Skip to site content

The National Epidemic No One Wants to Talk About

I remember one summer when my children and I were in the mountains of Montana.

Our cabin was among eight or 10 structures that had been built to mine nickel during WWII. A river ran through the narrow valley. The water was clean, frigid; fishing was good.

Grandpa T had chosen this morning to take the kids fishing, but first, one must have worms. And the best worms were found in and around manure.

My kids stepped back, horrified expressions on their faces. He insisted they get their hands dirty. The brook trout were delicious.

This down-to-earth mountain man was right. We are going to have to get our hands dirty. We must turn over the rock of child abuse. We will have to face ugly.

Why? Because our children are worth it.

We Americans pride ourselves on our freedom of speech. We agree to disagree. We applaud transparency. Fair is fair.

Rosa Parks wasn’t all that long ago. The right for women to vote, not long before that. We’ve tackled polio, mitigated AIDS, ordained women, legalized gay marriage and espoused racial equality.

So how is it that we have put our collective heads in the sand regarding child abuse?

I need to ask some questions, and they may make you uncomfortable. But, please, let’s dialogue.

When will we liberate children? When will the needs and rights of a child supersede the sanctity of family? When will we as a society give voice to our children?

We have a national epidemic in this country – in many countries, actually. You’ll find Canada, Australia and England with statistics that mirror our own.

One in three girls will be molested by the time they are 18, and one in five boys. Eighty-five percent of the molesters are either known or loved by these children.

The Center for Disease Control has called adverse childhood experiences a national epidemic (ACEs). You’d think we would get to work on a cure, wouldn’t you?

For future generations, the vaccine will be prevention:

  • Educate children to empower them about their bodies.
  • Educate parents how to protect and empower their kids and keep communication open.
  • Educate schools in child sexual abuse prevention, provide training materials.
  • Educate church leaders in prevention, intervention and ongoing care.
  • Create standards of practice for clergy and leadership when abuse is reported.
  • Educate the public toward a collective caring heart about child abuse.
  • Educate families of a child who has been abused in support of both child and family.

With the vaccine in its infancy, I am a torchbearer to the issue. Willing to bring – with dignity, vulnerability, even humor – the underbelly of this societal beast, child sexual abuse, to our collective attention.

Across the board, with the exception of organizations whose missions mirror my own (thank God for them!), people don’t want to talk about it.

We have a problem. Let’s own it, sort out why we won’t discuss it and take action to rectify it.

Owning it can be difficult. It’s hard for healthy adults to imagine molesting a child. Sex happens – inside and outside marriage. But sex with a child is abhorrent. It makes good people nauseous, and it should.

Those who have been abused are not a subculture in our society. They are innocents whose trust was betrayed, whose hearts are pecked by shame and whose future rests with us. We are the ones who must not be ashamed to stand by a child.

We, by standing with and for a child, remove the stigma that victimization holds. We loose the bonds of taboo when we are willing to talk about child abuse and our role in it. Because, you see, you and I have a role in it.

We can “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” and be accomplices in the abuser’s game. Or, we can educate our own children for their safety’s sake.

We can involve ourselves with families who are struggling through the emotional upheaval such news brings.

A principle of human communication is that it is impossible not to communicate. We communicate, whether or not we say or do anything.

To do nothing communicates disinterest, apathy, discomfort, fear or simply a lack of concern as in “I don’t care.”

To do something, to say something has healing power – for the child, the child’s family, the community in which we live.

To take action, beginning now, is to staunch the spread of the epidemic and move toward stabilizing our vaccine.

Help be a part of the cure. Will you?

Editor’s note: Landgraf’s book, “The Fifth Sister,” is available here. Her TEDx Talk, “Razed by Lions,” can be viewed here.

Laura Landgraf

Laura Landgraf, author of "The Fifth Sister," is a social activist, retreat leader and motivational speaker. Her TEDx Talk is "Razed by Lions: A New Way to Think about Healing after Trauma."