If you have been watching the headlines, an unfortunate reality has come to the forefront of mainstream media and in-turn our broader culture’s conversation: child sexual abuse happens. If you are really paying attention, you may have picked up from the patterns in news coverage that child sexual abuse happens often, in communities many would consider safe, and it can involve trusted adults and local heroes.
This news is reality, and it is heavy. To think of the scope of child sexual abuse, that one person can negatively impact the lives of so many children, is truly overwhelming. To know this happens in so many unseen and unchallenged ways doesn’t make it any easier. But it’s important not to let reality disempower or fatigue us in pursuing change.
Whether you identify as a participant in the movement to end sexual violence or just see yourself as an individual invested in challenging the status-quo: It is imperative that we believe change is possible. In my opinion, this is the cornerstone of prevention. Equally important is that we are able to see our role in this change because we all need to be a part of the solution when it comes to sexual violence prevention.
Recently, I was at the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence statewide prevention-themed conference and heard the charismatic Dorothy Edwards of Green Dot share an inspiring message about the power of bystanders. Dorothy described that when we simplify the dynamics of sexual violence to two-parties, the victim of violence and the inflictor of violence, we miss an incredibly important character and opportunity. Who is this 3rd character? Well that character is the bystander, and they can also have a role in this story. In some small way we are all in the position to do, say, or share something that can make an impact. It could be educating our loved ones, making a report or finding safe ways to actively intervene. What I really love about this model is that it highlights that each of us have a proactive role in prevention and the opportunity to have a positive impact.
Just as the old adage proclaims that it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to protect children. It takes parents or caregivers who are willing and informed to talk to their children early and often about sexuality, development and boundaries. It takes teachers, medical personnel, and others who are equipped in their role as mandatory reporters. It takes concerned family, neighbors and community members who are willing to trust children that report and their own instincts or “gut” feelings when it comes to signs, behaviors and dynamics that may indicate abuse. It takes institutions that prioritize children, individuals and safety over reputations and bureaucracy.
If you haven’t seen your role yet, don’t worry, it’s there. It takes all of us having this conversation, sharing these values and insisting on change to create a culture where we protect every member of our society and prevent child sexual abuse. Sexual violence thrives in silence, but if we activate our voices and actions, we can counter this current.