Anne Lee is the CEO of Darkness to Life, a 10-year-old organization whose aim is to raise awareness of the prevalence and consequences of child sex abuse. To date they have trained 250,000 adults and 2,000 facilitators about child sex abuse prevention. Their programs have reached almost every state in the union and many foreign countries.
Q: How did you become involved with the issues of child abuse?
A: I was a frustrated survivor of child abuse and was a fundraiser before I started this organization. I looked for child abuse prevention programs in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina but couldn’t find any. I searched for programs outside our region as well with no luck. So I decided to use my skills to make a difference.
I don’t know if people realize that we spend $35 billion a year on issues that relate directly to child abuse like teen pregnancy, drug abuse and alcoholism. Many times, with each of these issues, sexual abuse is at the core. We don’t have to find a cure for this. We need a cultural shift.
Q: What role is media playing to help with prevention?
A: This cultural shift is not being fostered by the media. Media by and large talk about the abused, but not about prevention.
Q: Why is it so hard to get people to talk about child sex abuse prevention?
A: We as a society don’t do more because it is a tough issue to talk about. We need to mobilize both individuals and communities to talk about the people who are abusing and the effect it is having on all of us. We must create opportunities to talk about it.
Take ‘pop culture’ as an example. There are songs kids listen to that hit on women. Do parents talk about that with their children? When all the news media was talking about Tiger Woods’ problems, kids probably heard about it too. Was it discussed in your house? What about the scandal in Ireland which revealed that priests and nuns had covered up extensive sexual abuse against children?
You can’t be with your kids 24 hours a day. So it is important to talk about these sensitive issues now. Not talking about it is the core reason why sexual violence happens.
Talk about it with your babysitter. Talk to them about what’s appropriate in your house and what may not be appropriate. Many people don’t’ believe that 20% of children have experienced sex abuse. It is an unbelievable number. I understand that. If there are six or more people together, ask what they think about this. You will be amazed what you will hear when you give people permission to talk about it. We need to create environments where people feel comfortable in sharing.
Q. How do we create this cultural shift?
A. My biggest frustration is that this cultural shift hasn’t caught on light wildfire. We have trained about 250,000 adults and 2,000 facilitators. We are grateful for what has been accomplished, but this is a just drop in the bucket. We are working towards is created a tipping point as defined by Malcolm Gladwell. He believes that if you can change the behavior of 5% of population you have changed the population.
Q. What can we all do?
A. Prevention has to be changed in the neighborhood. It has to be done on a community level. Creating comprehensive community programs are important. We have to start community by community. This is a true yes we can moment. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to train adults to help prevent child abuse. And we have to do this because it is one of the primary root cause of many of the issues we have to deal with.
Q. You mentioned that you were abused. How do you deal with this issue personally?
A. Working through abuse is a lifelong process. For me it requires a lot of therapeutic work. And Understanding by the people I am close to. I was lucky in that I didn’t struggle with alcoholism and drug abuse. But even today I have trouble with relationships.
For more information on developing programs in your community contact Darkness to Light.