I started doing work around child sexual abuse (CSA) over a decade ago, when I was living in Atlanta, GA. Since then, I have learned a lot about what it will take for us to truly build community-based responses to CSA that are not destructive. Responses that could secure immediate needs, such as stopping the violence and getting immediate safety from the abuse, healing for those impacted by the abuse, accountability for the abuse done, or a plan of how to move forward; without undermining long term goals such as preventing future incidences of violence and abuse, building and transferring out the skills necessary in responding to CSA, or ending the conditions that help CSA to continue (e.g. oppression, violence, isolation, fear, stigma).
Over the years I have educated myself whenever and however I can about CSA--reading, watching and listening to anything I could. I have fallen down digital rabbit holes for hours clicking through an endless trail of articles and watched as many movies and documentaries as I could get access to. I have reached out to countless activists and artists whose work deals with CSA to learn about what they are doing and share about the work I am involved in.
Educating ourselves about CSA is essential if we are going to be able to respond to it well.
Understanding how CSA continues to be passed down from generation to generation teaches us that our strategies for addressing and ending CSA must be generational. We will not end CSA--or any kind of violence or abuse--in one campaign or with one organization, for that matter. Understanding that CSA is simultaneously both hyper-visible and supported, even encouraged, while at the same time completely hidden and buried in secrets, teaches us that we must have multiple strategies moving at the same time. Community-based responses will not be the only way we will be able to end CSA, they must work in concert with campaigns to change policies, culture and practices. For example, responding to CSA within families is one thing, but if we are responding to CSA done by a school principle, state senator, priest, doctor or police officer we will need simultaneous campaigns that can run alongside our community intervention(s). This is especially true if the institution and/or state rushes to protect the abuser.
Understanding how CSA is connected to and perpetuated by systems of oppression (and vice versa) means that we must also work to dismantle systems of oppression as well in our work. We cannot replicate oppression and oppressive dynamics in our work. Work to end CSA that relies on secrecy and lack of transparency, white supremacy, abuses of power, pitting communities and or survivors against each other, capitalism or silencing the voices and leadership of survivors will never be successful in ending CSA or significantly bringing CSA rates down. We have yet to find a demographic where CSA doesn't exist and yet every community insists that "CSA doesn't happen in our community." We must understand that even though CSA exists everywhere, the impact of CSA is different because of how different oppressed communities get targeted. Rich communities, for example, often have the resources to cover up their abuse or to pay their way out of consequences, where as poor(er) communities do not.
Simply understanding the vast numbers of people impacted by CSA (estimates say there are more than 42 million adult survivors of CSA in this country alone) helps us to understand that addressing CSA is about far more than weeding out a bunch of "bad eggs." And because CSA continues to be one of the most underreported forms of violence, many say this number is actually higher. And given that, as with most sexual violence across the board, children and youth often know the person abusing them, we know that teaching only about "stranger danger" is not sufficient in adequately addressing CSA.
Above all, educating ourselves and others about child sexual abuse helps us craft more effective responses to CSA that are grounded in the reality of CSA, rather than the myth of CSA.
And I get it, it is not easy to learn about, let alone think about, child sexual abuse. I get it. I get the urge to turn away from CSA. The urge to push it away and out of our minds, to just want to enjoy our lives and not have to think about the kinds of atrocities happening in our communities every day--and certainly not to the most vulnerable members of our communities. I know it's hard. There are many days that I don't want to think about CSA. I am not suggesting that to be effective we must think about CSA every day, all the time--that is not sustainable. However, we cannot continue as a society to keep ignoring CSA because of our own discomfort or fear. We cannot continue to wait until CSA is exploding in our lives to begin our work, we must start now and build a foundation of preparation and prevention. All of us. For all of us.