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Opinion: A Colorado without child sexual abuse is possible

It starts with talking straight with kids

We have all had to make hard choices during the pandemic, but it is time to reverse one of those tough decisions by restoring funding for child sexual abuse prevention. 

Eliza Sultan

New research from Illuminate Colorado examines data and trends related to child sexual abuse in Colorado and provides recommendations for preventing abuse such as using anatomically correct terms for private parts and talking openly and honestly with youth throughout childhood about sex and consent.

As a parent, I know firsthand the pain and trauma that sexual abuse during childhood brings to a family. When my children were two and four years old, I learned the importance of using the words vagina and penis with my kids to describe their private parts.

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Their father and I were divorced, and he used the Portuguese words for private parts. When my daughter complained at school that her “bunda” was hurting, no one knew what she meant. It wasn’t until I started saying vagina that she was able to explain her pain and tell me that her father was sexually abusing her. He is in prison today, but this lesson remains a critical one for all families. 

Unfortunately, Illuminate Colorado’s research found less than half of Colorado parents (47%) say they typically use anatomically correct terms, but awareness makes a difference. When informed that using terms like vagina and penis can prevent child sexual abuse, 71% of parents said they would consider a change.  

From January of 2014 through December 2020 alone, more than 7,400 children in Colorado were identified as having been sexually abused, with an estimated financial cost of $1.5 billion to support these children on their journey toward healing. 

It is our responsibility as adults to protect all children. But we need help with building knowledge and tools for adults to learn how to prevent child sexual abuse.

Beginning in 2015, the Colorado General Fund was providing resources for adult education about child sexual abuse prevention. But in 2020, the yearly funding of $250,000 was cut due to the pandemic.

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Currently, Colorado has a brighter financial outlook than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, General Fund resources were not restored during the 2021 session. This has to change with the 2022 session.

Restoring general fund investments in the Colorado Child Abuse Prevention Trust Fund for successful child sexual abuse prevention programs will allow the state to build from a place of strength and documented impact—ensuring Colorado children and families benefit from proven programming. No other child should ever endure what my daughter did, and this is entirely possible, if together, we act now. 


Eliza Sultan, of Denver, is a legislative advocate for child welfare issues. She is a single mother of two small children. 


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