ELECTION 2010: Break the Silence and Act

By Jeannette Pai-Espinosa*

Beyond the rhetoric and bluster of the campaign season there exists a frightening silent truth: girls and young women experience violence, abuse and neglect at epidemic proportions in America. More than 60 percent of all females raped are under the age of 18; one in three girls is sexually abused; and the average age at which a girl is trafficked for sex in this country is 12–all in the land of the American dream.

We’re overtly outraged about the treatment of girls in other countries, but we seem too paralyzed, ashamed or frightened to act to stop similar conditions in our own country. As a society, do we lack the courage to hold ourselves accountable and the will to accept responsibility for stopping the epidemic? Are we going to let the potential and contributions of girls – our daughters, sisters, and future mothers—be wasted because we don’t have the fortitude and backbone to break the silence and act?

Regardless of the political balance, the new Congress will have a unique opportunity to reach across the aisle and together look seriously at all legislative efforts through the lens of women and girls. This must include consideration of the impact of violence and trauma on girls and young women who live at the margin of the American dream. We call them girls and young women at the margin as a reflection of the ways in which we make them invisible in our communities and families. More often than not, they are survivors of violence, abuse and neglect who struggle and need support to recover from the trauma they experienced as children.

For too long girls and young women at the margin have endured a generic set of services that fail to take into account their need for gender and culturally responsive, strength-based, trauma-informed supports. From juvenile justice to substance abuse to services for teen mothers, girls’ needs have been chronically and tragically overlooked. For too long they have been square pegs in a policy agenda shaped for others. They are uniquely disadvantaged and at the same time surprisingly hopeful.

Violence is not a blue or red issue, and so my challenge to the new Congress is that they seize the moment and use their collective power, vision and will to name and stop the epidemic of violence in service of the courage and potential of girls and young women at the margin.

*Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, President of the 127 year old National Crittenton Foundation which is the umbrella for the 27 members of the Crittenton family of agencies operating in 24 states providing more than a century of continuous support to girls and young women. She is a former social change consultant, founder of an alternative school, university administrator, senior policy staff to the first women Governor of Oregon, and more. She began her advocacy adventure working on women’s issues on college campuses in the mid 70's.

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