I hate writing about this. I hate thinking about this. But ever since the I went to a course in how to be Stewards of Children, an initiative led by the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy, I knew I was going to have to write about this program teaching people how to prevent child sexual abuse. There’s precious little good news here, because statistics show that in America, a staggering 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before they turn 18. So the imperative is to prevent child abuse before it can happen.
It’s overwhelming (and revolting) to dwell in this arena, but the 3-hour course is meant to give you tools and tactics to become an advocate for children and protect them. To stay in denial is simply an abdication of responsibility and we can’t afford to be passive. Because beyond the personal and individual devastation, the social costs and consequences of sexual abuse are immense.From depression to addiction, sexual abuse creates a cascade of misery that can last a lifetime. 70-80% of sexual abuse survivors become drug and alcohol abusers. Young girls who have been abused are more likely to develop eating disorders, get pregnant as teens, and engage in prostitution. And among male survivors, 50% have suicidal thoughts and more than 20% will attempt to kill themselves.
Although it’s difficult for me to imagine anyone wanting to exploit a child, child sexual offenders are the very people who seek out opportunities to be with children, and spend years building up trust, charming parents, and finding ways to be alone with their victims. In fact, 30-40% of children are abused by family members, and 90% are abused by people the family knows and trusts.
So how do we stop it? Well, the first step is become aware, get educated, and get committed to doing something to stop it. One of the most powerful ideas is so simple, it’s flooring: End one-adult/one-child situations. This is a policy change as well as a personal guideline, and it’s not easy to enforce. But in schools, clubs, churches, sports teams, youth organizations – everywhere! – there should be iron-clad rules about no closed doors, no one-on-one private meetings, and no opportunities for an adult to be alone with a vulnerable child (within the family, of course, it’s a lot more complicated).
Some other protective steps have to do with asking the right questions, talking to your children with openness and explicitness, and being suspicious of basically everyone. Which really isn’t my style – but believe me, if I had taken this course before Lulu was grown, I would never have let her out of my sight.
The Georgia Center for Child Advocacy is committed to taking one million people through its “Darkness to Light” training by 2020. Tough as it is to sit through, I can’t think of anything more important for the well-being of our children. I’m sending $100 today to support staff training for children’s organizations that can’t afford the $15/person fee, in hopes that we can prevent this scourge from happening to one more child. Click here if you’re a fellow Warrior! And click here to take the course and become a Steward of Children yourself!