It hit social media like a storm this spring: Josh, one of those picture-perfect Duggars (19 Kids and Counting), was accused of child molestation, and his wife, parents , sisters, and church elders knew all about it. Type “DUGGAR” into the Google browser and you’ll see. Every online celebrity magazine and gossip rag passing as news today had some fuel to add to the fire in hopes of inciting a sense of panic.
Our belief in a just world was thrown totally off-kilter, because of this reality TV show guy and his deep, dark, ugly secrets. An outraged, unjustifiably shocked public lamented, “How could this have happened?” (Wait—did she just say unjustifiably shocked, you might ask? Yes, I absolutely did, and now I’ll tell you why.) I think it’s shocking that people are still able to be shocked when these disgusting crimes are brought to light, as though they don’t happen every minute of the day, somewhere in the world, to some helpless, innocent child.
The current statistics available on childhood sexual abuse vary. Given the fact that many—if not most—instances are unreported, it’s pretty much impossible to settle on an accurate number of victims, but even so, we all know it’s tragically high. I’ve heard the cringe-worthy estimates: one in three girls and one in six boys. Sadly, after a lifetime of talking with countless other victims who never told anyone, I think it’s much, much higher than that.
In Canada, the reported rate of sexual assault is approximately 1.5 times higher for children and youth (under 18 years) than for young adults (18-24 years), and sexual violence is the second most reported crime perpetrated against that age group. The majority of the victims are female, upwards of 80%, rates of sexual violence which appear to exceed those of their male counterparts by nearly 5 times. Children under 12 years are most likely to be victimized by someone they know—and often trust—such as a family member or acquaintance. Girls, in particular, are most vulnerable to sexual assault between the ages of 12-17 years from a perpetrator outside of the family. (See more here).
So, how can we act shocked when faced with such a prevalent crime?
And how does shock help the victim, the system, or anyone but the perpetrator, anyways? Our shock forces us to turn in fear. Don’t look away. Give a hard stare instead.
How is it possible we still don’t understand that the only way to beat this darkness is to call it out for the monster that it is and stop letting it catch us by surprise?
And why do all of those numbers and statistics hide the one thing we most need to know? Where the fuck are the perpetrators? Do they not exist? Why are they invisible?
Turn it on its head.
Let’s talk about the perps. Who are they? What’s the peak age range? How many times more likely are males to commit these crimes than females? And, can I get a percentage, please? I mean, in a class of 24 students, estimates show that approximately 8 girls and/or 4 boys has been—or will be—sexually assaulted as a child. So, if I walk into any room filled with 24 random adults, how many (men and women) are estimated to be sexual offenders, a very real threat to me and my children?
One in three? One in six? More or less?
Of course, I’m not saying the children don’t matter, because they do more than anything. But I’m sick of these issues becoming the domain of the victim while their predators hide behind a cloak of invisibility. Why do they deserve any of our protection? Where are their easy-to-identify scarlet letters? Isn’t it time for these creeps to finally stand up and be counted?
I’m not afraid to own that I’m not really interested in the details of this one particular case. This story is not new to me, or original in any way, and I’ve heard multiple variations from so many different survivors over the years. I don’t believe one more (extremely sensationalised and media-hyped) version will make much of a difference in how I see things at this point. But I will use it as an illustration to highlight what I believe needs to change.
Shock is fear. And fear isn’t going to help us win the battle against child abuse.
The only weapon we have at our disposal worth anything, in my opinion, is love. Our ability to use ourselves and our voices as instruments to create the change we want to see in the world. If we break the silence surrounding childhood abuse—if more and more victims come forward to share their stories and refuse to carry the heavy burden of shame any longer—and if we can stop turning away from what terrifies us, open our eyes and face the demon for what it is, I truly believe with every fibre of my being that we can destroy it once and for all. We can be light-bearers, make visible the invisibles, and cast out darkness.
We can choose to see.
*This post first appeared on Living the Dream blog*