“Stop the Silence” to End Child Abuse

<p>Pamela Pine</p>
January 1, 2007

Seven years ago, I was sitting at my desk when some language in a request for proposals for research on societal violence struck me. I was working exclusively as an international public health specialist, and this request was for work on U.S. domestic violence and child abuse—including sexual abuse (CSA).

At the time, I knew of only two people working on child sexual abuse, and one was my sister Amy Pine, a therapist who co-founded Survivors Healing Center in California, a small non-profit group in Santa Cruz, California, and one of a very few organizations focused exclusively on survivors of child sexual abuse. I called her to see if she’d help; I had no idea how far that call would take us.

In the following weeks, I learned some staggering numbers: child sexual abuse was occurring in epidemic proportions across all segments of society. Today, it affects more than one in four girls and more than one in seven boys in the U.S. alone (US DHHS 1999) but only one child in 10 reports it (Russell, D. et al. 1986).

For children who are victims of CSA, poor academic performance is common, as is depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. As adults, survivors are much more likely to experience mental health problems, and higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, prostitution, and chronic disease from the trauma to the brain and body. CSA costs the country billions of dollars each year in pediatrician, hospital, police, social services, legal and judicial, and other costs (Dallam 2001, in Franey, Geffner, and Falconer, eds.). To me, that makes CSA undeniably a part of our national security. Yet the stigma makes it hard to talk about, or to intervene.

I wondered how I could take on something that deeply rooted. Then, I thought about the strides we’ve made fighting breast cancer—even though when I was a kid, you couldn’t say the word “breast” out loud—and I thought, we could do that here, too.

Confronting Rejection—Until An Idea Strikes
For a comprehensive approach—with research, treatment, advocacy, education, and policy development aspects—we’d need funds. We managed to get the Survivors Healing Center and the partnership a good-sized grant from the California Endowment to address CSA, but over the next year, I had no luck finding funds from any other group.

I felt like a novelist: one funding rejection after another. At times, I nearly quit trying. I was beginning to think that I simply could not help turn the situation around. It was just so much bigger than I was. Fortunately, my calls to my sister and Sharon Simone, a survivor and internationally recognized advocate, were always met with, “Pam, you can do it.” So, I kept going.

I recognized there was a serious awareness problem that created a vicious circle—if most people don’t know the realities of the problem, can’t talk about it, and policymakers weren’t funding actions to prevent it, how were we going to do anything?

Another phone call ultimately turned the situation around. In 2003, I contacted James Grunig, head of the Department of Communications at the University of Maryland, to see if the Department would help me gauge public perceptions about CSA and what would work to get people involved in prevention. Bey-Ling Sha, then a visiting Assistant Professor, and her class worked with me to design and conduct research in the Washington, D.C., area. The resulting research produced very interesting results.

The class advised us to create something that the public could get directly involved with and to use person-to-person communication wherever possible to increase response from the media and the public. Some of the students suggested “a walk, run or march to generate mass media attention”—and we were off and running from there. I worked with Sharon Simone and many others to get the first race going in 2004. It wasn’t easy to pull it together (the logistics and details of a thing like this are too many to recount), but it worked. We got the media’s attention and had about 850 people show up that very first year!

Pounding the Pavement
It does help to know people. In 2003, I asked Maryland State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey, whom I’d met on his campaign trail while he was canvassing at Greenbelt Maryland Metro Station some years before to introduce me to Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)—and he did. I learned he was interested in CSA.

After meeting with Senator Mikulski in 2004, she ultimately got funds from US Department of Health and Human Services to help a coalition we were working with (for example, TurnAround, Inc., the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, and the House of Ruth in Baltimore) develop a comprehensive CSA prevention and treatment start-up program in Maryland. I incorporated Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse, Inc. as a non-profit, charitable organization in 2004.

We decided on a dual mission because CSA is a problem itself, but it's also connected to many other aspects of societal violence. So we work to:

increase awareness about and conduct programming to address the prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse, and

address the relationships between this issue and the broader issues of overall family and community violence, and, further, violence within and between communities.

In 2005, a grant from the Department of Justice provided the funds to duplicate and nationally distribute a powerful PSA that had been created by Sharon Simone and her colleague Jonathan Valverde for Stop the Silence. In 2006, funds from the Ford Foundation allowed us to continue to write the National Children’s Bench Book (begun under the HHS grant) for judges and other court-related personnel; it will be done in 2007 and will provide the information needed to help judges make the best possible decisions about the children and families they see before them.

We’re working on training and community outreach and education in a few locations, including Washington, D.C. And of course, there’s the Race/Walk, which is now happening in partnership with other communities (for example, in California) and in other countries like Argentina and Canada.

A Plan for Generations
It may sound like a positive story with maybe a happy ending in site, but this is really just the beginning. There’s a lot more work to do together to keep children safe and to heal our society. Experts and organizations in this field generally agree that it will take five generations to have a real impact on child sexual abuse prevalence—and that’s only if we really start now.

After all is said and done, we are very proud of our work and we recognize the good it’s done and continues to do, but I will be frank: like so many nonprofits, we need more than the good will of many, we need some good, old fashioned monetary support to keep it and us going. It’s time for us all to get involved in turning this issue around.

About the Race
More than 1,000 people are expected this year at the fourth annual International Race to Stop the Silence, from across the country and around the world. It’s a 10K race, 2.25- mile pledge fun run/walk, and 1K kids’ fun run; sponsors include the Ms. Foundation, Constella Group, The Walking Company, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, the Calvert Group, and others. Everyone's invited!!