Globally, policy and decision makers can save billions investing in preventing child sexual abuse. The returns on investment would cut across physical and mental health, labor, judicial, and other sectors.
This year’s 78th UN General Assembly signals half-time on the 2030 deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. But as many advocates fear, we’re slipping behind on SDG 16.2 - to end the abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.
I recently contributed to a first of its kind study from FP Analytics. Safeguarding Childhood reveals that globally, government funding to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse is too low. Additionally, national budgeting for this is also lacking in transparency.
When I worked in government, we always said if you want to get a sense of what's a real priority, follow the money. Sadly, what we're seeing very clearly is that across multiple countries, the response to childhood sexual violence continues to be woefully inadequate. And so it's really important to have reports like these that can help us move into action.
We need to understand that this critical protection of children - their health, safety and wellbeing, is not a cost - it’s an investment. We need to invest in the prevention of child sexual abuse, as well as in the healing and justice for victims and survivors.
It’s critical to have funding for prevention strategies alongside response efforts because prevention, healing and justice are three essential, interconnected pillars - we cannot do one without the other.
We know from data in the Safeguarding Childhood report that the cost of child sexual abuse affects everyone.
Whether it's 10.1 billion pounds a year in England, or globally at about 8% of GDP, child sexual abuse not only affects a survivor's life and a child's life, but also their families, their communities, and ultimately the economy.
The key here is to hold two truths at once: Investing in ending childhood sexual violence is the right thing to do, it's important to protect kids and support those who have experienced this horrible trauma. But it's also a smart thing to do, this is a strategic investment so that ultimately, we are actually saving billions instead of spending.
What legislators must understand is that, yes, child sex abuse is a devastating global crisis but it doesn’t have to be this way. Violence is preventable. Change is possible. But as long as the prevention of childhood sexual violence continues to be deprioritised it will remain underfunded and the scourge continues.
Prevention is hard in any field because you're trying to show the return on something that didn't happen.
However, there are proven solutions. The first step is we use data to understand the size of the problem: the communities affected, the interventions that work, as well as how much money is going towards them, as is highlighted in this report. But though data is necessary it’s not sufficient on its own.
We need advocacy and activism to pressure decision makers and policymakers to act at the local and national levels, so that on a global level it will feel like inaction is not an option. There's a lot more we need to do as a community to build that.
In the report, there are sound examples of progress. Out of the 20 countries assessed, Australia was the only one where it was possible to identify detailed annual figures on how much was being spent to prevent and respond to CSA. Its national budget reflects a commitment to spend AUD 307.5 million on CSA over 10 years. But importantly, there's a history there of survivors coming forward, many speaking up about scandals in churches, schools and in sports.
As a survivor myself of childhood sexual violence, I’m hopeful because now survivors and allies are really beginning to mobilise around the political advocacy, and understanding the importance of political will and building that out.
Survivor-led understanding and activism is really important, but we cannot simply rely or put the burden or expect survivors to always do that work. It has to be systemic and it has to be sustained. Survivor-advocacy has been critical in incorporating the lived experience into prevention, healing and justice efforts, and we must honor them by applying constant political pressure, until eventually these two truths of why we should invest in child protection become just one.