Six months ago I set up a table at the local farmer's market to promote Prevent Child Abuse NY. That day, a man came up to me and started asking me questions about child sexual abuse. He told me parts of his life story- suffice it to say it was very unenviable. And before he left, he asked me if I really thought I could do anything to stop child sexual abuse, as it has been going on through the earliest glimmers of Western civilization. I was at a loss, I must admit, but finally I said I believe a difference can be made, and that my life is much better and more purposeful because I believe that.
Well, this fellow's question did make me think. Child sexual abuse is probably the most deplored crime in our culture. We are constantly pushing the boundries of our constitution to control it, by starting registries like Megan's law, Civil confinement, and the efforts that were made to censor "A Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure" in November. And there is some evidence that we are having some success in decreasing all forms of child abuse, as federal numbers and NYS data (which is all I look at, as that's where I live). But we are still talking about a crime that, at 25% of girls being victimized and 15% of boys before their 18th birthday, is beyond pandemic.
I'm going to break this down into a few blogs, because frankly, I'm a busy woman. But here are some of the reasons the crime of child sexual abuse is so prevelant in our society.
1) The case of the likeable criminal- Most children will be sexually abused by someone both they and their parents like and trust. I think parents read that fact, nod vacantly, and don't really absorb it. What it means is that we're capable of liking someone who does something absolutely terrible to someone we love. Very likely, that person we love is a part of our family. Granted, the people most likely to murder us are people we know, too, but other than domestic violence (which is not to be dismissed by any means, as it is a very significant cause of death for young women), they aren't likely to be people we are terribly close with. And murder isn't nearly as common as child sex abuse. I think it is very, very hard for people for whom child sex abuse isn't a big part of their life to wrap their mind around the fact that betrayls this bad are even possible. If people really don't believe this can happen to them, they don't need to worry about it.
2) Sweeps week- In the 1980's, child sexual abuse was a huge deal. And while plenty of experts were out there, telling accurate, evidence-based truths about the crime, there were also a few stranger abductions happening. And those got much, much more publicity. It was easier for people to swallow the big bad stranger snatching their child away from them than it is for them to believe their spouse or relative is going to do it. And people tend to swallow that which is easy. What did we get out of that? We got a lot of information dispersed about preventing something which is increadably uncommon. And we had an excuse to not try and think about something which was much more unplesant, but also more likely. And FYI, right now I think the human-trafficing movement is going to supplant the knowledge-base we're accumulating about child sexual abuse prevention. Why would the media run a story about "regular" old child sexual abuse when we have human trafficking to report on? Never mind the fact that the majority of people in the United States who are trafficked for sexual slavery are child sexual abuse survivors who ran away from their abusive homes, hoping to find something better and missing the mark very badly. I don't want to sound insensitive to human trafficing victims. But I do feel that treating this crime as though it happens in a vacume, without roots in larger societal problems, is ultimately going to be counter-productive to all facets of work against CSA.
Part two will be forthcoming. I need a break, my computer needs a break.