Mott Child Abuse & Neglect Conference Presentation
“The best of us are trying to help people imagine a world they haven’t seen before. We’re always trying to tell stories that nobody has ever lived through. Health care, education where everybody can read and write — we have never lived through that.
That storytelling is actually hard work. We need to create entrances and on-ramps for people. Part of creating the entrance is not being so morally self-righteous that I think my entrance is everybody’s entrance. Imagine a world we haven’t seen before.”
Deray McKesson, Civil Rights Activist
In the spirit of imagining a world we’ve never before seen — a world without abuse — three members of the Public Will Campaign Core Team convened in Plymouth, Michigan with other child protection professionals from throughout the state for the 37th Annual Child Abuse and Neglect (CAN) Conference hosted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and the Michigan Children’s Trust Fund.
Approximately 70 people joined an interactive workshop with Reggie Noto, Mark VanderKlipp and Ginger Kadlec to learn about our grassroots Child Sexual Abuse Primary Prevention Campaign and share their own thoughts and ideas about ways to make child sexual abuse rare and non-recurring in our lifetime.
Sharing a brief update on the status of the Campaign and noting that we are knee-deep in the data gathering phase of this important initiative, Reggie provided an overview of a few key themes that both group and one-to one listening sessions participants have shared to date. Some of those common themes include:
The problem of child sexual abuse is overwhelming and uncomfortable to think about — even when people recognize the problem, they often want to avoid talking about it and want to “get away from it.”
People don’t know HOW to talk about it.
The topic spawns feelings of fear — “How can you trust anyone?”
People don’t want to “get into other people’s business.”
As a society, we send mixed messages to kids—be polite; adults are in control; we give people we don’t know access to our kids: coaches, clergy, other parents.
People don’t understand sexual predator characteristics and behaviors.
The problem is multigenerational.
Kids are not “believed” — victim shaming is common.
System dysfunction creates greater trauma for victims.
Professionals view child sexual abuse as a complex, tangled “web.”
Workshop attendees were provided an overview of specific comments that group and one-to-one listening session participants have made about addressing and even stopping child sexual abuse — comments that speak directly to the difficulty of tackling this issue:
Quotes from individuals:
“Sexual abuse is not taboo, but talking about it is.”
“By not speaking about it we continue it…a value not stated is a value not held.”
“Keep family business in the family.”
“It’s the way it has always been.”
“Number one cause is family isolation. It is hard to penetrate the family unit.”
Quotes from professionals in the field:
“Sometimes a child is removed from school the minute a report is made – so it feels like it could be worse to report.”
“People don’t report because they don’t want to ruin a reputation – that’s more important than the safety of a child.”
“People think CSA is rare. But I could easily spend all my time on CSA cases.”
The core team members facilitating the workshop tapped into the expertise and knowledge of the workshop attendees by engaging them in a group exercise to discuss and share their opinions and ideas around two questions:
“As a society, are there things we think or do, perhaps unintentionally, that create an atmosphere in which child sexual abuse is MORE likely to occur?
“As a society, are there things we think or do, perhaps unintentionally, that create an atmosphere in which child sexual abuse is LESS likely to occur?
Attendees were challenged to address these questions in the realm of the “Three Gears” of social change (i.e., individual behaviors, social norms, systems & laws) and focus on primary prevention, rather than intervention. Collectively, the group shared powerful information which has been added to the campaign data library. Ideas shared by the attendees included items such as:
“... MORE likely to occur?”
There is a “not in my backyard” mentality — widely held belief that child sexual abuse happens to someone else or in someone else’s neighborhood or town
Sexualization of young children in media (e.g., movies, “Barbies”, etc.)
Message that females are in “charge” and in control of male sexuality
Cultural influences such as children being expected to hug or kiss family, friends, etc. on demand
Assumption that perpetrators are strangers or are not “nice” people
Children are taught to “mind” adults and do what they are told otherwise they’ll be punished
Lack of adequate screening processes for volunteers and others that work with children
Funding directed more to intervention than prevention
2) “... LESS likely to occur?”
Change the way we TALK
Normalize body safety in conversations with kids
Create environments where it’s safe and acceptable for children to talk about things that make them uncomfortable and disclose abuse
Teach children the proper names of private body parts
Utilize everyday moments as teaching opportunities to reinforce and model desired behavior
Empower parents to demand change
Improve social-emotional training in schools
Model protective behavior
Ask children permission for a hug or kiss
Parents stay in physician examination rooms with kids
Listen and respond to children’s apprehensions and concerns — teach them to trust their instincts and show them support for doing so
We invite you to view the presentation shared at this workshop, as well as a summary of the comments shared during the Group Exercise.
We deeply thank C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and the Michigan Children’s Trust Fund for inviting us to present at this impactful conference!