06/12/2013, “The insular Jewish communities of Detroit, Baltimore, New York and countless other religious, academic and athletic circles throughout North America and beyond can no longer hide their secrets.  Huge advances have been made in the pursuit of justice for victims of all types of abuse in areas traditionally shrouded in social stigma and secrecy. Change is coming and justice is thundering in.  Lawsuits are being filed and an increasing number of perpetrators are being exposed.” Rabbis, priests, teachers, coaches and parents who are perpetrators of child sexual abuse should not be protected from criminal punishment and not be allowed to remain in positions of power and autonomy.  The Papal commission on sex abuse is only one initiative of how to institute necessary punishment for bishops and priests that are suspected of child molestation or similar neglect.  Refer to Papal commission on sex abuse targets bishops, seeks to convince skeptics, by David Gibson, RNS, Feb. 07, 2015.  The secrecy of child molestation crosses over the lives of many and is embedded in our schools, our neighbors’ homes, athletic circles.

Top academic administrators, teachers and coaches from the prestigious Horace Mann School in New York City, either were directly involved with or complicit to acts of child sexual abuse and molestation that continued for years.  The stories were buried and predators protected, with lives ending in suicide or years of self-destructive behavior amongst graduates, secondary to the relentless abuse that occurred over the years they attended Horace Mann.  Refer to, Prep-School Predators: The Horace Mann School’s Secret History of Sexual Abuse, by Amos Kamil, New York Times Magazine, June 6, 2012.  Young talented athletes are led astray by their coaches, brainwashed to believe that what is being done to them is a rite of passage or a necessary means to becoming elite athletes.

See the story of Ann Strzempko who was molested by her YMCA swimming coach at the age of 13.  It took years before the repetitive beatings, sexual abuse and brain washing was stopped.  Refer to Unprotected by Rachel Sturtz, Outside magazine, Nov. 12, 2014.  Her story, along with references to many similar acts of child sexual abuse by coaches across the country, are noted.  The tales are horrific and should evoke no less of a visceral response in anyone, including physicians and health care providers, to do anything and everything possible to remedy the condition.  This should be no less than trying to save a child from the threat of cancer. In fact, it should be far easier and immediately possible.

We can and need to make a difference.  Child protective services and temporizing methods are not enough.  We all have an obligation to pay attention, go further with our intuition and inquiries and, most importantly, not protect the guilty.


Lukas Kolm, MD, MPH

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