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Challenge: Digging Deep

Why are We Unwilling to Discuss Child Sexual Abuse?

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What I have learned the most in the last ten years that I have been focusing on child sexual abuse prevention is that people are scared to discuss it because it hits too close to home. They don’t come right out and say that. Instead, they let themselves believe that it won’t happen to their kids, or that if they have boys they don’t have to worry about it, or myths like stranger danger. I believe people just don’t understand that predators are counting on people not talking about it, that is what makes it so easy for them to molest children.

Every time I speak about child sexual abuse someone shares they or someone they know has been abused. That is not the case with stranger danger, campus shootings, or any other safety issue that schools spend a lot of time and money on, that journalists write about, and television news focuses on. When there is an attempted abduction, not even an actual abduction, it gets shared far and wide across news channels, social media platforms, and parenting groups. People are talking about it in coffee shops and around the water cooler at work. The odds of your kid being abducted are almost zero. The odds of a campus shooter at your child’s school are less than winning the lottery. The odds of your kid being molested are 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys by the age of 18.

The subject of human trafficking is getting major attention across the globe and especially here in San Diego. You can find someone speaking on human trafficking almost every single week in San Diego County. I am on the Lawyers Club Human Trafficking Collaborative. The collaborative is comprised of federal and state prosecutors and defense attorneys, civil attorneys, advocates, victim service providers, and local legislative representatives. We hold events where we bring together stakeholders from all the agencies like law enforcement, academia, lawyers, and policy makers. There are a lot of people, including the government, spending a lot of time and money on this issue.

Obviously, I believe in this very worthy cause and extremely important work or I wouldn’t be a part of the collaborative. What I don’t understand is why this same amount of effort isn’t expended on preventing child sexual abuse. Those who work with victims of human trafficking know that people who have been sexually abused as a child are at far greater risk to becoming a victim of human trafficking. So why wouldn’t they focus on child sexual abuse prevention as a way to prevent human trafficking? The odds are far greater and the number of victims of child sexual abuse are way more than human trafficking.

I believe the reason people won’t talk about it is simply because it isn’t a stranger who is committing these atrocities on our kids. It is our own family members, our dads, uncles, step-dads, grandpas, cousins. It is our teachers, our coaches, our neighbors, our family friends. It is people that we have always trusted and would never even consider would harm our child.

Maybe it is because we feel that if we admit that, it would be admitting that we aren’t in control. Maybe it is because if admitting that someone we love would harm us or our children makes us feel that we have the inability to make good judgement calls. Maybe it is because nobody has ever told us that what happened to us as a child was child sexual abuse. That weird uncle who used to make us sit on his lap. That weird grandpa who used to make us go skinny dipping. The cousin who lifted up our night gown in the middle of the night. The dad who wanted us to bathe with him far past an appropriate age. The teacher who rubbed our shoulders in class.

All these are child sexual abuse. Until we start talking about it the way we talk about cancer, and calling it what it is – child sexual abuse, not an “inappropriate relationship", and spending our time and resources on educating parents and everyone who works with children, it will continue. It affects way more kids than any other public health issue that exists.

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