“When the world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” — Malala Yousafzai
It’s so much easier to mind my own business, you know? It’s so much easier to not make what’s happening down the street or across the country my concern. But I see a face, I hear the numbers, and I know it’s just not possible for me to remain silent.
We have a lot of voices in our world, but too often they are just noisy. The voices we need to hear are often silent, the voices we do hear are often more interested in making noise. Malala is a name you and I should know. She was one powerful young voice, and her words are a perfect reminder as we talk about the subject of advocacy — for children.
I heard the young girl speak and immediately felt sad that so many doubted her, but then I remembered how so many have doubted many of us. You and I might be adults now, but we have been them — girls and boys. Maybe someone took your favorite snack from your lunchbox and no one believed you when you told them, or maybe you were physically or verbally abused, and you were afraid to tell because you had no reason to think anyone would believe you. After all, what adult would you have felt safe telling about the odd neighbor or the creepy relative?
Children go through life, often limping along, until they become us, the adults, who wish they had had anyone to save them. Were you that child? While I didn’t have the traumatic stories of childhood I have been reading of others, I had events in my teens that have haunted me, and I was afraid to tell anyone. Who would you tell? Who would believe “good people” would do bad things?
You might feel as uncomfortable reading this as I feel writing it and reading the statistics, but it is when we are quiet and do not let children know we can be trusted, that we become a part of the problem. The “problem” is the reason we are celebrating National Be Someone Day on July 21. The challenge is to take 10 seconds to make a difference in a child’s life. 10 seconds. Why? Because a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds. In the time it has taken me to write a sentence, another child abuse has been reported (I’m a fast typist but a slower thinker).
You and I can choose to spend 10 seconds being someone a child can trust for one day, and we can choose every day to be an advocate — someone who speaks up and perhaps speaks with others to bring attention and change to the dangers of child abuse. You might never have children of your own, but you were once a child. Would it have made you feel differently if you had ever felt an adult would hear you? Did you ever have an adult in your life who made you feel unsafe by the way they touched you or spoke to you?
The child inside you might really be appreciative that the adult you are today is willing to be aware and to not be silent.
Is child abuse really a problem, though, you ask. Are kids really telling the truth when they say someone did something to them? I’ll give you a very loud Yes. “Fabricated sexual abuse reports constitute only 4% to 8% of all reported cases. Most fabricated reports are made by adults involved in custody disputes or by adolescents.” That tells me that if a child is brave enough to report, there’s a really good chance they are telling the truth.
I’ve helped with some fundraisers for child advocacy, but what am I doing to make a difference for the children who will one day be the adults? I can 1) choose to not abuse children, and 2) choose to be aware of the children I’m around. That’s a starting place.
Every now and then, I take a look at the “National Day of” calendar to see what is being celebrated, and while being someone to children might not be as exciting as National Hot Dog Day, Ice Cream Day, or Take Your Dog/Cat/Child to Work Day, it’s one we need to acknowledge. And I think being an advocate for anyone means we are willing to acknowledge the problem, even when it isn’t comfortable.
Being an advocate means we promote and defend another person’s rights in some arena. It starts with acknowledging their issues. Have you ever considered yourself an advocate? If you have a spouse who deals with a disability, you will quickly become an advocate for them and those struggling with the disease. If your parent has a hard time navigating the senior system, you better believe you’ll become an advocate for them. Being an advocate means you care enough to notice, to speak up, to take action where necessary.
I hope you will join me on July 21 in celebrating Project Be Someone. Take a minute to know the facts, and then take 10 seconds to make a difference. I’ll be reaching out to my local Child Advocacy Center to see what I can do, and how I can make a positive impact for the children in my community who will soon be the adults in my community.
After all, it’s like Dr. Seuss said, Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not. And the 10 seconds? Well, it might be that you listen to a child, but more importantly it is that you take these five steps (it will take you around 10 seconds to read them).
Step 1: LEARN THE FACTS. 1 in 10 children are sexually abused. 90% of them know their abuser.
Step 2: MINIMIZE OPPORTUNITY. Eliminate or reduce isolated, one-on-one situations to decrease risk for abuse.
Step 3: TALK ABOUT IT. Have open conversations with children about our bodies, sexual abuse, and boundaries.
Step 4: RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS. Know the signs of abuse to protect children from further harm.
Step 5: REACT RESPONSIBLY. Respond to risky behaviors and act on suspicions.
Your voice and mine help break the silence, and that means we are more powerful than we think. Child Advocacy Center Rutherford/Cannon County (615) 867-9000 Child Advocacy Tennessee: Phone: (615) 333-5832.
Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at ([email protected]).