This week I was able to connect with two collective CSA response stories. One is a story about successful prevention of CSA in a family and the other is a collective response in navigating the damage done by the systems of criminalization that surround CSA. Both stories give me a tremendous amount of hope of what can be possible when we are clear about our values, grounded in love and aligned with what matters most to us. Both stories involve adults who acted protectively for the children and youth in their lives and who took risks to help create more safety and trust. In many ways, these two stories bookend the spectrum of CSA and CSA responses: the work to directly confront and prevent child sexual abuse in real time and dealing with the after-effects of a damaging state-system-based approach to CSA.
For both stories, I wonder, what made those responses possible? What supported the actions of the people involved? What were the barriers? What can we learn from each response that might help our work in organizing to end CSA and building the kinds of relationships that keep children and youth safe?
What are the risks that we will need to take in order to keep all children safe? How do we confront and prevent child sexual abuse in our lives? What are the skills we will need in order to build the kind of relationships needed to respond well to intimate and sexual violence within our communities? What are the values we need to practice in our organizing to not only respond, but to end sexual violence in all of its forms, whether it is coming from a police officer, a boss, priest, soldier, senator, coach, principal, doctor, friend, lover or family member?
I dream of a world where rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse are considered historical forms of violence--things that we used to do, but do not do anymore. I imagine future generations after us talking about them as a cruel way we used to be before we collectively worked to transform. I think of child sexual abuse that way too--something that used to happen; something we decided we would fight with every cell of our bodies until it ends; something that required us to work at the intersections of systemic and personal transformation; individual, collective and generational healing; humility and courage; and body, heart, mind and spirit. As we always say in this work, “you can’t think your way through child sexual abuse.”
As the world continues to spin, and so many brave hearts continue to take to the streets to confront state violence head-on, I think about what it would take for us to not only be safe from state violence, but also from the violence we inflict on one another, in our own communities, in our own homes. What would it be like if we could fight the systems that seek to erase us and, at the very least, not have the insidiousness of intimate and sexual violence between each other? I think about the brave hearts who are also confronting intimate and sexual violence head-on, in real time, in their families and communities, often risking the things that are most important to them: their relationships, families, communities and belonging.
I believe our stories of how we have responded to CSA--in big and small ways with all of our mistakes and regrets--can help us build the kinds of responses we will need to end child sexual abuse and sexual violence in general. Not only talking about the initial violence, but how we were able to respond to it--or not. The things that happened after the assault and abuse. The things that happened when we disclosed our abuse, as well as the things that made us decide to not disclose. How did we keep ourselves and each other safe, even in small ways, in the midst of, before and after violence? What did we wish could have happened? What did we long for? what did we need most?
Yes, there is so much we need that we don’t yet have, but I also hope these stories can reveal how much we already have and are doing. The ways we are preventing abuse, The ways we are creating what we need with what we have. The ways that we are interrupting generational cycles of abuse and blazing trails towards a world without sexual violence. The ways that we are not only resisting the world we don’t want, but actively building the world we desire.
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