When Benjamin Franklin wrote that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he likely had no idea just how common the phrase would become. We read it in newspapers, journals, and blogs on an almost daily basis, promoting the idea that healthy lifestyles and communities rest on a foundation of prevention. Perhaps the central reason behind the phrase’s popularity is that it’s a simple truth.
The National Prevention Strategy was released in 2011, with a goal to “increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life.” The Strategy includes seven priorities: tobacco free living; preventing drug abuse and excessive alcohol use; healthy eating; active living; injury and violence free living; reproductive and sexual health; and mental and emotional wellbeing.
As communities begin to widely accept prevention as a necessity, we see decreases in health concerns such as youth smoking, heart disease, and cancer. Despite this, one issue still clings to lingering social taboos: child sexual abuse. It is an issue that affects every demographic and every community. Negative effects begin immediately and if left untreated, can cause lifelong suffering.
Today, one in 10 children will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. Darkness to Light is a national nonprofit with a vision to end child sexual abuse by empowering adults to create safer environments for children. Through the establishment of proven prevention, recognition, and response strategies, Darkness to Light seeks to dramatically reduce the risk for child sexual abuse within homes, communities, and youth serving organizations.
The need is critical. Child sexual abuse is traumatic in and of itself, but has also been linked to a wide variety of immediate and long-term consequences to its victims and society. Behavioral, physical, and emotional health issues are common. It may seem natural to label child sexual abuse as a “sexual health” priority, but the reality is that this problem has a much longer reach:
Substance Abuse: Child sexual abuse survivors of both genders are nearly three times more likely to report substance abuse problems than those without a history of abuse. According to one survivor, “I drank every day…It’s really hard to be a junior in high school drinking every day and function.”
Healthy Eating and Active Living: During a study of weight loss program dropouts in the mid-1980s, physician Vincent Felitti discovered a direct link between obesity and child sexual abuse. Further studies have revealed that women who were sexually abused as children are four times more likely to be obese in their 20s than their peers, and twice as likely to be obese in middle age.
Reproductive and Sexual Health: While physical signs of abuse are not always present with child sexual abuse, it has immediate and long-lasting influences on reproductive and sexual health, ranging from over-sexualized behavior to chronic pelvic pain. From a survivor perspective, “It took me 10 years to figure out that sex is not just something you do…Sex is a special bond, and somebody just took that from me.”
Mental and Emotional Wellbeing: Depression. Psychiatric Disorders. Suicide. Adults with a history of child sexual abuse are much more likely to experience mental and emotional issues as a result of the trauma. Females who have been sexually abused are at three times greater risk for psychiatric disorders, while more than 70 percent of male survivors seek psychological treatment to help them confront issues including suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
As we analyze the long-term effects of child sexual abuse, it becomes clear that to effectively treat the overall health and wellbeing of our communities, child sexual abuse prevention must be at the center of the National Prevention Strategy. Healthy societies are in large part dependent on healthy children becoming healthy adults. To ensure this happens, we must remove the taboo from child sexual abuse and make it part of the national conversation. As one survivor stated, people cannot imagine the ripple-effect one child can make. “If you spare one child…you stop one source of ripples. That is huge.”
Learn how to protect the children in your life. Visit www.D2L.org to see why communities and youth serving organizations need training.