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

Beyond #MeToo: It’s time to confront child sexual abuse
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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 underreported prevalence of child sexual abuse, these allegations represent something deeply profound.

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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. 

It’s a topic no one wants to talk about. And if we don’t, child sexual abuse will continue to impact communities in record numbers. 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 and advocate for public health and is former CEO of Darkness to Light, a nonprofit that aims to prevent child sexual abuse.