How #MeToo is leaving child victims behind

The Week

March 19, 2018

By Dani Bostick

For years as a child, I was abused by an adult. I kept this secret for decades.

I’m sure I knew other victims. But I heard none of their stories. Like me, they chose silence.

We survivors of child sexual abuse don’t just know how to keep a secret — we were groomed to believe secrecy was essential to our survival.

#MeToo has changed that, as more and more survivors of sexual violence and sexual harassment are coming forward to share their stories. But while some of these stories have included child victims, for the most part, the focus of #MeToo has been on adult victims of workplace sexual misconduct. The subsidiary #MeTooK12 movement emerged recently as a way to address sexual misconduct that occurs in schools, but even still, the scores of young girls and boys who experience child sexual abuse are largely cut out of the conversation.

This has to change. Roughly 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys experience sexual abuse. It is a sad fact that children are the most vulnerable among us and also the least equipped to advocate for themselves.

Children are victimized at higher rates than adults, per Darkness to Light, a nonprofit organization focused on educating adults to prevent child sexual abuse. Their youth renders them “uniquely vulnerable,” Heidi Fuchs, a criminal justice clinician at TESSA, a domestic violence support center in Colorado, told The Week, as they may not be able to properly understand and process the abuse they’ve endured. Children are “most in need of effective advocacy,” Fuchs said, because “they lack the information, resources, experience, and ability to advocate for themselves.”

Moreover, unlike adults, children are often completely powerless in their environments. Abusers are frequently the people who also meet a kid’s most basic needs, like food and shelter. Even when abuse takes place outside of the home, it is often perpetrated by a trusted individual, and often in the context of activities that are presented as mandatory — like USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s rampant abuse of young female athletes during medical treatments.

When children are trapped in these abusive situations, the consequences can be devastating. In fact, child sexual abuse can cause literal changes to the structure of the brain, researchers discovered in a 2015 study.

That’s why it is time for the women and men of #MeToo to advocate for children as ardently as they do for adults. Removing stigma is key, and encouraging survivors to disclose their own experiences will help others feel safe enough to come forward. We must disrupt the silence, because silence benefits only perpetrators, never victims.

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