Over my years working in two rape crisis centers and a child advocacy center, I have seen many children, teens, and women who became pregnant as a result of sexual assault. I have walked with them through painful journeys and impossible decisions.

When I hear people refer to conception that has taken place as a result of rape or incest, it is typically spoken about in the theoretical, in terms of how unlikely or rare it is, often with misinformation about how little girls’ bodies work. I have worked with many pregnant children during my years as a therapist. Their stories are written on my heart, because how can they not be? I can see their faces and their small frames, and I have swallowed hard at their ages: 9, 10, 11, 12.

We therapists rarely talk about the stories of these children for many reasons. First and foremost, our commitment to their privacy and confidentiality prevents us from saying anything that might identify them. Second, people are upset by these little girls’ stories and honestly don’t want to hear about it. And thirdly, we feel protective of them and their stories.

But one must know the full, gut-wrenching horror to understand that a girl can get pregnant as soon as her young body begins to ovulate.

I have sat across from a 10-year-old girl, pregnant from her father, coming for her first session. She wore a school uniform, knee socks, hair in a ponytail. I remember her big brown eyes. Her feet did not touch the floor. I asked her a question about what her father did to her: Did this happen more than once? She sat quietly, hands folded in her lap. She lowered her eyes and slowly her chin began to tremble. One large tear rolled down her cheek. “Almost every night,” was her reply.

In the first therapy session, I like to give these children a wooden treasure chest from the craft store to paint and decorate. Then, each week of therapy, they choose a “gem” from the bag of craft gems. Over the course of therapy, we talk about how their body is a treasure. It is precious, valuable, and it belongs to them. At the end of therapy, they have a treasure chest overflowing with gems, representing how truly precious they are.

The emotional chaos that ensues when a family discovers that a little girl is pregnant is enormous. Rape crisis centers are uniquely skilled and prepared to help. Not only do we provide counseling and support for the primary victim, but we also provide counseling to others who are impacted: parents, siblings, grandparents, whoever needs our help. We walk with this family through the entire criminal justice process. We provide help, resources, and options.

Many people can play a valuable role in these situations: pediatricians with special training in child abuse, children’s hospitals, counselors, and social workers. There is a role for government to play in the form of child protective services, making sure that children are safe at home and have a safe adult caring for them.

Whenever we talk about pregnant children, we have to talk about abortion. For a government or legislature to force, by law, a 65-pound, 10-year-old fifth grader to carry a pregnancy to term is an outrageous abuse of power. It should frighten every American to give the government such power. Individual Americans, in keeping with their conscience, their faith, and a myriad of other factors, should retain the freedom to make their own decision. Children’s bodies should be cared for by parents and those with the expertise to help.

» READ MORE: The sexual abuse I suffered as a child made access to abortion a necessity

Today, I ask three things of you:

  1. Take responsibility for protecting children — not just your own children, but all children. Professionally or personally, we all have a role to play in keeping children safe. For every child who becomes pregnant, there are many more who are being abused and no one knows, or no one is stopping it: little boys and girls who are suffering silently. We must do better.

  2. Carefully consider what power you would like the government to have in the lives of individuals before you grant it through your voice and your vote. Laws that retain choice inevitably mean that some people may make a choice that you or I do not personally agree with. That is the nature of a democratic society. But laws that remove all choice give the government unchecked power over the lives of individuals and families.

  3. Have compassion for yourself and others who have been victimized. Call your local rape crisis or victim service center. The Crime Victims Council of the Lehigh Valley is here to help.

Lois Keller is the executive director of the Crime Victims Council of the Lehigh Valley.