We were spending the weekend down at the beach. The house had no cable and the cell phone service was sketchy. But I wasn't tired - with my 2 year old and my 1 year old asleep upstairs, the house was very quiet.
Browsing on my smart phone, despite the slow internet service on my phone, sitting in that chair, I came across a link for an article about a child pornography ring being busted. (Now, being a rather new mother - I was accustomed to being overwhelmed with emotion. Whether it's a news video of a parent coming home from military service and surprising their child, or even a Folgers commercial - pretty much anything sentimental can play my emotional strings.)
I am not the type of person that can handle stories of child abuse. It breaks my heart to envision what it's like to be a child experiencing anything traumatic - but here, I figured, was something positive - they nailed these predators.
So, I read the article, which turned out to be rather in depth, so much so that it went into detail how the children were being abused and the lengths that these predators were taking, to satisfy their own fetishes and appeal to those also searching for pornographic images of children.
I. Balled. My. Eyes. Out.
For three days.
I knew child sexual abuse was real. It was no stranger to our family. But for some reason, I never put it into context of how often it may be happening to other people. I felt powerless. I needed to know how I could help. What could I do to prevent this from happening to other children?
Now, I have to admit, prior to this - I was slacking in my social activism/charitable works. I was pretty good about making monetary donations - but when it came to my time and energy, I was pretty good at convincing myself I was "too busy." I knew I wanted to be more active - but I just hadn't found my calling.
So, rather than just cry about it and let the emotions eventually subside, I took to the internet to find out more. I was shocked. Shocked as to how often it was happening (1:4 girls and 1:6 boys), shocked that it could be affecting so many children and that there seemed to be no sort of national outcry to address this, and shocked at all the amazing information there existed to help people protect children.
I bought books, I paid to take a Darkness to Light training program online, I read through as many abuse prevention websites as I could find - but I couldn't find anything that addressed everything together.
I knew that with the power of social media, and the power of moms (sorry dads, no offense) when it comes to standing up for the right to breastfeed in public, or the safety and well-being of our children - things generally spread like wildfire in the world of online moms.
So I said to myself, "I'll set up a Facebook page - so people can share all this amazing information and keep kids safe!"
I named this Facebook page, The Mama Bear Effect (a friend once informed me of the "Mama Bear Effect" - which is a real thing, in case you're wondering), because I wanted to focus on the positive, and make people feel good about being proactive against sexual abuse. I didn't want people to be afraid - I wanted them to feel empowered. I wanted to change the way people thought about child sexual abuse - and simply give them the courage to think about it.
I learned three things:
1. It is a scary thing when you decide you're going to be an advocate for child sexual abuse prevention - because then you have to say the words: child sexual abuse. All. The. Time. You have to tell your friends and family, strangers etc. It's not fun. You don't know how people are going to respond and frankly, people don't like those three words said together in that order.
2. As much as people are against child sexual abuse, they don't want to say or repeat those words either. Even if it could educate everyone in their social circle - they don't want to be the one to do it. People like happy - they like pictures of babies, and weddings, and cute kitty cats and doggies, most don't like to repost stuff about child sexual abuse.
I realized I had taken on a bit of a challenge (in other words - huge). It is, arguable, the most taboo subject. Child sexual abuse is coined as a "silent epidemic" - and it's true. I can't think of any other sort of illness or evil that affects such a high number of children, and yet people don't want to talk about it. It's actually mind-boggling. We can literally save children by talking about it and educating ourselves, and society at large doesn't even want to do that.
( I've even read comments to the effect, "Until we can kill pedophiles, child sexual abuse will not go away." That is not true on many levels, and it's also a way to say "Sorry - nothing I can do, guess I'll just have to let kids keep being molested." )
Number 3, though, I found there were some pretty awesome people who didn't just support my work, they wanted to help me do more.
It was then, I knew, I had to do more than just a Facebook page. I contacted my cousin, a lawyer, to discuss forming a non-profit organization, and my good friend and neighbor, anindependent graphic designer to create a logo. Both said to me, "I was waiting for you to call."
Shortly after that, I had a gut-wrenching feeling. It was the "Oh man, I'm doing something really big, and it's all on me." Part of me wanted to back out and return to my regularly scheduled life. But the part of me that had been waiting all these years, to find my purpose, told me to suck it up, and jump - this is what life is about.
Two years later, I now am the president of a bonafide organization, hopefully a few months away from being an IRS recognized non-profit. I've invested a lot of my money to create materials to help people raise awareness, and have greatly, wholeheartedly appreciated every penny that others have donated or invested in our educational materials and goods. I've stayed up late, a lot, to get work done - because my main job of being a stay at home parent to 3 children under the age of 5, is ever-so-slightly time-consuming.
On the negative, I've had people mock the name of my organization. People criticize my information. I've found out that there are people I know that don't want to help, even when I've asked - and people who've actually tried to undermine my efforts.
But I've also found people who love what I've done; love the name. They have told me "you've changed the way I parent." They have inspired me just as much, by what they are doing. I've found I'm now part of a rather small, but courageous and loving network of 'ordinary' people who are truly changing the world.
People have said "It must be so hard," to do what I do. But the truth is - I have never felt so connected, so inspired, so happy - to know I'm dedicating myself to changing reality and making the world a place where less children will be sexually abused.
I may never know if I've saved a child from being sexually abused, but that's not the point. I'd rather keep raising awareness and educating people on how we can protect children, than find myself old and grey wishing I had done something. I can't let myself down, and I can't let our children down. I just can't.
Now that I know the reality of child sexual abuse, I can't go back to being ignorant. There is only one thing for me to do - anything and everything I can, to protect children.