"There are a few ways I’ve been trying to knit together my sense of story. That’s a theme that you see with a lot of survivors – you spend so much time held down by the shame that you don’t know what your story is."
When Tom Krumins was a boy, he experienced sexual violence as a Boy Scout of America. Tom speaks about his journey to becoming an activist and director of Keep Kids Safe, and shares an inspiring message of hope in his work to end sexual violence against children.
Netflix will release their new documentary, Scouts Honor, on Sept. 6. which depicts the issues within the Boy Scouts. Tom Krumins is one of the survivors featured in the film.
Years ago, my father passed, and I went on a National Park road trip to grieve. My last stop was a scout camp – the very place I experienced a sexual assault at knife point. Until that moment, I had repressed the memory–although the signs were there (anxiety, suicidal ideation, using drugs and alcohol to numb). In that moment, though, everything came back to me in perfect clarity, and it felt like I was hit by a freight train.
That knowledge was life changing. I felt I needed to make a difference in the world, that I needed to feel worthy. I tried to externalize the gap inside of myself, and the past five years or so have been different versions of that.
I worked on prison re-entry in New Orleans, helping formerly incarcerated individuals transition back into society. I worked on campaigns at the federal, state, and local levels. Eventually, I met the team at Darkness to Light, an organization focused on empowering caregivers to prevent child abuse, and I became eager to do whatever I could to help.
I learned about Keep Kids Safe and thought, “I like building things, this is something that can be built, and there are people in the process of building it–how can I help?”
As a survivor in Boy Scouts I can identify all of these gaps in youth protection at camps because I have the experience of seeing where those gaps were.
Whether someone experienced sexual abuse through foster care, religious institutions, or any youth-serving organization anywhere, they have this perspective that’s almost impossible to get otherwise–and there are a bare minimum 42 million people across the U.S. who can point to where those gaps are.
That’s the real power of activating survivors. If you do that successfully, you now have this incredible window to solve the problem.
Keep Kids Safe is survivor-led and coalition-driven, and works to directly tackle the issue of sexual violence against children and adolescents with the pillars of prevention, healing, and justice.
To address an issue this big, that affects too many parts of society, you can’t do it as a singular organization–you need a whole of government and whole of society approach.
There are already phenomenal organizations both within the Keep Kids Safe coalition and beyond who are doing incredible work, so our job is to catalyze this broader ecosystem that’s already been building, to grow the pie, to collectively raise awareness, and to ensure we communicate to the whole of U.S. politics and society that sexual violence is a tangible and solvable problem.
There’s a laundry list, but let’s go with three. The first big challenge is the stigma and that we don’t talk about it enough. Along with that is the fact that advocates have tended to prioritize a focus on the problem, but not on the fact that the problem is solvable. This can lead supporters to feel overwhelmed and thereby prompt inaction and complacency. This is shifting, though, as more groups are including messages of hope and action.
Another big challenge is funding and support. The CDC states that trauma is our single largest public health issue, with child sexual abuse being one of the leading forms of trauma–yet it is still woefully underfunded. The benefits to society from addressing this issue would be transformational, even if we only view this issue from an economic standpoint.
A third challenge is activating the government. We can’t solve this issue without full, whole of government support – and that has not been fully realized. The Hill Day we did recently is an example of how we’re working on this. Our goal is to establish a presence, have conversations with members of Congress, and show that we’re a coalition dedicated to working collectively on this issue to advance not just a specific policy, but the entire field.
I love that quote is because it shows that when you find a way to support someone who has been through the darkest of hells and has found their way out, either through the tenacity of their own spirit or the support of the community (or usually a combination of both), you find someone with the power to change the world.
These survivors see the world for what it truly is, and they also see that it can be made better. And that combination of genuinely seeing the hardships in the world, yet knowing you can take action and can improve things – that’s where the magic really happens.
When you stand on the shoulders of giants and in the presence of friends, the world seems brighter and ready for change.