Q&A with Stop The Silence
Question & Answer Session with Pamela Pine, Founder and CEO of Stop the Silence: http://www.stopcsa.org/
CSA is not one group’s problem; by expert accounts, it is a silent epidemic throughout the world, creating social havoc – for the children, adult survivors, and society. It can be prevented and it can be treated, but a conscious and sustained effort is both missing and essential.
July 23, 2008
• What changes do think need to take place in the legal system to help put an end to child sexual abuse?
There are a number of complex changes that need to take place in our legal, judicial and related systems. A multidisciplinary focus is needed. One of the changes needed has to do with the Statue of Limitations, which are different from state to state. These laws identify how long one has to report abuse and, very often, by the time someone is able and ready to report (often when the child grows up), the time has ended for allowing the reporting of the abuse. This is of concern as the abused may want to see this closer, the abuser may have continued to abuse others, and/or may be abusing still. Marci A. Hamilton (Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University) in a written testimony on Thursday, July 24, 2008 10:00 a.m. before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary also noted the following changes needed:
(1) amend the RICO laws to encompass organizations that foster and further child abuse and neglect; (2) create incentives for the states to eliminate statutes of limitations so that victims can identify their predators and those who aided them through court actions when the victims are ready; and (3) deter child abuse and neglect through financial means: (a) upon conviction of a nonprofit organization for fostering abuse and neglect in a criminal or civil action, require remove the organization’s tax exempt status and (b) prohibit all federal agencies from doing business with organizations that foster and further child sex abuse.
Some of the changes needed have to do with how we handle the reporting and handling of child sexual abuse (CSA), e.g., what social services are required to do to ensure the safety of children. Additionally some laws that we have put in place were created with the best of intentions in mind but have not necessarily added in fact to the protection of children or the reduction in CSA. Some of those laws, instead, have increased the reluctance that potential offenders or young, first time “non-violent” offenders who know they have problem to let someone know they have a problem or seek treatment or other professional help as they fear their information will placed on the Internet or that they will be arrested straight away without the help needed. Other changes needed have to do with ensuring that information (through mandatory courses in the education or through specialized training) is provided to front line individuals (teachers, social service workers, judges) who deal with CSA to ensure that appropriate decisions are made for the protection and safety of children.
• What changes do you think need to take place in public attitude to help put an end towards child sexual abuse?
First, we need to be able to talk about it and “take it on” as the public health epidemic that it is (more than one in four girls, approximately one in six boys by the time they are 18 years old that results in often devastating problems for the children, adults they become and society at large). Just as we have, as a society, learned about breast cancer (which we could not say out loud 40 years ago), and HIV, which we could not deal with when it first emerged as a public health epidemic in the ‘80s, we need to be able to say and deal with “child sexual abuse”, we need to learn about it – how and why does it happen, who gets victimized, who are the offenders, what are the outcomes, how can we prevent it, how do we treat it. We need to get the media truly involved with providing information about CSA and its reality (e.g., 90-94 percent of CSA is by community members and family – people who know and have access to the child) and all of us have to get involved with preventing it in our individual homes and communities.
• What kind of work would you like to see taking place in schools to help educate young people about the issue of child sexual abuse and what educational work are you currently involved in?
Rather than the question above, I would focus on how we can focus on the problem in our communities – not only or specifically with young people. Keeping children safe cannot be the primary responsibility of children – it has to be the primary responsibility of adults given the power differential between children and adults, and the intellectual and emotional advantages that adults have to manipulate and overwhelm. But, to answer the question, schools have an important role to play. They can provide developmentally appropriate information to children (by providing appropriate books, other materials, and discussion) AND their parents and the community so that we all become educated and have the ability to act. Possibilities include having information as part of a regular curriculum, special presentations in auditoriums (e.g., appropriate films) or classes, and class projects by middle and high school students. Other ways for students to get involved are fundraisers and school media outreach.
• What types of reactions have you gotten from the public about your awareness campaigns?
The reactions from literally all I have come across (that’s a lot of people) have been very positive. The public realizes that we have a grave problem that we are not doing enough about. People write and call me to congratulate us on the work that we are doing; survivors come up to me at the Race to Stop the Silence to thank me; the media gets on board each year to support our outreach.
• How do service providers react to your training sessions? What changes have you seen in their attitudes since you started?
Again, people have reacted very positively. Service providers in particular know how large and dangerous the problem is and what the outcomes often are (poor school performance, depression, psychosis, promiscuity, teen pregnancy, prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and homicide and chronic disease). Reactions from providers are often amazement at the numbers affected and the extent of the outcomes, and a better understanding of the complexity of the issues as well as a better understanding of how to deal with the problem from prevention and mitigation standpoints.
• What changes would you like to see in how the media handles the issue of child sexual abuse?
I’d like to see the media tackle the issue as a pubic health problem (e.g., dealing with its complexity from scientific and prevention and treatment perspectives) and with a focus on how it usually occurs in society, that is, with a primary focus on family and community (though this is uncomfortable and difficult) more than the problem being one of “stranger danger.”
• What work do you do to help survivors recover from child sexual abuse?
We have an on-line peer support group that people can tap into from our Web site (www.stocpsa.org) and provide informational outreach. Currently, we do not provide direct services, though we are looking into doing that; instead we provide information on where individuals can get help. Survivors have told me that the Race to Stop the Silence has really helped them; they have felt less alone and have let go of the shame that they have felt as a result. They have said that the public and educational nature of it has helped them to heal. We have also supported other groups that provide direct services.
• Part of your mission is to address the relationships between this issue and the broader issues of overall family and community violence. In what way do you consider the two issues to be linked and how do you hope to address this?
They are inextricably linked. Overall violence in society instigates violence on many levels of society. With war often comes rape of women and children. With instability, comes frustration that people take out on others in very maladaptive ways. Domestic violence unaddressed spurs on-going domestic and family violence (there is a relationship between DV and CSA). It appears to be the case that in countries that have more egalitarian societies (e.g., in some Scandinavian countries), there is less CSA. We hope we are addressing these issues by providing various levels of information and behaviour change programming. As I noted above, we first need to talk about CSA and these relationships. Then we need to learn about them. Then we need to understand what to do about them. Then we need to act. We are working on various levels to move this process along, from the Race/Walk, which catalyzes media outreach and direct community involvement; to training of service providers and community members; to providing information on how/where to get help to heal. It will be a long process. Most professionals working on CSA put the “end” – if we start now and do real work – at between three to five generations. Perhaps those born today will see its true lessening.
• How can people get involved in supporting your work?
There are so many ways to get involved: fundraising, community education, media outreach, etc. We look for truly committed, passionate and self-starting people. Whatever skills people have are welcome. There is a place for those who are self-motivated and dedicated.
• What do you feel is the greatest success of Stop the Silence?
I believe we have had a lot of successes and they are all important. The Race/Walk has helped catalyze a media response and allows us to provide “real” information about CSA to large numbers of people, thereby helping people to think about talking and dealing with it and helping survivors feel less alone. Our judicial training is helping to increase awareness about and a need for a multidisciplinary response to CSA. Our community outreach has provided people with information with which they begin to understand the nature of the problem and what to do about it. There is a long field to hoe – we need to all get working on ensuring the safety and health of children and the society in which we live.
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