Removing the stigma around talking about sexual violence against men is key to the path to recovery and a healthier, safer world.
Unveiling The Taboo, the title of four recent days of dialogue in Los Angeles, was designed to do just that—give people from the diverse communities of LA an opportunity to come together and discuss openly the issues surrounding the taboo topic of child sexual abuse with an eye of mobilizing the community toward prevention. These days of dialogue were spearheaded by 1in6, the Institute on Non-Violence in Los Angeles and Peace Over Violence, and produced in collaboration with 12 other community partners and with 22 Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Advisory Council Members. Each of these facilitated discussions, which brought 120 individuals from 4 different sites together for the first time, was opened up by a survivor of child sexual assault speaking from the heart of their own experience. We were intent on making sure that the voices of survivors were present: front and center to the discussion. Some common trends and recommendations surfaced in the groups.
One of the recurrent ideas was to encourage more “talking about it.” Many of the survivors, law enforcement officers and parents were grateful for a place to break out of the silence and discuss the subject openly and to connect with others who care about this issue. One participant stated, “if you don’t know how talk about it, you will never see it—even if it’s right in front of you.” Some people expressed not knowing the extent of sexual abuse of boys until the most recent information coming out post Penn State and the Sandusky trial and the scandal with the Boy Scouts.
The dialogues reinforced the need for multiple strategies to energize a movement to end child sexual abuse. Everyone agreed that the prevention of child sexual abuse is ultimately an adult responsibility but that education for children and adolescents as well as adults is essential. Creating better protocols for reporting and the systems response to reporting was also brought up as well as the need for institutional accountability. The discussions about re-evaluating the current strategies in dealing with perpetrators produced a lot of energy, questions and concerns as to the effectiveness of some of the practices such as lumping all offenders from flashers to serial rapists into the same category.
The complexity of the issue became more and more evident as the dialogues progressed. Many questions were raised and there were no answers. But perhaps that is the best beginning of all—to come from a place of questioning, of openness, of not knowing, yet willing to listen and exchange ideas and experiences from a place of respect. Sometimes we force the answers and wind up making things worse. That didn’t happen at these days of dialogues. People came together, mostly strangers and talked about a sensitive, sometimes personal and still taboo subject. Many of the participants stated that they want the dialogues to continue and engage more deeply within the communities. Several offered to bring the dialogues into their neighborhoods, places of worship, community centers and schools.
Perhaps this can be the beginning of a more engaged movement of communities coming together to question, discuss, share and learn together and eventually we will find better answers on how to protect children than we seem to have at our disposal now. One thing for sure that everyone agreed upon: the voices of all survivors, male, female and trans-gender need to be front and center!
–By Patti Giggans
Patti Giggans is the Executive Director of Peace Over Violence. Peace Over Violence is dedicated to building healthy relationships, families and communities free from sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence. She is also the Vice-President of the Board of Directors for 1in6.
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Photo credit: Flickr / powazny