19 December 2012

Policy: A Run Away Train or the Tracks for Social Change?

By Cordelia Anderson and Joan Tabachnick, guest bloggers and hosts of the Ending Child Sexual Abuse Web Conference Series

The stories behind our laws and policies related to child sexual abuse have dramatically changed since anti-rape activists first begun to break the silence around the issue in the early 1970s. With stories from brave survivors such as Marilyn VanderBur, as well as the countless number of individuals coming forward as survivors in communities around the country, legislators felt a pressing need to respond. In the 1970s and 1980s, laws were enacted that established mandatory reporting, the Victims of Crime Act was passed, and funding for school-based child sexual abuse prevention programs were created. These policies were landmark decisions, raising awareness of the issue in hopes of establishing community responses to prevent child sexual abuse. As we moved into the 1990s and 2000s, things shifted as the news media became dominated by individual tragedies and sweeping new laws were passed in memory of individual children missing, abducted, or killed by strangers. These laws—including the Jacob Wetterling Act, Meghan’s Law, and the Adam Walsh Act—shifted the nation’s focus toward crime and punishment, emphasizing sex offender registration, community notification, and stricter sentencing of sex offenders.

While the stories of Jacob Wetterling, Meghan Kanka, and Adam Walsh are no doubt tragic and horrifying, what was missing in the legislation that followed each of these incidents is the recognition that child sexual abuse is most often perpetrated by those known and trusted by the victim. As such, the notification and registry policies miss the mark when it comes to preventing abuse in our homes, schools, and playgrounds where abuse most often occurs. As we consider policies for the next decade, we must look back in order to look forward, asking ourselves: what are the “Policy Changes that Help and Hinder our Ability to End Child Sexual Abuse?”

In this year’s final web conference, we focused on this very question. The web conference began with presenter Alisa Klein, who grounded the discussion in an overview of how public policy is created, defining policy as the “the structures, norms and culture we create and perpetuate around issues of social significance.” Alisa then walked participants through a “policy triangle” – referring to a schema that she developed to highlight the fact that policy is created by the push and pull of many forces including events, media, public opinion, and government. In particular, the triangle highlights the importance of how events shape our understanding of and responses to all issues, including child sexual abuse.

Building on this framework, presenter Christi Hurt of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina shared her story of how she became involved in policy approaches to child sexual abuse prevention in North Carolina. Christi aptly referred to policy in this arena as a “runaway train,” noting that policy is being made every day and we can either decide to get on the train or it will leave us behind. She offered a case study of the North Carolina Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and its work to change public policies related to child sexual abuse in that state. She described how a disparate group of individuals and organizations with some common concerns initially came together and in time, created a multi-disciplinary coalition working together across the state. Together they collected important information about what communities want, what professionals working in a variety of allied fields need, and what the research can say about policies that do and don’t work. The Coalition then organized itself to answer some of the key questions that emerged, such as “what do sex offender management laws need to look like in order to be effective?” and “how do we prevent child sexual abuse from ever happening in the first place?”

Together, Alisa and Christi helped to make the work of child sexual abuse policy change not only accessible, but also offered practical suggestions for how to begin. As always, web conference participants added to the discussion by sharing ideas and resources from their local communities. Most importantly, the presenters and participants helped us pair policy with hope—hope that when we work together, we can change the narrative of child sexual abuse and introduce policies that truly build safer communities across the nation. Imagine all of that within a one hour web conference – this one is surely worth listening to!

Click here to learn more about the Ending Child Sexual Abuse Web Conference Series. Slides and recordings are available for each web conference. Sign-up to learn more about upcoming sessions.

11 December 2012

Will Congress Be Naughty or Nice?

As the New Year approaches, we are anxiously waiting to see if lawmakers will be naughty or nice when it comes to passing key legislation affecting women’s health, safety and economic well-being. Decisions regarding the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the Shaheen Amendment and the “fiscal cliff” are among key issues that should be resolved before the end of this congressional session.

VAWA has previously been reauthorized, with bipartisan support. Unbelievably, some lawmakers are now opposed to its renewal, in part because the 2012 version would extend protections to same-sex couples, undocumented immigrants and Native Americans.
Take Action! Tell your congressmen to be nice and pass the reauthorization of  the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Obstructing protections for victims of domestic violence is an easy way to get on the naughty list, and Rep. Eric Cantor is on his way to making it to the top of that list. Cantor has been adamant about prohibiting protections for Native-American women, a community that suffers from disproportionately high rates of sexual assault, rape and violence. An alarming one in three Native-American women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. This paints a clear picture as to why no woman should be excluded from protection from violence.

Also on the naughty list are members of Congress who oppose the Shaheen amendment, which would provide military women with the same access to abortion coverage as other women with federal health care policies. No woman who serves her country should have to pay out of pocket to end a pregnancy resulting from sexual assault. While progress has been made -- with Senate approval of the National Defense Authorization Act that includes the Shaheen amendment as part of the bill -- whether the House of Representatives will allow the amendment to remain intact is still up in the air. Not providing servicewomen with the same reproductive rights and abortion coverage as the women they fight to protect is not just naughty; it’s downright despicable.

Lastly, decisions regarding the ‘fiscal cliff’ are among the most complicated and pressing issues that will have huge implications for low-income women and their families. With disproportionate numbers of women living in poverty, cuts to public education, child care assistance, health care, public housing and nutrition programs for low-income women and children could prove disastrous. The burden of government spending reductions should not be placed on those who turn to vital social programs to survive. We’re advocating a compromise that puts legislators safely on this season’s nice list.

As we work to ensure that women have equal economic opportunity, access to health care and are protected from violence, the Ms. Foundation continues to pressure lawmakers to do what’s best for women and their families in 2013 and beyond.

03 December 2012

It’s Time to Pull Our Heads Out of the Sand

By Cordelia Anderson and Joan Tabachnick, guest bloggers and hosts of the Ending Child Sexual Abuse Web Conference Series

For years, we’ve asked the difficult questions: Why didn’t he do something to stop it? Why didn’t she say something when anyone could see that something was wrong? It’s easy to judge others for not doing what we hope we would do if we suspected a child was being abused. But case after case shows how much easier it is to ignore what is in front of us when it’s a family member, trusted friend, respected elder or someone in a leadership role who commits abuse. It is easy to feel immobilized when we’re not sure what to do.

Our recent web conference, “After Sandusky: What We Have Learned to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse in Youth Serving Organizations,” explored various strategies for how to prevent and confront abuse when it happens. Dr. Janet Saul from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched the conference by presenting a CDC report about the ways that organizations can create an environment that is inhospitable to those who would abuse children. Dr. Saul’s six strategies (which include screening, education and training, a clear Code of Conduct and protocols for how to respond to breaches in that Code) offer direction for how an organization can make clear that it is not a place where an abuser will gain access to children. Dr. Saul noted a significant shift in how people are approaching prevention—that is, moving away from a focus on evaluating individual’s motivations and instead focus on changing organizational environments so that abuse cannot happen.

For organizations like the Pennsylvania-based National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), the Sandusky case and its ripple effects have had both local and national significance. Karen Baker, Director of NSVRC, described the challenges in harnessing their community’s grief—as well as the unprecedented media coverage—into meaningful public engagement around preventing future abuse. She described how NSVRC is creating critical links between experts in the field and the media, helping them to be more effective in their reporting. This work includes a partnership with the Poynter Institute to help shape how the media understands the framing of prevention.

The conference’s third presenter, Dr. Keith Kaufman of Portland State University, described his work with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to prevent abuse before it happens. Using a “situational model” that has been shown to effectively reduce other forms of crime, Dr. Kaufman is applying this model in youth-serving organizations and testing different strategies for strengthening the environment that surrounds children and teens. He notes that organizations must go beyond simply reducing risk, and consider what can be done to increase protections in these organizations.

Finally, participants from the audience offered many additional strategies for preventing abuse and took part in a lively discussion of what is being done across the country. They echoed the presenters’ emphasis on the need to shift from individual responsibility to collective accountability for preventing abuse. Rather than keep our head in the sand, the new norm for organizations is that “child sexual abuse prevention is our job, it is our business.”

Click here to learn more about the Ending Child Sexual Abuse Web Conference Series. Slides and recordings are available for each web conference. Sign-up to learn more about upcoming sessions.