By Cordelia Anderson, MA, Prevention Consultant & founding Chair of the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse & Exploitation.
In 1976 when I began my career - Jimmy Carter defeated incumbent Gerald Ford for US Presidency, Alex Haley’s book “Roots” came out, the Album of the year was “Still Crazy After All These Years,” by Paul Simon and the Record of the Year was “Love Will Keep Us Together” by Captain and Tennille.
I had boundless energy and I wanted to do sexuality education. I was able to teach a ten-week sexuality course to women in the criminal justice system. This led to seeing a significant percentage of them whose histories included trauma from being sexually abused as children. I also got a part-time job as a research assistant on a legislatively mandated study on the effectiveness of sex offender treatment – this work was new, radical and there weren’t many programs to compare with nationwide. The same year, an incest survivor started Christopher Street, an incest treatment program in Minneapolis. Survivors who were raped as adults had begun to speak out, but there was still precious little attention to children. At the time, the efforts related to child abuse and child welfare, technically included child sexual abuse (CSA), but these efforts paid it little attention. Clearly, there were those traumatized from being sexually abused as children whose voices weren’t being heard. In 1977, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office Sexual Assault Services (HCAO) program got a grant to hire me to help prepare child victims for court (pre-Children’s Advocacy Centers and the science of forensic interviewing) and to develop a child sexual abuse prevention program. Around that time, a few other prevention programs were launching around the country. In 1980, I along with the program moved out of the HCAO and into Illusion Theater. Attention to this issue was growing and we had coauthored a play called TOUCH and were touring nationally. That same year we got federal funding from the former National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect to provide technical assistance to five other CSA prevention sites around the country.
When I left the theater in 1992 and started my own consulting business, I wanted to work to advance prevention in as many ways as possible. I was interested in spreading information, not only about individual programs already available, but also focusing on systemic and cultural changes needed beyond education and training efforts. I consulted with a broad range of local, regional and national organization. In 1997 I joined the board of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. In 2005, I was asked to take a leave of absence from serving on the board to develop a prevention advisory committee. It quickly became clear that what was really needed was an independent national coalition of agencies and leaders doing this work. I became the founding chair of what is now the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation and served that role for several years. To create a strong working coalition between the many organizations, individuals, and perspectives at the table, we worked to build relationships, to articulate shared values, and then together we were able to develop a national plan and prevention fact sheets. Later we focused more on one aspect of the national plan – policy - and developed 6 pillars of prevention policy.
A few years ago, I pulled back from my intensive, active involvement in the Coalition but continued to develop resources to support these important prevention efforts. Between 2015-2017, I worked with Just Beginnings Collaborative, (JBC), the first foundation to focus exclusively on child sexual abuse, to research and write a report on the status of U.S.A based Child Sexual Abuse Services and Prevention Programs. It was a humbling experience. I thought I had a good handle on what was happening in the field, but I soon learned that programs had expanded their understanding of this complex issue and were offering more depth, expanded opportunities for actions and attention to the lived experiences of everyone involved in this issue. I also had the opportunity to engage with both new programs and leaders focusing on communities of color that were far from represented in more visible programs and funding streams. I gained a deeper understanding of how separate we are still working and of how many people are doing incredibly important related work that were not familiar with each other or each other’s work. The 350-page report was left in a draft version (which I’m happy to share with anyone interested). The JBC plans to turn the content into a comprehensive online platform, that could easily be accessed and updated, changed when leadership changed within JBC. Such a platform is still needed and may be a great undertaking for this Coalition.
In the last few years, with more visibility to the #MeToo movement (launched over a decade ago by Tarana Burke) and with funding from Raliance and others to focus on preventing the development of sexually harmful behaviors and perpetration, there is a completely different level of public discourse and possibility for significant change than ever before - despite political setbacks. I also find much of my early work has come full circle and that I’m back addressing historic trauma from decades old cases and arguing for restorative/transformative approaches – which was an intense focus for me in the 1990’s. While some things are very different in this field now (e.g. technology facilitated sexual harm and sex crimes against children, , access to online pornography and so many doing this work that its challenging to stay current), other aspects remain the same (e.g., the need to name the harm; the need to fight to change the conditions that make the sexual abuse and exploitation of children likely instead of unlikely; the need to address the intersections between all forms of oppression and entitlements; the need to understand the difference between healthy and expected sexual behaviors and those that are harmful or destructive; and finally, the need to invest in wellness so that those who do this work can be as healthy as possible as individuals and organizations).
At the October 2018 annual Coalition meeting, I looked around and realized there were several people I didn’t know. After decades of this work, it was odd to not know everyone; – as I step back from my work, it is very exciting to see these new faces and hear these new voices -- and both are completely necessary. At the meeting I acknowledged that in June 2019, I will be stepping away from my 42 years of work to prevent child sexual abuse/exploitation and sexual violence. It is time. I can see there are many others who have the qualifications, the passion, and the insights and who can do this important work. In so many ways, we have Roots, and remain “still crazy after all these years” – in our fight for children and justice. We also know relationships matter – we need each other and indeed “Love will keep us together.”
A special thanks to Julie Patrick who initially was hired by NCMEC to support my work with the Coalition. Julie’s skills and support were essential. Thanks to all of you for your support over the years (and at the last Coalition meeting) and for what you contribute to the Coalition. Finally, thank you for the opportunity to serve on this important Coalition. I know it is in good hands.