Over the more than quarter century that I’ve worked in child sexual abuse, I’ve seen attention to the issue come and go.
I witnessed the first stirrings that lead to a national attention in the 1970’s as the rape crisis movement intersected with the development of child protection system.
I saw great movement in the 1980’s as wonderful resources developed in small pockets of innovation in around the country, and I saw many of those innovations die in the 1990s replaced by a focus on good touch bad/touch and sex offender registries, neither of which work as prevention tools.
So I had high hopes at the thought of a full hour special by a major cable network when TLC announced it would air “Breaking the Silence” on August 30.
Having viewed the show, I’m having a half-empty/half full moment.
It was wonderful that the message was repeated throughout the show that “stranger danger” is a dangerous misnomer – we know that the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse occurs with strangers victims know. This bears repeating again and again.
The focus in the show on Darkness to Light’s 5 Steps to Protecting our Children is both forward thinking and provided a call to action – offering parents and community members entrusted with the safety of children ideas of how to proceed. For that I am grateful.
It’s also wonderful that Erin Merryn has emerged as a vocal and credible advocate and put an articulate voice to this issue. Her courage and tenacity have brought hope to survivors, and shed a bright light on a dark and ugly subject many prefer to ignore. Her advocacy leading to the passage of “Erin’s Law” in 26 states, teaching children to disclose abuse and educators how recognize it is laudable.
But here’s the rub: it makes a mistake, crucial to prevention work, by teaching children to ask for help only AFTER they have had a bad experience or worse, confusing this with real prevention.
We don’t have all of the answers about preventing the abuse of a child before it ever occurs, but we have many, and they are not reflected in most of the versions of Erin’s Law that have passed.
Very few state versions of Erin’s Law legislation include a requirement that what schools actually do in the classroom be based on science, according to a new report published by Prevent Child Abuse America.
Just as troubling, is the fact that in a documentary entitled “breaking the silence”, the anatomically correct terms for human genitals were not spoken. We heard about “private parts,” but not a single utterance of “penis or “vagina.”
What a lost opportunity!
Parents can promote sexual health and safety by sharing information about sexuality openly and honestly with their children. Maybe the Duggar daughters would not have been in the role of “survivors” on this show had their big brother not thought sexuality was a deep, dark mystery that no one could or would talk about.
As “Breaking the Silence” showed, there are many things that can be done to help keep our kids safer. As Vice President of Prevent Child Abuse America, and in my work as an author reaching out to parents, I work to support parents from the belief that promoting strong, healthy family relationships, including age-appropriate information about sexuality is one of the best ways to help prevent sexual abuse.