Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sex Abuse Prevention Presentation

I recently read an article covering a workshop given by Ellen White, a 'child protection specialist' with the YMCA. In short, they wanted to give parents and educators an idea of what signs to look for, how to treat children, and cover some statistics of sex abuse.

Some Statistics

Their stated goal: "to educate more parents on the signs — the red flags, how do predators act — so that you know, ‘should I be paying more attention to this particular person?’” They then go on to describe accurate statistics: 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are abused by the time they are 18 years old, 90% of abuse happens at the hands of people known to the child and family, and 90% of children who are abused will not tell anyone. Those are great statistics to cite.

Predator Stereotypes

However, the article then goes on to stereotype what a predator looks like. They paint the picture of someone who intentionally gains the community's trust, the parent's trust, and then and only then forms the bond with a child to abuse them. Direct from the article: "White said what child sexual predators do is groom the community. They find the right jobs and the right places to integrate themselves into the community as a trusted member and gain access to children. Then they groom the parents, earning their trust, before moving onto children. That way, the child is already trained to think to trust the predator because they’ve seen their parents trust them."


They describe this as an intentional process. My own offending was not an intentional process, in fact, I tried to prevent it. I was not even aware of grooming my victim or his family. They describe coercion being used. I was not aware of coercing my victim. I realize my offending was not the end-all example of what child abuse looks like. I recognize that my experiences are my own and do not generalize. However, to paint every single abuser into this mold is unhelpful and only instills more fear and stigma into the community. It does not solve anything. While the process of grooming might be observable, it is not intentional or easy to spot.

Prevention? Or Reaction?

The most disgusting thing about the article is that they talk about how to treat children, and how to tell when children are being abused or intervene if they suspect someone is grooming their child. I find it disgusting because none of this actually prevents child abuse from happening, unless of course it is already happening. By then it is too late. Not too late to prevent more abuse, but too late to have prevented it in the first place. I do not believe that fits the definition of prevention. Prevention to me means it does not happen, period, because of some kind of intervention.

Educating Children?

The article also discusses talking with children about speaking up. I disagree with this to the highest degree. I am familiar with a program called Erin's Law, which essentially advocates that children need to be taught to speak up if they are being abused and report it. Essentially, it is akin to bullying prevention programs that teach children to stand up for themselves. Imagine that you are taught that. Now imagine that someone did something to you unspeakably humiliating, and simply asks you not to tell. Can you imagine how confusing that would be for you? To put that kind of responsibility on a child is disgusting, because it essentially expects children to stop abuse. That is an adult's job, not a child's.

Do not misunderstand me: I am completely in agreement that children should not be abused. I am not saying that intervention after the fact is worthless. I am saying that intervention after the fact is not prevention. White correctly points out that children should be able to make and keep boundaries, especially around affection like hugs and physical contact and not be forced to hug aunt Betty or uncle Bob if they do not want to. Those are valuable things. They will not stop an abuser, but they are still valuable in building up self-esteem and teaching good mental health.

However, until we grasp just how big an issue sex abuse is- remember those statistics? Combined, about 21% of children are abused by the time they are an adult. Less than 10% of children being abused report that abuse. Educating children to increase that reporting will not have much of an effect. Putting the burden on children to stop abuse- to know what abuse is and who to tell- is placing even more humiliation and shame than the abuser has already instilled them with. It is harmful, not helpful.

Lack Of Adult Support

The biggest reason people (yes, people, human beings) sexually abuse children is that they do not have support, lack adequate mental health help, other psychological reasons. Research has shown that GLBTQ youth are struggling because of the way they are treated and viewed, and are more likely to be depressed and act out with drugs, sexual promiscuity, and even violence. The same effect happens to pedophiles because of the views on sex offenders. Pedophiles are not responsible for most child sexual abuse, yet are treated as if they are. They are viewed as ticking time bombs. That can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I argue that, instead of offering public workshops on how to talk with children, or workshops to scare parents, we should be offering public workshops on how to have good mental health. We should be teaching people, no matter what they struggle with, that they are not alone and that they can have good mental health. It is an adult's responsibility to stop child sexual abuse, and the only way it can be prevented before it happens is by access to mental health resources and support groups. When people have adults they can talk with for support, they will not abuse children, sexually or otherwise.

A Word About Juvenile Abusers

Juvenile abusers make up about a third of child sexual abuse cases. Off the top of my head, most of these cases are the result of the juvenile having been abused and essentially acting out their own abuse on younger children. They are not insignificant, but it is an area I am fairly unfamiliar with.

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