The #MeToo movement has raised awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault against women, while also increasing scrutiny on the sorts of environments that give rise to these incidents.
A recent wave of cases – involving Naason Joaquin Garcia, the leader of La Luz Del Mundo, Mexico’s second largest religious group, and Jeffrey Epstein, the well-connected financier and convicted sex offender recently charged with sex trafficking – have also highlighted the vulnerability of children to these attacks.
In light of the age of the alleged victims of these men, many of them minors and some as young as fourteen, Dr. Janet Rosenzweig, the executive director of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, spoke in an interview with Brian Ross on Brian Ross Investigates of the urgent need to “recognize the impact this kind of behavior has on kids.”
Dr. Rosenzweig noted that the taboo nature of sex provides a gray area that these men are able to exploit.
“I think what’s happening now in the wake of the #MeToo movement is finally we’re able to talk openly and honestly about sex about sexuality in ways that blow the cover from these guys. In our culture when we don’t talk about sex, when parents can’t talk to their kids or don’t talk to kids about sex, we’re giving the bad guys cover and it’s about time that cover is gone.”
Part of the problem is also tied to the media coverage of these allegations. Dr. Rosenzweig noted that “we have to change the social norms to make it clear that there’s no such thing as ‘underage women’ – they’re children. There’s no such thing as a ‘child prostitute’ – it’s a victim.” The inherent tension in these terms, and the prevalence of their usage, disguises the shocking nature of the alleged actions of these men.
She noted that the cover these men exploit often takes the form of their victims’ naivety: “If they’re smart they’re looking for kids that are going to be vulnerable. But there’s all kinds of vulnerabilities. Some one of the most common kinds of vulnerability, particularly with young girls, is when they don’t understand their own sexuality. When kids are raised without any kind of understanding about human sexual response – about what their bodies do as an autonomic natural response to a feeling and stimuli – kids, particularly girls, can be at risk.”
In order to counteract that ignorance, Dr. Rosenzweig suggests that parents proactively talk to their children about sex.
“Probably one of the most important things parents need to be doing is starting from as young as possible, when it’s age-appropriate, to make sure they talk about sex and sexuality and bodies and relationships as part of everyday life.”
Not only does this act as a “protective factor” against victimization, but Dr. Rosenzweig believes that raising children in this way is “a really important protective factor against raising a perpetrator.”
According to Dr. Rosenzweig, when kids have a greater understanding of sex as part of everyday life, they are better immunized “against that lying and manipulation” that traps them in abusive situations.
“These folks in power, these folks in authority get so good at manipulating kids to get rid of their own judgment. That’s why I think it’s so critical when I’m consistently urging parents to keep communication open with their kids.”
[Image via Stephanie Keith/Getty Images]