Giving Thanks for Our Successes

While the road ahead can be daunting, on this Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful for how far we’ve come.

On this Thanksgiving Day, when we gather together to celebrate the benefits of asking and receiving help from unexpected allies, I’m reminded of the importance of embracing a long view—one that can rejoice in the prospect of a bountiful harvest, even when the outlook seems bleak.

Granted, it’s not always easy to maintain that perspective when focusing on a given moment that may be filled with despair. But as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, as a 15-year veteran of child protective social work,  and as a longtime  advocate working to support those healing from traumatic childhood experiences, I keep re-learning that expanding the frame is often the key to hope and recovery. Real healing is a journey, not a snapshot. Success is measured in maintaining movement forward over time, even when the progress is repeatedly interrupted by setbacks. Nothing is set in stone.

So in a year when we’ve faced a seemingly unrelenting onslaught of disheartening headlines about abusive coaches, teachers, scout and faith leaders, and others, it’s easy to forget how far we’ve really come in just 30 years in the effort to heal the wounds of child sexual abuse and to prevent recurring sexual violence.

Ironically, the frequency of those headlines may be the best evidence of the blossoming of an awareness about the impacts of childhood sexual abuse. And that shift in public perception has steadily made it easier for those who experienced abuse to speak up – the first step in healing.  Sexual abuse, an issue that was barely acknowledged in the late 1970s is now a common topic of discussion in the media, in films, in schools, in colleges and across the dinner table, yes, even at Thanksgiving.

It was December 1987 when I first told the Archdiocese of Boston about the sexual abuse of me by my parish priest in the 1960s. They dismissed me and my report with impunity, and I felt then, that I had no recourse. Twenty five years later, I can still find much to criticize in the Catholic Church’s response to revelations of widespread betrayal at every level. But we live now in a changed world.

I, and millions like me who experienced childhood abuse, know we’re no longer alone. And the leaders of Catholic, fundamentalist Christian, Orthodox Jewish and other faith communities; college and Olympic athletic programs; the Boy Scouts of America, private schools and countless other organizations are now grappling with a very different level of demand for accountability.

In less than two generations, the landscape has changed. Seeds that were planted in the early 1980s have rooted and taken hold. Resources that never seemed possible are now available with a keystroke.

When I first started working as a child-protection social worker in 1990, advocates had already been teaching children lessons about “good touch” for nearly a decade. Whether kids can ever be adequately armed to protect themselves from sexual abuse or misuse remains an unanswered question in my mind. But what I did witness over the course of 15 years – as those children grew up and became parents with that knowledge – was a dramatic shift in adults’ awareness of the reality of sexual abuse and a wish to be given the tools to do something – anything – to protect their children from being abused.

In 1992, Fran Henry founded Stop It Now!, proposing a public health model of preventing sexual abuse that seemed far-fetched to many at the time. Twenty years later, primary prevention and adult responsibility for protecting children is mainstream thinking, promoted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and advocacy organizations across the country.

No doubt, there’s a lot to be done yet. And we’ve shown ourselves equal to the task. We’re on a positive trajectory toward healing, making significant headway, step by step. So on this Thanksgiving, let’s raise our glasses and consider them at least half full for the remarkable progress we’ve made on our journey of recovery from centuries of silence.

Written by Peter Pollard, Training and Outreach Director of 1in6, Inc.

You may also enjoy: 1BlueString—An Awareness Campaign from 1in6

Photo credit: Flickr / princedd

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About 1in6

The mission of 1in6 is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives. 1in6′s mission also includes serving family members, friends, and partners by providing information and support resources on the web and in the community.

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