This seems like an obvious statement, but it does not come as naturally as one would think. I learned from a very young age that even when your parents love you, shit can happen. I am not a parent yet, but I would bet dollars to doughnuts that when parents receive children into their lives, they’re number one goal and role becomes to protect them. While this is the case, two things are true.
#1. No parent can protect their child 100%
#2 All parents do not share the same perception of protection, and this includes what it looks like and when it is needed.
My personal experience taught me this as a child, but my professional experience has illustrated these facts through research, statistics, and my day-to-day experience. For seven years, I worked directly with caregivers facing the (self-reported) most difficult moment of their lives, discovering the sexual abuse of their child, usually, but not always at the hands of a trusted family member or adult. I provided trauma informed crisis counseling, emotional support, guidance through the investigation process and connection to services that support healing and forward mobility in the face of sexual trauma.
This experience provided me with not only the privilege of supporting families at a crucial moment, but with the opportunity to witness the inner workings of social and structural systems that make decisions for the lives of families who have to pass through them. I am still honored to have been a part of the coordinated response and to have built relationships with professionals from the investigating agencies, but I am haunted by the darker side of systems which further traumatizes children and not only allows abuse to continue, but sometimes places children in even more danger than they were in before having their disclosure reported.
I learned how traumatizing the process of disclosing can be for children and youth. I was exposed to how harmful and disheartening the interview process can be for youth as well as how myopic and assuming professionals can be who are tasked with deciding the fate of families. I became privy to the significant difficulty in proving or prosecuting child sexual abuse (even if a child can say what happened). The worst discovery of all may have been this: After all of these processes fail to bring child victims justice or safety, quite often, if their abuser is their parent, then their abuser has rights to them. Their abuser’s right to them inevitably trumps the child’s safety in Family Court.
Systems are Causing Further Abuse and Trauma
My work enlightened me to the idea that not only do we have what I consider to be the original global pandemic, child sexual abuse, but somehow today’s society has managed to promote and sustain child sexual abuse subliminally and openly. I would even pose the argument that our culture and systems directly and indirectly normalize and enable child sexual abuse. I believe that Family Court judges and guardian ad litems (lawyers who represent children in court) play a special role in this problem due to a lack of education and awareness.
Spreading Awareness and Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
So where does that leave me? Well, over the past several years I have met many mothers and quite a few fathers who have dealt with many of the same issues within themselves, within their families, and dealing with social systems that don’t believe them or their children and give agency and power to abusers. I have worked with parents and survivors who have expressed disgust and frustration with these systems and have voiced a desire to spread awareness of child sexual abuse and to work together to combat it. It reminds me of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. When a group of mothers (or parents in general) gets together it seems like a force that just can’t be reckoned with. So, although I am leaving my trauma informed crisis work soon, I believe this is just the beginning.
With all I have learned and experienced, I am determined to get the message out there. People need to know it exists, how prevalent it is, how we as a society promote it without even knowing it, the lack of awareness that exists with professionals who are dealing with it directly, the specific systems that incessantly retraumatize children, and finally how to prevent child sexual abuse overall. These are heavy topics, but they need to be illuminated because no one is talking about it. Child sexual abuse is the most prevalent public health issue for children across the world, it is arguably one of the hardest crimes to prove (but one of the most heinous), and decisions for many of these children are being made by people who don’t understand child sexual abuse dynamics.
Okay, What now?
What do I plan to do? Well, my first step was taken a few years ago with the establishment of a non-profit I co-founded with my best friend called TMIT — Touch Me I’m Tellin’ (www.tmitdc.org) which serves to spread awareness of child sexual abuse and to provide a platform for adult survivors of sexual trauma (that occurred at any age) to connect with other survivors in the spirit of healing and for all adults to come together to protect children and work towards the prevention of child sexual abuse in their own communities.
My next step is the humble use of this platform. The fact that there is a place for me to share my experience and expertise all while educating people about something that is so taboo is a game changer. It is as if the secrecy is what keeps child sexual abuse alive and thriving, so my goal is to make the prevalence of child sexual abuse common, public knowledge and to provide enough information to allow people to see it for the public health crisis it is. Part of my life purpose is to bring people together in the fight against child sexual abuse and in the shifting of minds and culture to create a better world for children. They are the future of this planet…so why not?
Mantra for 2022: Protect children, duh!