If the children of today are the citizens of tomorrow, we have more than an ordinary duty toward them. Keeping children safe from sexual abuse involves constant engagement that not only talks to the children themselves, but entire villages that it takes to raise each of them. This past week has showed me something very poignant: training 400 children in one school and over a thousand at-risk young people across different communities has opened my eyes to some significant truths.
Seeing parents and teachers invest in doing away with shame, silence, and blame in connection with CSA, and watching young minds becoming aware of ways to stay safe is heartwarming and saddening all at once. It is immensely heartwarming to see the conscious efforts that the ecosystem of each child takes toward making change happen. It is immensely heartwarming to see parents become safe and trusted adults, dissolve any room for silence and shame, and open up spaces for their children to share and speak about anything they need to know. It is immensely heartwarming to build a community of safe adults in teachers, ancillary staff, and others who work with and around children.
But it is also saddening, because we live in a world where childhoods are neither free not safe, that the onus is still on them to stay safe. It is saddening to know that even as we speak to some children at a time, there are more that may not know how to protect themselves, more that may be vulnerable on account of several factors beyond their control, and more that may be in need of immediate rescuing.
And yet, we persist. We persist because each face that sits from across me in a classroom represents a story of awakening.
A father who decides that his daughter can continue going to school because her teachers prioritize her safety.
A mother who stands up for her son when he tells her about an abusive stranger.
A teacher who sets up a “safety booth” in school that she sits in when she is not teaching a class, and for several hours before and after school, so that any child or parent who needs to share, speak up, report anything, or ask a question will know that she is there.
These stories matter, these stories heal. These stories are moments of hope that fill the gaps between trepidation at painful news and firming the resolve to redouble efforts to make change happen.
The most moving part is the silent calm that comes from feeling the strength and support of every survivor and changemaker around you in spirit, standing by in gentle endorsement of every effort to ensure that no child ever faces sexual abuse.