Monroe: It's time to shine our own spotlight on sexual abuse of children
Amarillo Globe News
April 16, 2016
And the Oscar for best picture of the year goes to ... “Spotlight,” a movie chronicling a team of Boston newspaper reporters on the quest for answers in a child sex abuse scandal.
It has provided us another way to start conversations about a distasteful subject. The reality is there are children in our community who are being sexually abused as you read this, and we all have a role to play in protecting them.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month — yet another opportunity to raise awareness and learn how we can each be part of the solution. We must recognize that disclosure is the turning point in any abusive relationship. The fear that stands in the way of that disclosure can only be broken down with awareness, true compassion and genuine honesty. No matter how uncomfortable the topic makes us feel, we must push past that as a community in order to help these victims.
“Spotlight” focused not only the abuse that took place, but the complicity of a respected institution in allowing it to continue for generations. This point was driven home midway through the film when Stanley Tucci’s character (Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney representing victims), states: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”
While “Spotlight” focused on one particular institution, the truth resonates across the various “villages” of which we are citizens. Whether that’s a family unit, school, workplace or youth-serving organization, we must foster a culture which gives victims the courage to come forward, and encourages honesty by all involved.
The movie tells a few key truths about abuse that are just as relevant today as they were when the Boston story broke.
First, abuse can happen to anyone. Whether it occurs at the hands of clergy, educators, coaches or even family members, most incidents of child sexual abuse are committed by people who know the child well. It is estimated that one in four children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. This means in Texas alone, there are several hundred thousand victims.
Second, abuse fosters fear and secrecy in victims. One of a sexual perpetrator’s greatest assets is the string of lies they use to control their victims.
“No one will believe you.”
“I will tell people it was your idea.”
“If you tell, I will hurt you or someone you love.“
Third, abuse is rarely a one-time thing. Statistics indicate that people who are willing to sexually abuse a child won’t limit themselves to a single incident. The likelihood of repeat offenses and grooming multiple victims is unfortunately high.
Fourth, abuse’s impact can linger a lifetime without effective intervention.
The average victim faces a laundry list of long-term adverse consequences ranging from adolescent pregnancies and eating disorders to substance abuse and time in the criminal justice systems (youth and adult). Fortunately, Children’s Advocacy Centers offer evidence-based therapeutic services that have proven highly effective.
At CACs all across the state of Texas and locally at our center, The Bridge, professionals devoted to justice for the child victims of abuse collaborate on investigations of abuse allegations, provide support to families torn apart by revelations of abuse and offer effective therapy to victims.
Whether you volunteer, provide financial support or merely tell everyone you know about our services, you can help make a difference. Also, if you know of a child in danger, make a call to the Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400.
Ultimately, the biggest difference will occur when we as a society can set aside the awkwardness we feel and speak honestly about the crimes committed behind closed doors.
We must engage in the conversation with our children, our family members, our neighbors, our community.
As in the movie “Spotlight,” the more light we shine on these cases, the more that victims of sexual abuse will find the courage to report and take the first step on the path to justice and healing.
Cameron Monroe is board president of The Bridge Children’s Advocacy Center, a member of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas. The Bridge was established in 1989 and was the first children’s advocacy center in Texas.