My Turn: December 2011 in Alaska and America - a time of bravery

The time is here to take a clear look at child abuse - and how to prevent it from happening

From Penn State University to Ketchikan, Alaska, the news of distant past and recent child mistreatment has a clear message for this December holiday season. We are braver than we believe.

Public admission of failure to protect young children and male athletes by the Penn State authorities was surely brave. The reaction of a former elected official to charges of child pornography exploitation will require bravery.

At the approximate time of Jesus of Nazareth’s birth, such child mistreatment was not only ignored, but accepted by many as normal. Nearly all humans since then have used denial of such harm to children.

The insights of 21st century health and justice data, along with depth psychology, are slowly shattering this denial. A clear message for our time is to pause, try to understand where we are and fine tune our responses to finally admitting that child abuse is both real and very damaging.

As one person, I sense we can learn from our early 20th century mistake in the national prohibition of all alcohol use. When we realized we needed to stop that huge social experiment of externally controlling individual alcohol use, our concern for the huge individual and social harm from alcohol remained.

We are still trying to reduce such harm through legal, educational, psychological, and public advocacy efforts.

There is a connection between alcohol abuse and child abuse. The latter is a significant cause of the former. Yet, when our genuine desire to stop child sexual abuse emphasizes criminalization and punishment, we are paying too little attention to primary prevention.

Long jail terms for offenders is at best only secondary prevention — and very expensive. Paying off the victims many decades later is less likely to be healing than the hard work of restoring respect and relationships. Striving for universal and perpetual respect for all life, of which Albert Schweitzer often spoke, is darned hard. It is a life-long project.

One of Charles Darwin’s insights applies: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Depth psychology teaches that a victim’s ability to find and keep a sense of some control when traumatized reduces the severity and longevity of post traumatic stress disorder. It is much more difficult for a child to muster such sense of control, thus the effects of child neglect and sexual abuse abound and linger in all our communities. Alcoholism is one of its most common outcomes.

As we consider the messages of this holiday season, let us as individual persons and communities be brave enough to openly discuss the real mistreatment of children here and abroad early in the 21st century. Let our discussion be in response to our growing awareness of the thousands of years of sexual violence to children. Let us be brave enough to look also at the far more common child mistreatment from poverty, forced learning of submissiveness and inferiority and governmental/industrial/corporate romanticizing and glorifying of war.

This holiday season, let us rediscover that “We are stronger than we seem, braver than we believe, and smarter than we think”, as Christopher Robin kept on teaching his precious Pooh Bear.

• Dr. Brown is a pediatrician who resides in Douglas.

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