I caught the local news last night for the first time in a while. KVUE was running a story about how Austin's Police Department (APD) has launched a "campaign against child sexual abuse." As they reported:
The goal is to convince youngsters to tell someone it's happening to them.
"The only way to prevent child abuse is for kids to know that they have the power to stop it when it happens," said Lt. Justin Newsom. He’s head of APD’s Violent Crimes Unit.
He says they’re using twitter to get the word out about the campaign. The twitter hashtag, #ihavethepower, helps get the word out to kids that they don't have to be abused.[Emphasis mine]
What a classic case of when good intentions fail.
The bolded quote from Lt. Newsom above sent sickening chills down my spine. It's not really a prevention method to have kids tell someone they trust when they've been abused...it's more of a "prevent it from happening again" method, which is important. But the language used here is troubling to me. True prevention comes only from the the abuser not abusing in the first place. Framing it in this "kids you have the power!" manner can have the consequence of shaming kids who didn't/don't immediately tell someone, a message which is certainly not intended but could be transmitted to victims regardless. And end up as disempowering.
There are some things I love about the campaign. I love trying to make it safer for kids to disclose when they need help. I love the PSA opening with Officer Brenda Ramirez telling her own story of survival. The piece also includes a ton of info about how it is almost always someone the child knows who is committing the crime and advice for parents/adults to believe their kids when they share something.
But man, if that wording above didn't rub me completely the wrong way. A simple, "We want kids to know they have the power to tell someone" instead of "The only way to prevent child abuse is for kids to know that they have the power to stop it when it happens," would make all the difference.
Language matters. Especially when the stakes are so high.
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