Cleo was on a lunch break when she heard a chilling statistic: According to a study released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in every 4 girls and 1 in every 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 in the United States.1
These numbers were like a sucker punch to Cleo’s stomach. How can we live in a world where such horrible things happen? she wondered. She wondered if parents could be more proactive about protecting their children. She wondered if kids would be able to recognize inappropriate behavior coming from adults or other kids. She wondered if the amount of people who want to protect children outnumber those who seek to hurt them.
Little did Cleo realize, she could be one of these people—a defender of innocence. She’s not a parent. She’s not a teacher. She doesn’t have a job that involves working with children. In fact, she doesn’t really see children all that often in her day-to-day life. So how can Cleo, someone who barely interacts with children, be a protector and defender against child sexual abuse?
Cleo realized she did have connections in her life to children. She didn’t have any children of her own, but she had two nieces and three nephews. She didn’t work directly with children at her job, but three of her coworkers were parents. There were also several families in her neighborhood with small children. She was vaguely acquainted with the parents and saw their kids playing in nearby yards from time to time.
Cleo realized each of these children in her life were at some degree of risk. Each of these children, no matter how healthy and happy they appeared, were in need of defenders against child sexual abuse. This discovery gave Cleo an increased sense of responsibility and a greater awareness of her role in the community.
Why You Should Care
Even if it seems that the issue of child sexual abuse won’t ever affect you personally, it affects the society you inhabit and is likely affecting someone you know.
Child sexual abuse can have long-lasting effects on survivors as they age into adulthood. These adverse impacts might not just affect the survivor but those around them, be it their children, their family members, their coworkers, their partners, or even their relationship with you. Without proper help and healing, trauma can continue into the next generation. Perpetrators continue to thrive on society’s tendency to turn a blind eye. Notions of respect, consent, and boundaries are often misunderstood or not properly addressed. Legal systems may fail those who were targeted, by refusing to listen or not taking proper action. Ultimately, child sexual abuse doesn’t just affect children you’ll never know or never meet. It affects the health and stability of our society as whole.
However, you have a chance to make a difference. Like Cleo, your sphere of influence may be larger than you think. You might not have any children in your life, but you still have the power to protect those who are most vulnerable.
So How Can You Help?
Maybe you’re a college student or a retiree. Maybe you’re an aunt, uncle, cousin, or sibling. Or maybe you’re a neighbor, teacher, coach, volunteer, community leader, or churchgoer. No matter your circumstance or stage of life, one thing remains the same: your ability to make a difference. Here are five ways you can help defend innocence and prevent child sexual abuse.
SPREAD THE WORD
DONATE OR VOLUNTEER
BE A POSITIVE EXAMPLE
- Did you have at least one teacher who cared about you?
- Did you have good neighbors?
- Was there an adult (not a parent/caregiver) who could provide you with support or advice?
Every child you pass in the hall has a story that needs to be heard. Maybe you are the one meant to hear it.Bethany Hill, assistant principal from Arkansas
No matter your circumstance or stage in life, you can be a strong ally in protecting children from child sexual abuse and empowering families to learn about ways to prevent it. Through your awareness, vigilance, and willingness to speak out about child sexual abuse, the world becomes that much safer for the children around you. You might think you’re only one person, but sometimes the greatest difference made in a child’s life is through one individual. Never underestimate the impact you have on another person.
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