- On December 1, 2021
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Opinion: Our Children are Suffering a Hidden Public Health Crisis
“Don’t let nobody touch you.” As a kid growing up in the 1960’s, those five words were the advice I – and so many just like me – were given when it came to staying safe from child sexual abuse. But by then, it was already too late.
One in 10 children are sexually abused before they turn 18, and by age 10, I was one of them. I was abused by someone I trusted, and it became a secret that ate away at me for 26 years.
Back then, we didn’t talk about “these things,” and to a large extent, we still don’t. As a result, millions of people suffer, often in silence – like I did for decades. For 26 years, the stigma and shame prevented me from beginning my journey of healing. I wish I could say that the stigma no longer exists today, but over 50 years later, we still have a long way to go when it comes to fighting against child sexual abuse.
It’s past time for Congress – especially our Congressional delegation here in Georgia – to take action. Georgia law helped bring down Larry Nassar, and we have a chance to lead on this critical issue again. The good news is, survivors have written a blueprint.
Today, the Keep Kids Safe movement – a coalition of survivors, experts and leading advocacy groups – released the U.S Federal Policy Blueprint to End Sexual Violence Against Children & Adolescents. This ambitious set of policy proposals will finally demand accountability and action from our national leaders, to support prevention, healing and justice, as a means to end child sexual abuse.
To truly combat this crisis, we need resources, strong advocacy, and real legislative action. Recognizing the urgency of the issue is a good place to start. The effects of the abuse I suffered were always present even when I didn’t recognize them. Panic attacks became a constant occurrence, and anger threatened to consume me. Now I know that I’m not alone.
Experts estimate that the impacts of child abuse cost U.S taxpayers well over $120 billion every year in healthcare, criminal justice, child welfare, productivity losses, and special education costs. And because only about a third of child sexual abuse incidents are identified, the full impact may never truly be accounted for. That’s exactly why the Secretary of Health and Human Services must declare sexual violence and children and adolescents a U.S. public health emergency.
The United States has begun to take some encouraging steps over the years to begin to address sexual violence, but it’s time to marshal our resources, build on the success of past legislation, and address the public health crisis of sexual violence against children head-on.
Congress can do that by developing and passing comprehensive reforms into law – the Keep Kids Safe Act. This legislation would build on the success of groundbreaking laws like the Violence Against Women Act and the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008, increase federal funding for critical programs and research, and expand federal incentives to improve state laws to prevent violence, protect survivors, and reduce the costs of sexual violence to our society.
These critical steps are just a fraction of the work that needs to be done to end sexual violence against children, but they are an important start. And if we don’t start today, it means more kids will needlessly suffer.
Like millions of others, I’ve been following the story of the brave women of USA gymnasts’ fight for justice, following years of sexual abuse from their team doctor Larry Nassar. After her testimony to Congress, Olympic gold-medalist Aly Raisman said, “I definitely feel like testifying was really triggering for me, and I’m still kind of dealing with the effects of that…I think this is, unfortunately, what survival looks like.”
She’s right. Abuse ends, but trauma doesn’t—it is a constant burden that we must carry with us. It is why we are survivors and not victims. Being a survivor is a lifelong journey, but over time and with help from others, we heal and find new ways to overcome our trauma. For me that was finally accepting the help of cognitive behavioral therapy, early last year. Now, I feel a freedom from the trauma that I didn’t think I would ever have.
Regardless of how we get there and the daily obstacles that we face along the way—we are resilient. We can turn trauma into triumph – a saying I created and tattooed on my body as a daily reminder that I, that we, can still live great, fulfilling, and successful lives.
The brave women of USA gymnastics and countless others who have come forward to share their stories have created the opportunity and momentum that we’ve been waiting for. The moment is here —and now it’s time for our leaders to seize it.