Personal Starting Point
Each of us has a set of past experiences that impact how we feel about the topic of child sexual abuse. Some people know someone who was abused or they may have been abused themselves. Others may struggle with an attraction to children or the thought of sexualizing a child simply destroys their sense of a safe world. These are experiences and feelings that could create a lot of discomfort.
That discomfort could even keep you from seeing abuse happening to children in your life, right in front of you. In addition, children may sense your discomfort and therefore not see you as a trusted adult they can confide in, if they do need help.
On the other hand, adults who have participated in training on the topic of child sexual abuse, have past experience supporting friends and family who were abused, or have had extensive therapy for their own abuse may find it easy to discuss. They have probably had a chance to identify and resolve personal barriers that may hinder them from protecting children including the barriers identified by Carla van Dam in our introduction. If you are a parent and married, or co-parenting with another adult, your personal experiences are inherently combined with your partner's past experiences, creating a family dynamic with yet another set of expectations and experiences to consider. Careful examination will allow you to identify lingering barriers as well as enablers to protecting children.
All of this must be taken into consideration when determining your starting point as a child advocate. If you've been impacted by child sexual abuse in any way, it's powerful to share your personal story as part of your advocacy work. It brings the statistics to life and it helps others learn through your story - we call this "Survivors with a Purpose (SWAP)." However, since our intent is to model for the community how to talk about child sexual abuse comfortably, it's important that you don't leave your audience feeling like they need to save you. You have to work through your own healing first, if appropriate, and always practice good self-care.
Community Members' Starting Point
As an advocate, you will create opportunities for adults in your community to identify and overcome barriers as well as leverage their enablers. This can be done through awareness events, prevention education and/or support groups. During your advocacy work, you will help your audience recognize their discomfort and make a commitment to push through it, getting professional help if necessary. You will also empower your audience with knowledge and model what it looks like to be outspoken on behalf of the children in their life. You will take their hand and gently guide them to a new place of understanding and power.
Community Starting Point
As you begin your advoacy work, it's important to understand the broad array of child sexual abuse programs and services found in communities around the world and how to research and document the existing programs within your community. One of the most important aspects of creating a successful advocacy program is to find a way to complement the existing organizations and programs rather than compete against them. It is both a better use of your time and creates an environment of collaboration from the beginning.
Child sexual abuse is a silent crime and therefore taking a vocal stand against it has not been commonplace, especially in communities that are consumed by denial and fear. So ultimately, evaluation of your starting point must also consider your willingness to change and your courage to lead.