OPEN LETTER TO THE CDC
Dear Center for Disease Control and Prevention,
Your recently released report on fatal abusive head trauma in children under 5 embraces a range of prevention strategies (your words, not ours) to combat a type of violence that parents or caregivers perpetrate against children. You remind us of the need for collecting good data, for shifting cultural norms around parenting, and for strengthening economic support for families through a variety of policy changes.
And then, CDC (may we call you CDC?), you say this:
“There is growing evidence that child maltreatment prevention strategies, such as those that change interactions, including those between parents and children, parents and other caregivers, and parents and health care providers are effective interventions (7). [The CDC] resource [is]…based on decades of research about effectively promoting positive parenting and preventing child maltreatment, using various approaches, including videos and interactive practice exercises, to help caregivers build healthy relationships with their children aged >3 years.” [emphasis ours].
We wholeheartedly agree – using interactive practice exercises that change interactions between people is an effective prevention strategy supported by decades of research.
Not just in the prevention of child maltreatment. Also in the prevention of sexual assault.
But you should know this, CDC. We’ve told you before. But instead you continue to frame self-defense as a “risk-reduction” strategy instead of as primary prevention.
On the bright side, your Sexual Violence Prevention Package (pages 19-22) lists empowerment-based self-defense among the skills-building strategies we should be teaching.
We applaud your recognition that, with respect to abusive head trauma in children, prevention is a multi-faceted approach, and that changing interactions between caregivers and children is an important aspect of that prevention model.
Let’s have those same standards apply to preventing sexual assault, and recognize that empowerment self-defense training IS part of a comprehensive prevention model; it creates population-level change by challenging rape myths and the dynamics around gender, in addition to teaching people a range of verbal and physical personal safety strategies to prevent sexual assault.
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey