It's all in how you react to trauma. Everyone reacts differently. "That's why one person who observes a car crash will jump out and help and another will stand by frozen," says Shawna Gray. Gray is the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Sexual Assault Survivors in Newport News, which last year counseled more than 105 minor victims of sexual abuse on the Peninsula.

"Someone else might have rushed in and saved that child," she says, referencing a graduate student who reported witnessing a sexual attack on a young boy by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky at Penn State. Though he reported the incident to college authorities, the witness didn't intervene directly or call police.

"It's someone well respected in the community, someone in a position of authority. The witness probably froze. Often times people freeze because they're astonished. They can't believe what they're seeing," says Gray. "When the offender is someone in a position of authority, people are more likely to be quiet." She cites numerous other instances in which community leaders or clergy members were known offenders and people didn't report them.

The website of Prevent Child Abuse Virginia also cautions that witnesses to abuse or neglect may experience dread, anger and anxiety and "they will certainly experience a lot of confusion." Jane Hollingsworth, executive director of the Child Abuse Program at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters concurs. "They may think, 'Did I see that right? They may be fearful or intimidated," she says.

At Prevent Child Abuse Hampton Roads, Executive Director Betty Wade Coyle conducts 3-hour "Darkness to Light" training sessions for lay people and professionals to teach them about the long-term impact of child sexual abuse and how to prevent it. "It's personalized, and it teaches them why we need to prevent it," says Coyle, who also advocates for Praesidium, a Texas-based company that helps programs institute child protective measures — from protocols for screening volunteers to what to do if abuse occurs. "When people don't have guidelines, it makes it a whole lot easier to do nothing," she says.

The most recent figures available for Virginia show that more than 6,200 children were victims of abuse or neglect in 2009-2010. Of those, more than 800 were victims of sexual abuse. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network reports that nearly 30 percent of child victims are between the ages of 4 and 7; and in nearly all cases — 93 percent — juveniles know their attacker.

Gray's goal is for the Center to be in the school system through every year of school. "It's my belief that sexual assault education should be part of education from kindergarten through high school," she says. The Center already takes programs to preschools to teach about "good touch/bad touch" and has also worked with middle-schoolers. "Some school systems aren't open to it, for whatever reason. … I firmly believe that children need to be educated as to what's appropriate and what's not, what is a healthy relationship and what's not," says Gray. "Parents are often afraid to have the discussion or embarrassed. We need to educate and arm our children."

Hollingsworth thinks education is a good starting place. "But we need to have a national policy that would have zero tolerance for child sexual abuse," she says. "The whole child and sex combination is so terrifying and so difficult to speak up about. I've had people say, 'That doesn't happen. You're crazy.' There's a deep distaste for getting involved in it."

There are several reasons that children themselves don't come forward. "It's a combination. They're scared, they're embarrassed, and sex offenders tell them, 'This is our secret,' and they may threaten to hurt their families," says Gray. "They give them CDs and gifts, they take them to the movies. It's special, the person cares about me — so they don't tell."

Virginia code requires certain authorities to report suspected child abuse; they include social workers, teachers and medical professionals. Hollingsworth believes "we all need to be mandated to be the one with courage to report it, to act on it, to prosecute it, to take responsibility."

To report abuse:

If you suspect abuse, you should immediately report your concerns to the local department of social services. Non-caretaker abuse should be reported to the police.

• Call the Virginia child abuse hotline at 1-800-552-7096

• Call the police

• Call Child Protective Services in your city

• Call the 24-hour crisis line of the Center for Sexual Assault Survivors, Newport News; 757-236-5260.

• Call the national sexual assault hotline, 1-800-656-4673; or find the online hotline at http://www.rainn.org (Rape, abuse and incest national network)