Beyond #MeToo: It’s time to confront child sexual abuse

Categories: Board, News and Events, Other, Our Perspective

The #MeToo movement is sweeping across not only our nation, but the world.

Survivors of sexual assault are sharing their stories to encourage others to come forward and to say ‘enough is enough.’ The #MeToo movement includes an out pouring of survivors who were sexually abused as children. After reading all the news articles and listening to story after story, it can be discouraging. But as adults, we can do something about it.

Darkness to Light’s Board Member, Dr. Lyndon Haviland, wrote an opinion piece for The Hill. The theme throughout the OpEd is a simple one: We must keep creating awareness, focus on prevention, and support survivors. Read the article below:

It’s easy to mistake the recent claims of underage sexual misconduct by Alabama Senate GOP nominee Roy Moore and actor Kevin Spacey as just another round of salacious news headlines in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

For those of us who understand the under-reported prevalence of child sexual abuse, these allegations represent something deeply profound. They indicate the #MeToo movement has extended beyond workplace harassment to include child sexual abuse survivors, who have long struggled to come to terms with their past, and find the strength to stand up and speak out. And it has opened a door for lawmakers to lead by example and confront this critical topic that is often kept in the shadows due to its discomforting and unsettling nature.

#MeToo has been a watershed for survivors everywhere, helping scores of women around the world find the strength to come forward with personal accounts of harassment. These brave individuals deserve our respect, as they have pioneered an important conversation over the intolerable behavior they’ve had to endure at the hands of others, simply to get through each and every day.

That same sense of helplessness these remarkable women felt before #MeToo went viral — where they felt silenced by their oppressors — is known all too well by child sexual abuse survivors. And just as #MeToo has inspired targets of sexual misconduct to channel their voice, no one deserves that more than those who have been molested as children.

Abusers use the stigma of it as a weapon, as they know the children they prey upon will feel ashamed, and likely won’t tell anyone about it. It’s why child sexual abuse continues to be one of the most underreported crimes around the world. Statistics show one in 10 children under the age of 18 will be affected — and only a third of them will report it.

The only way to shatter this perpetual cycle is to de-stigmatize the issue and address it, head on. And raising awareness, and focusing on prevention, is where it starts. If we’re truly committed to ending the cycle of abuse, we must do our part to change how we talk about it, how we perceive it, how we deal with it — and what we need to do to stop it by recognizing the warning signs.

Above all, the most important role we can play is to support abuse survivors. Because when they know we are there for them, and that we won’t view them differently, and will be at their side, there’s hope that one day, they may be able to confront the unspeakable events that have happened to them.

That’s precisely what the #MeToo campaign has done for those who have experienced workplace sexual harassment. It has established a shared sense of community that has forged a bond, where they know they’re not alone, and no longer feel threatened or handcuffed by the actions of their perpetrators.

It’s no coincidence the allegations against Roy Moore and Kevin Spacey — or the claims raised by Corey Feldman regarding alleged pedophilia in Hollywood — have surfaced in this environment. #MeToo has helped many who have lived silent, for years, come forward and tell the world that what’s happened to them isn’t their fault.

It’s why members of Congress owe it to these survivors to pay attention, and take action. It demands that we have an open discussion about child sexual abuse in the bright light of day. Survivors should never feel that they have nowhere to go, or believe that it’s safer to stay quiet. It’s up to us to do everything we can to help them. And that will only happen if we run toward the problem, not cower away.

As Rose McGowan herself said last month before The Women’s Convention in Detroit: “We are pure, we are strong, we are brave and we will fight. … The scarlet letter is theirs, it is not ours.”

May those same sentiments inspire survivors of child sexual abuse everywhere, #too.

Lyndon Haviland, MPH, DrPH, is a former member of the Executive Board of APHA and recipient of two of its highest honors, Friend of the Student Assembly and the Director’s Citation. With more than 25 years of experience in domestic and international public health, Dr. Haviland has led various public health campaigns, initiatives, and organizations.

She has advised global leaders, presidents, and agency heads on maternal and child health, access to vaccines, vaccine hesitancy, sexual and reproductive health, tobacco control, and health promotion/disease prevention. She was the Senior Project Leader for the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, an initiative which helped to align all member states of the United Nations around a common strategy for saving more than 16 million lives and raised more than $40 billion in new resources for women and children.

Dr. Haviland has worked in a broad range of professional environments spanning domestic, academic, multinational, and multilateral organizations, including the Earth Echo International, GAVI, UN Women, Policy Wisdom, Rabin Martin, the Aspen Institute, UNAIDS, the United Nations Department of Public Information, the UN Foundation, HRSA/SPNS projects, UNDP, WHO, the International Medical Corps, the American Legacy Foundation, The International Catholic Migration Commission, and the International Organization for Migration. She holds a masters and doctorate degrees in public health, and has completed Advanced Management & Leadership training at the Harvard Business School.



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