The Oscar ceremonies were noteworthy for a number of reasons, but the biggest news was the Best Picture award for the movie, “Spotlight.”
Chronicling a team of Boston newspaper reporters on the quest for answers in a child sex abuse scandal, it has given us another way to broach the most distasteful subject of all. There are children in our community who are still being sexually abused as you read this and we all have a role to play in protecting them.
As a person dedicated to battling child sexual abuse in our community, I welcome a new resource in our efforts to spread the word. As my peers at Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) across Texas would tell you, disclosure is the turning point in any abusive relationship, so we do everything we can to give victims the courage to report.
The fear that stands in the way of that disclosure can only be broken down with awareness, true compassion and genuine honesty. No matter how uncomfortable the topic makes us feel, we must push past that as a community in order to help these victims.
“Spotlight” focused not only on the abuse that took place, but the complicity of a respected institution in allowing it to continue for generations. This point was driven home midway through the film when Stanley Tucci’s character (Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney representing victims), states: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”
While “Spotlight” focused on one particular institution, the truth resonates across the various “villages” of which we’re citizens. Whether that’s a family unit, school, workplace or youth-serving organization, we must foster a culture which gives victims the courage to come forward and encourages honesty by all involved.
The movie tells a few key truths about abuse that are just as relevant today as they were when the Boston story broke.
First, abuse can happen to anyone. Whether it occurs at the hands of clergy, educators, coaches or even family members, most incidents of child sexual abuse are committed by people who know the child well. About one in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, meaning, in our state, some 700,000 young Texans will be victimized.
Second, abuse fosters fear and secrecy in victims. One of a sexual perpetrator’s greatest assets is the string of lies they use to control their victims. “No one will believe you.” “I will tell people it was your idea.” “If you tell, I will kill you or someone you love.“
Third, abuse is rarely a one-time thing. Statistics indicate that people who are willing to sexually abuse a child won’t limit themselves to a single incident. The likelihood of repeat offenses and “grooming” multiple victims is unfortunately high.
Fourth, abuse’s impact can linger a lifetime without effective intervention. The average victim faces a laundry list of long-term adverse consequences ranging from adolescent pregnancies and eating disorders to substance abuse and time in the criminal justice systems (youth and adult). Fortunately, CACs offer evidence-based therapeutic services that have proven highly effective.
At Children’s Advocacy Centers all across the state of Texas (at last count, there are 69 in 188 counties), professionals devoted to justice for the child victims of abuse collaborate on investigations of abuse allegations, provide support to families torn apart by revelations of abuse and offer effective therapy to victims. We would like you, as a member of our community, to get involved.
Whether you become a regular volunteer at our facility, provide financial support or merely tell everyone you know about our services, you can help make a difference. Also, if you know of a child in immediate danger, call 911 or at least make a call to the Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400.
Ultimately, the biggest difference will occur when we as a society can set aside the awkwardness we feel and speak honestly about the crimes committed behind closed doors. The more light we shine on these cases, the more that victims will feel comfortable disclosing and seek safety.
As much as I was pleased to see “Spotlight” winning an award, I’m even more encouraged to know that, across the country and around the world, victims of sexual abuse are finding the courage to report and take the first step on the path to justice and healing.
With your help, that process will be accelerated in our own community as we shine our own spotlight on the most vulnerable among us.
John Wyckoff is the Executive Director at The Gingerbread House, a member of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas. Founded in 1994 with a membership of 13 local centers, the CACTX membership roster today includes 69 established and developing centers in large urban cities as well as in small rural communities. CACTX creates a statewide platform for public-private partnerships within communities, fueling the success of the CAC approach by uniting advocates and giving local centers a statewide voice. From their headquarters in Austin, the CACTX team coordinates services among the following groups: local centers, Multi-Disciplinary Teams (MDTs), statewide government agencies, stakeholders, community volunteers, and child welfare advocates. Working together, they positively affect policy and funding for the CAC movement and partner service organizations. CACTX membership reflects the vast diversity of Texas, all with their own unique approaches to fulfilling our shared mission of protecting and providing for children. For more information about CACTX please visit: http://www.cactx.org/.