Late December is always the time for reflection. We consider how our thinking has been affected by what we’ve learned during the past year, how it has changed behavior and, ultimately, altered some beliefs.
Change in perspective on child sexual abuse may be 2011’s lasting legacy. But it is so much more than a year’s end reflection. It could signal the tangible shift in public dialogue that this issue has needed for far too long.
Over the past two months, we have witnessed communities in Charleston, SC, Pennsylvania and Syracuse, NY struggle to find perspective on child sexual abuse. These communities are undergoing a very unique, simultaneous convergence of discussion about the same issue. This public dialogue, as expected, is following a predictable path along the “Five Stages of Grief.” Consider these benchmarks:
- Anger – Swift, initial reaction against the accused, outrage over the horrendous descriptions of abuse and quick action to hold those responsible.
- Denial – Many have rallied to defend the institutions and their leadership. And because of pending lawsuits, institutions have stopped public dialogue about the issue, giving the impression of denial.
- Bargaining – There has been a rush to blame the messenger. Numerous letters to the editor in each of the three communities have called for local news groups to “tone down” the ongoing, front page coverage of the issue. There’s a sentiment of “we’ve heard enough,” and “our university / leadership has done so much good for the community…”
- Depression – This is certainly one of the most devastating stages because depression inhibits one’s ability to move forward, to make rational plans for improvement and achievement. This stage must be overcome quickly. And the best remedy is found within a community’s ability to talk openly about such a difficult subject, learn and listen for ways to prevent abuse and begin planning policy that will lead to substantive change.
- Acceptance – This stage will emerge but only through public discussion and education of how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to abuse. Acceptance will be about setting new policy and procedures for adult / child interaction. It should include mandates for adult education with an emphasis on responsible reaction / reporting of instances.
A more appropriate description of the stages listed above, with regards to child sexual abuse, may be the “Five Stages of Healing.”
Charleston, Pennsylvania and Syracuse (and countless others without high profile abuse cases) are indeed undergoing an intense healing process.
Public dialogue about child sexual abuse helps shape better societal beliefs and responsible actions. The more we can talk openly about child sexual abuse signs or perpetrator patterns, the better we are able to recognize behavioral red flags and have the courage to take action.
We encourage the public to continue the dialogue that has been started and find hope in the fact that there are things we all can do to reduce the risks in our own homes and organizations.
Get involved in your local school, church, youth service organization, youth camp or sports league to ensure that prevention is being addressed and comprehensive policies and training are in place to identify potential problems.
If you believe that your child has been victimized in any way please get immediate help through your local child advocacy center.