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Prerequisites for targeting child sexual abuse

Prerequisites for targeting child sexual abuse To effectively target an epidemic often requires changes on the part of all members
of society, who must buy in to the need for addressing the epidemic. Yet, today’s
social milieu is not one in which most Americans will willingly commit to some of
the changes in socialization patterns or the power structure that will be necessary for
substantially reducing the problem of child sexual abuse. Thus, this section considers
possible prerequisites for a receptive society. These prerequisites represent roadblocks
to reaching a goal of the drastic reduction of child sexual abuse.
The first proposed prerequisite may be that the level of violence within society
must become intolerable. We remain a nation of more than 200 million guns, nearly
one gun for every adult and child. We are not only the most violent industrialized
society in the world, but our homicide rates are two to 10 times higher than rates in
other developed countries.1 To reduce the level of violence will require the nation,
the media, the institutions within society, and most Americans to embrace the belief
that we have the right, and even demand the right, to live in a violence-free nation.
Because sexual abuse is in many ways a violent act and one that is endorsed more
frequently by those who also endorse interpersonal violence (Briere & Runtz, 1989),
the prevalence of sexual abuse may not decrease until Americans commit to living
within a safer society.
The second prerequisite may be that society must become more child-centered.
While our words and the words of our leaders often suggest that we are child-centered,
it is difficult to concur when a fifth or more of all children live in poverty (Betson &
Michael, 1997). And with our mainly puritan backgrounds, we are still a country that
endorses the ownership of children and the parental right and privilege to use
corporal punishment. As long as we are a country that believes in the ownership of
children, they will remain at risk for abuses of power over them.
The third prerequisite may be a far less patriarchal society. Sexual abuse remains
primarily a gendered abuse of females by males. While not wishing to ignore the
unfortunate male victims nor the few female offenders, the beliefs and value systems
of male privilege and domination remain probably the single most important causal
factors for child sexual abuse. Until males are willing to cede some of that power and
to take responsibility for their abuses of that power, and until these abuses of power
are recognized as violent actions, child sexual abuse may remain a significant problem.
The final prerequisite for decreasing the prevalence of child sexual abuse may
be a public so outraged about the problem that our nation becomes intolerant of the sexual abuse of any child. With this level of public outrage, the media may finally be
influenced to stop highlighting sexual victimization, sensationalizing male privilege,
and sexualizing children.
If these are the prerequisites, then we are many years away From being able to
substantially reduce the problem of child sexual abuse, for we are still too violenceprone
and violence-proud. It may take years of violent deaths of our children and
youth for society to become fed up with its self-induced calamity. The violence will
also likely have to move into the middle-class and affluent sections with as much
ferocity as it plagues some of the lives of those without before those with power add
their voices to the fight for change. It will also take time for us to adopt our nation’s
children as our own so that we become intolerant of the harm not only to our own
children, but to our neighbor’s, and even those children who represent our differences
instead of our similarities. And surely it will take time for the powerful to cede their
power for the good of the people. Thus, major change is probably many years away.
Yet, we must hope that the time will come when simply being a child, or worse
being a girl, will not be a significant risk factor for child sexual abuse.

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