Child Sexual Abuse is a Social Justice Issue
generationFIVE is unique amongst national anti-violence organizations in recognizing that our goal of ending child sexual abuse cannot be realized while other systems of oppression are allowed to continue. In fact, systems of oppression and child sexual abuse (CSA) have an interdependent relationship: a power-over system that benefits some at the expense of others. This system uses violence, creates the conditions for child sexual abuse (i.e. gender inequality, class exploitation, racism, violence and threat for difference), while in turn the prevalence of child sexual abuse fosters behaviors (obedience to authority, silence, disempowerment, shame) that prevent people from organizing effectively to work for liberation, healing and change systemic forms of violence.
“Radical simply means grasping things at the root.” ~Angela Davis.
generationFIVE works at the roots of child sexual abuse and holds a vision of liberation, justice and sustainability for all of our futures.
It is estimated that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in six boys is sexually abused before the age of 18. For each of these children, there is an offender and the affected family and community surrounding them. For each circumstance of abuse, there is also circle of people who can play a part in allowing or preventing abuse.
It is estimated that only 10-20% of CSA gets reported through our public systems. Still, in Public Health terms these numbers are epidemic. This means they are impacting the general population in such high numbers that it is a major pubic health issue. When we look at the number of children and families affected and the number of offenders, we have to start asking different questions. There are not just a few “bad” people sexually abusing children, the behavior is wide-spread. This is not solely an individual mental health issue. We need to ask questions that go beyond the individual to our communities and broader society to find both the causes and solutions to child sexual abuse.
“Imagine a…disease that affects one in five girls and one in seven boys* before they reach 18; a disease that can cause …severe misconduct disorders among those exposed…can have profound implications for…future health by increasing the risk of problems such as substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and suicidal behavior; a disease that replicates itself by causing some of its victims to expose future generations…Imagine what we… would do… We would spare no expense. We would invest…in research. We would …identify those affected and…treat them. We would…broadly implement prevention campaigns to protect our children. Wouldn’t we? Such a disease does exist—it’s called child sexual abuse.”
James Mercy, M.D., Centers for Disease Control, 1999 *conservative stats based on reported cases of child sexual abuse.
To address child sexual abuse, we need to look at the bigger picture: the social norms in which it is happening. By social norms we mean the beliefs and practices regarding power, sexuality, ideas about children and ownership, etc. and the institutions that perpetuate these ideas and practices. We need both an individual and systemic understanding of CSA to be effective in our response and prevention strategies.
Here are some questions for us to consider:
• What do the high numbers of victim/survivors and offenders of CSA tell us about our family and community beliefs and practices? What do we pass on that let’s child sexual abuse continue generation to generation?
• What is it in our social norms and institutions that creates this many offenders, survivors and bystanders to child sexual abuse?
• What are our public systems and institutions missing- so that child sexual abuse rates are not decreasing? What mistakes are we repeating?
We are living in a broader social context that teaches power-over relations, private ownership (parents/family) of children, a dismissal of children’s accounts (legal), mixed messages and little education about human sexuality (it is bad, shame based, and it is used to sell us everything from cars to deodorant), and the ongoing mixing of sex and violence. We are not taught to address pain and trauma deeply, but rather mask symptoms or blame the individual for their distress. Child sexual abuse is about having power over another person and using that power sexually. The norms that allow for this behavior are sadly, ever-present in our society.
generationFIVE looks at these social causes of child sexual abuse and then at real dynamics of the issue…who abuses, who says nothing, the community costs for speaking up, and the criminal justice solutions offered that most people don’t find relevant enough to use or which cause further harm and violence.
generationFIVE had a very impactful training by a 26 year veteran of Child Protective Services (CPS), sexual abuse unit. He walked us through the processes of reporting child sexual abuse, the evidentiary laws regarding proof of abuse, the involvement of the criminal legal systems and the sheer number of kids who recant once they think their families will be broken up. He shared that by the end of the process who you have left are poor people and communities of color who could not work their way out of the system….if families have resources, even if CPS highly suspects they are sexually abusing their kids, they can get out of the public systems with self-paid private therapy, and CPS doesn’t have the resources to track them.
generationFIVE is unique amongst national anti-violence organizations in recognizing that our goal of ending child sexual abuse cannot be realized while other systems of oppression are allowed to continue. In fact, systems of oppression and child sexual abuse have an interdependent relationship: a power-over system that benefits some at the expense of others and uses violence, creates the conditions for child sexual abuse (i.e. gender inequality, class exploitation, racism, violence and threat for difference), while in turn the prevalence of child sexual abuse fosters behaviors (obedience to authority, silence, disempowerment, shame) that prevent people from organizing effectively to work for liberation, healing and change systemic forms of violence.