Child sexual abuse victims — mental health support is critical

Original Post: The Hill | BY ASHELY GARLING, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR, 05/22/19

Google “child abuse” on any given day and you will find reports from across the nation. This year, there were reports of Baptist church leadersabusing children, some as young as 3 and the Pope’s acknowledgment of nuns being abused by church leaders. In both cases, investigations found the majority of the crimes had been long standing and some even continued for decades, but little is said about support for the victims. 

This silence is dangerous; without access to health care, belief from loved ones and support from the community, it can lead to serious mental health consequences.

Over 24 million individuals experiencing a mental health illness are going untreated primarily due to poor access and the results of that lack can be catastrophic. Included in that number are more than 5 million survivors of child sexual abuse. Many survivors cope with their trauma by using drugs and alcohol and even suicide.

Child abuse victims are three to four times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress (PTSD), depression and even resort to self-medicating with dangerous drugs, according to RAINN, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. They suffer in silence without access to help and support while their perpetrators continue to live normal lives.

As a 12-year-old victim of sexual abuse, I needed more than just access; I also needed the belief and support of my community, my friends and my family. I knew that what was happening to me was wrong, but I never told anyone at the authorities. That was one of the only regrets of my life. I know that I am not alone in my silence.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in six boys and one in four girls are sexually abused in the United States before the age of 18. This statistic rises to one in three women that become victims of sexual violence within their lifetime. As in my case, the majority of these crimes go unreported, with only 12 percent of child sexual abusebeing reported to authorities.

One of the primary reasons that victims do not speak out is that they fear that others will not believe them. Until this article, I have only told my story to close friends and family. My abuser was a police officer, the stepfather living in my home, the person I was supposed to be able to trust. If I had a place to go, a resource, or a person to tell outside of my family and friends I may have gotten the help I needed sooner.

Instead, I experienced post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and flashbacks for many years, especially when trying to form relationships with the opposite sex. These flashbacks could strike at any time and without warning, in the shower or in a movie theater and they were starting to push me to the edge.

The shame, guilt, fear and loss of confidence felt by a survivor are often too much to bear alone. In college, I could no longer take the anguish of PTSD and I sought help from a crisis center named Hope Harbor in Bowling Green, Ky. If it weren’t for the dedication, support and belief I received from my late counselor, Pam Campbell, I would not have become the successful woman, pharmacist and mother I am today. It took me years of intensive, twice weekly, one-on-one therapy sessions to stop being a victim, develop self-acceptance and bloom into the survivor and heroine of my own story. 

Unfortunately, many men and women are not as lucky as I was to have access to such a wonderful resource. RAINN also reports that 70 percent of rape or sexual assault victims, suffer from significant psychological distress. This figure dwarfs that of victims of other violent crimes. Victims of sexual assault are also three times more likely to use marijuana, 6 times more likely to use cocaine and 10 times more likely to use other major drugs.

Survivors of sexual violence are at a higher risk for anxiety, PTSD, depression, eating disorders, dissociative and personality disorders. The link between these mental health responses to sexual violence and substance abuse is so prevalent that The National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center reports survivors are 26 times more likely to abuse drugs. This is not the primary reason for the substance abuse crisis in America, but there is an undeniable correlation.

Sexual abuse survivors need access to mental health resources and — equally as important — belief. If we, as family, friends, health-care providers and American citizens, would support, believe and love those who say they have been victimized, we may start to see a decrease in national crises like substance abuse in addition to addressing sexual violence. Survivors need easy access to sexual violence reporting sources, recovery centers, counseling and mental health resources. But first they need to find the courage to break their silence by having a society that says “I believe.” 

Ashely Garling PharmD is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy and a UT Austin Public Voices fellow of The OpEd Project. 

Is ‘Time’s Up’ the Next Step for the #MeToo Movement?

Story by Megan Garber of The Atlantic | January 2, 2018

For the most part, powerful women. For the most part, wealthy women. For the most part, white women. #MeToo, for all the progress it has made in exposing sexual harassment and abuse—and in exposing the contours of systemic sexism more broadly—has been, from the outset, largely limited in its scope: A movement started, in this iteration, by the famous and the familiar, a movement unsure of how to convert itself from stories into action. The question quickly became: How do you broaden it? How do you move the #MeToo movement beyond the provinces of privilege to be more inclusive, more systematized, more politically effective? How can #MeToo, essentially, move from the realm of the “me” to the realm of, more fully and more meaningfully, the “we”?

One possible answer: Shift its orientation, collectively, intentionally. Move from identifying the problem to actively solving it. On Monday, as 2017 gave way to 2018, more than 300 women in Hollywood—executives, actors, agents, writers, directors, and producers—announced the formation of Time’s Up, an effort to counter systemic sexual harassment not just in the entertainment industry, but also in industries across the country. It is an effort, significantly, that aims to combat workplace sexism at its foundations: through legal recourse. Through improved representation in board rooms and beyond. Through the changing of norms. “We just reached this conclusion in our heads that, damn it, everything is possible,” Shonda Rhimes, who has been closely involved with Time’s Up, toldThe New York Times of the effort. “Why shouldn’t it be?”

The initiative includes efforts to create legislation that will penalize companies that tolerate harassment, and that will discourage the use of the nondisclosure agreements that have helped to silence victims of abuse. It has embraced a mission to reach gender parity at Hollywood studios and talent agencies. And, perhaps most significantly, it includes a legal defense arm that will be administered by the National Women’s Law Center’s Legal Network for Gender Equity and that will connect victims of sexual harassment with legal representation. To that end, Time’s Up has established a GoFundMe effort aimed at raising $15 million—from Hollywood honchos and the public at large—to provide legal support to women and men who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace. “Access to prompt and comprehensive legal and communications help,” the campaign notes, “will mean empowerment for these individuals and long term growth for our culture and communities as a whole.” (As of this writing, the campaign has raised nearly $14 million.)

The formation of Time’s Up was announced via a full-page advertisement in the Times and via an ad in La Opinion, a Spanish-language newspaper. The ads were accompanied by a detailed news report in the Times, and also by a social-media campaign—#TimesUp—that included participation from many of Hollywood’s most powerful voices, among them Rhimes, Eva Longoria, Rosario Dawson, Jennifer Lawrence, America Ferrera, Emma Stone, Uzo Aduba, Reese Witherspoon, Jill Soloway, Kerry Washington, Tina Tchen, Rashida Jones, Ashley Judd, Natalie Portman, Ava DuVernay, and many, many more.

The simple shift in hashtag, #MeToo to #TimesUp, is telling: While the former has, thus far, largely emphasized the personal and the anecdotal, #TimesUp—objective in subject, inclusive of verb, suggestive of action—embraces the political. It attempts to expand the fight against sexual harassment, and the workplace inequality that has allowed it to flourish for so long, beyond the realm of the individual story, the individual reality. (Reese Witherspoon: “We have been siloed off from each other. We’re finally hearing each other, and seeing each other, and now locking arms in solidarity with each other, and in solidarity for every woman who doesn’t feel seen, to be finally heard.”) One of the prevailing ethics of #MeToo has been the opt-in nature of the movement: To share one’s own story, with all the costs that accompany it, that ethic has acknowledged, is both an act of bravery and an act of privilege. While many have spoken up and spoken out, and should be commended for it, many more have not: The risks of doing so are too severe.

As a result, implied among all the stories that have formed #MeToo’s emerging portrait—all those splashes of color and light—have been all the stories that have remained in the darkness: the long shadows cast by all the people who lack the privileges of publicity. The known unknowns. #TimesUp, though—and Time’s Up, the organization—is an attempt to change that. It was inspired, its collaborators note, not just by the stories of celebrities, but also by a letter sent in November from the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, an organization of farmworker women and women from farmworker families: a letter of solidarity to Hollywood actors who were speaking up and acting out. “Even though we work in very different environments,” the organization, representing some 700,000 workers, noted, “we share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist, and otherwise threaten our economic, physical, and emotional security.”

Time’s Up, for its part, is, significantly, leaderless: It is run by volunteers and comprised of working groups. (One of those groups oversaw the creation of the commission, led by Anita Hill, that is tasked with creating strategies to end sexual harassment in show business.) And Time’s Up emphasizes the crucial need to move beyond an ad-hoc approach to solving the systemic problems of harassment—the firings of abusers, the earnest promises of executives and leaders to do better—with solutions that are fittingly systematized. Time’s Up is also attempting to offer more quotidian solutions to workplace sexism. It has forged alliances with other organizations aimed at improving representation in the workplace, among them 50/50 by 2020, a group dedicated to achieving gender parity in Hollywood boardrooms. And Time’s Up’s mission statement includes several answers to the question of “What You Can Do”:

  1. Don’t be part of the problem. For starters, don’t harass anyone.
  2. If a person who has been harassed tells you about it, believe them. Don’t underestimate how hard it is to talk about these things.
  3. If you know someone who has been harassed, connect them to resources who can help, such as the ones found here.
  4. If you are a witness or bystander and see a harassing situation, you can help the person being harassed. You could actually intervene. You could confront the harasser. You could also help the person get out of the harassing situation. If you cannot do any of these things, you can still support the harassed person by corroborating and confirming the account of what happened.
  5. You can support those affected by sexual harassment by donating to the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund.
  6. If you are part of an organization, look at the workforce and the leadership (management, officers, board of directors). Does it reflect the market where you operate and the world we live in? If not, ask why not and do something to move it closer to that goal.
  7. Acknowledge that talent is equally distributed, but work and career opportunities are not. Mentor someone from an under-represented group in your industry. If you are in a position to do so, hire someone who can diversify the perspectives included in your organization; your team will be better and stronger for it.
  8. You can vote with your wallet: in your purchasing, in your investing and in your charitable giving. Spend or give to companies and organizations who have more equitable leadership and opportunities for all.

Time’s Up, in all this, suggests an effort to bring one kind of full-circling to #MeToo: an attempt to move the movement, in a revealing reversal of bell hooks’s phrase, from the center to the margin. It is an effort to bring centrifugal forces to bear on #MeToo’s momentum, helping the movement to radiate out from beyond the privileged few. Is it, in that, fully, satisfyingly inclusive? Is it, on its own, enough? No. No, of course not. (One of the recommendations put forward by the group, according to the Times, is that “women walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes speak out and raise awareness by wearing black”—a “solution” that is well-meaning but, compared to the others, notably lacking in political rigor.) But Time’s Up, too, is a way to begin. It embraces the trajectory that forward movement so often adopts, in culture and in politics: a path not of smooth inevitability, but of change that comes in fits and starts. With stories that are shared and then—eventually—converted into action. As Shonda Rhimes summed it up: “If this group of women can’t fight for a model for other women who don’t have as much power and privilege, then who can?”

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