Overcoming Child Abuse

Reflections on recovery.

TV, Twitter, Child Abuse and Me

Reconciling the irreconcilable

Yesterday, while searching on Twitter for a colleague of mine, a new tweet arrived from CNN: “Parents charged after baby found in carry-on luggage.” What? Really? It’s too horrible to think about. I considered not even mentioning it to you now, but decided that you’d probably see it on the news anyway, or hear it on the radio, over and over. Child abuse cases have dominated our air waves for months. In fact, when my husband noticed I was working on a blog he said, “Whatever you do, don’t use Sandusky in the title, Cath. I think everybody’s sick of hearing his name.” Yes, I had already made that decision myself, and for the same reason.

Lately I’ve wondered what our take-away from these news bulletins really is. Do they only contaminate our daily lives? What are the positives? Are there gems? Is there anything beautiful, anything life-giving to garner from them, or are we only the victims of a competition among broadcast stations for exclusive media coverage?

Last year Peter and I took a trip to visit friends in New Orleans and while there we spent an afternoon in the New Orleans Museum of Art, including shopping in the museum store where I picked up a few gifts for friends: boxes of handmade Bird Project Soap (www.birdproject.org ). Each bird-shaped soap envelops a ceramic bird made from Louisiana Clay, which remains a keepsake once the outer soap has washed away. The box says that 50% of profits are donated to both environmental cleanup and aid to animals affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Disaster. Through the daily act of washing, you will eventually free the beautiful ceramic bird inside — a potent symbol of restoration and recovery. The soap is shaped to be cradled in your hand and is a representation of all creatures affected by the spill.

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We’ve got to do the same with stories of child abuse. Through the daily act of struggling with what we’re hearing we’ve got to wash away the temptation to turn a deaf ear and instead, we need to cradle thoughts of these innocent children in our hearts, and thoughts of all children. They are our precious gems and their safety and well-being is up to us.

PAVE is a non-profit whose mission is Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment through education and Shattering the Silence (www.pavingtheway.net). Their Board of Directors member Dr. Michelle Golland is quoted in a recent newsletter as saying that “The Sandusky child sexual abuse case must be a paradigm shift in our culture around how we view child sexual predators.” I agree; I also think it needs to be a paradigm shift in how we think of child sexual abuse, child abuse in general, and the community’s responsibility to children.

An organization called Adults Protecting Children is actively engaged in building momentum for that paradigm shift. Because of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, "The Tipping Point," their goal is to train 5% of the adult population in each county in the Stewards of Children training program. I’ve mentioned Stewards of Children in blogs before. It is the only nationally available program scientifically proven to increase knowledge, improve attitudes and change child protective behavior. It’s available on line now for individual use or can be taught in group sessions by authorized facilitators who’ve been trained by Darkness to Light (www.d2l.org). Gladwell’s book reports that if you reach 5% of your audience with your message, you are at the tipping point — you’ve built momentum to actually bring about a cultural shift in the thinking about your issue.

Recent statistics of the Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN) reflect the value of building momentum. The strength of the survivors who testified in the Sandusky trial has already encouraged thousands of survivors nationwide — thousands! — to take their first steps towards recovery. RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline rose by 33% during the trial, and this followed a 50% increase when the scandal first broke out last November. (Their telephone hotline can be reached at 800-656-HOPE; and online at www.rainn.org.)

Last week the San Antonio online News described a two-month, $2.4 million advertizing blitz and social media campaign developed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and aimed at reducing child abuse and neglect in Texas. I have a dear friend whose life may have been spared years of turmoil had this occurred during her childhood. Their Help for Parents, Hope for Children campaign features inspirational stories from real parents designed to motivate others to address the underlying causes of child abuse and neglect. They urge parents to visit websites, like www.HelpandHope.org or www.AyudayEsperanza.org, where they will find signs of child abuse and neglect, parenting tips, and information about where to get help for a range of problems. The social media aspect of the campaign will feature daily posts and tweets on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and TV ads and parent testimonials can be found on YouTube. It also includes a Facebook contest that challenges visitors to spread the message and learn more.

Kidpower (www.kidpower.org ) is a non-profit dedicated to bullying prevention, child abuse prevention, violence prevention, stranger and personal safety awareness. As their executive director Irene van der Zande is quoted as saying in an online (www.sfgate.com) article, “Worry can’t keep kids safe — but skills can.” Their e-book, Kidpower 30-Skill Challenge is offered for free through their website. Each short lesson can be taught as a safety skill-building activity in classrooms, youth groups, youth sport teams and at home.

The people involved with these organizations are holding the needs of children, parents, and communities in their hearts every day and every step of the way. Their work inspires me, fuels my dedication in my own work, and gives me hope. What does it do for you?

Catherine McCall is a Clinical Fellow of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the author of Never Tell: A True Story of Overcoming a Terrifying Childhood.

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