By Pam Dillon
When Cynthia Bland invited me to attend a Voice Found workshop about childhood sexual abuse, here’s what happened.
Three hours? On a Saturday?
I thought of my messy house, with its dust bunnies doing hip-hop parades under beds. I thought of Laundry Mountain looming, Everest-like, and bruised bananas crying to be turned into muffins and the sanctity of the newspapers-reading ritual on Saturday mornings.
Yes, I’m passionate about child advocacy, but surely it could be put off for another time.
That’s when my head exploded.
Oh My God.
In a swirl of fury, alarm and disgust, realization surfaced: I know someone who is a child sexual abuser.
So do you.
We all know people who have sexually abused kids. The monster who goes into the seven-year-old’s room late at night? We know that person. The villain who robs innocence and violates trust is our neighbor, relative, coworker or community pillar.
The devil I know looks for all the world like the good guy. He is the clean-cut, attractive professional who has always been admired. When I learned recently that he had been charged with despicable crimes against children – crimes committed over a prolonged period of time – it was incomprehensible. Him?
This was someone I liked, trusted, considered a friend.
How could he possibly do that? How could anyone ever do anything so horrendous to a child?
Truth is, someone is doing it right now.
And right now.
And right now.
Hesitation to confront it empowers sexual predators. While you and I pass off sexual abuse as somebody else’s problem, the monsters we know groom their next victims. “No one likes to think or talk about children being sexually abused. It’s just too horrible too comprehend and we would rather pretend it’s not happening,” Cynthia points out. “The problem with this is that by ignoring it, we allow it to continue. Sexual predators LIKE silence. It is that silence that allows them to continue. And sadly, we passively accept it.”
Not Cynthia. She is the voice and the founder behind Voice Found, an Ottawa-based organization dedicated to childhood sexual abuse prevention and support for survivors.
Cynthia was a little girl, just five, when her abuse started. The perpetrator was a trusted neighbour. She kept silent about it for over four decades.
“Most children do not tell or if they do, they are not believed,” she explains. “The consequences of carrying that secret are devastating…Alchoholism, drug addiction, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, mental illness, suicide. The pain and shame are often just too much to bear.”
“ALL responsible adults in the community need to be educated to look after the welfare of children. When a community is educated, it puts sexual predators on notice.” Cynthia Bland
This local mother of four doesn’t want another child to go through what she did. “I want every adult to be educated and to feel confident that they know how to keep the children in their lives safe from sexual predators,” she says.
There are steps we all can take to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to the reality of childhood sexual abuse.
The first step is to attend the Stewards of Children prevention program, offered by Voice Found. I did go to that Saturday morning workshop, facilitated by Claudia Petrilli, and it was excellent. I highly recommend it. Designed for parents, youth serving organizations, schools and people who work or volunteer with children, the instructive session provides valuable know-how to better protect kids, to help those who have been abused and to support adult survivors of sexual abuse.