07/15/2011 12:46 pm ET | Updated Sep 14, 2011

Calling All Victims

By definition, a victim is someone who is sacrificed, oppressed or subjected to maltreatment. In most cases, in order to get help, treatment or restitution, a victim must self-identify. But if someone is so habituated to maltreatment that it becomes normalized, do we have an obligation to help that person?

I think we do, especially in the case of children.

Take Monique, a young lady who left school and was living on the streets by the age of 12 or 13. The daughter of a drug addict, she was passed around from relative to relative, ran away from "home," became a crack addict by 13 and had a child by 15. But she turned her life around with the help of a mentoring program called Save Our Youth, and last month she graduated from college with an associate degree. Nevertheless, when I interviewed her earlier this year, she still had trouble understanding herself as a victim; she mostly blamed herself. To me this makes her a double victim.

Watch her tell her story here:

Does it matter? Definitely. We need to get the scope of the problem visible so that appropriate resources can be made available to victims and the rest of civil society can get involved.

There has been a lot of dispute in the last weeks about the exact numbers of children exploited commercially. My work at 3 Generations barely lifts the lid on the crisis, but I can report is that there is a huge problem getting victims (and the adults around them) to step forward to tell their stories. Taking the steps necessary to prosecute the child-abusers is even more daunting.

Some of the reasons victims don't want to come forward are:

  • It is re-traumatizing
  • The abuse is so generational and normalized that victims barely know that a different life exists
  • There is a very real fear of being whisked away by authorities to foster care
  • Communities are tight-knit and loyal
  • They fear reprisal from abusers
  • They experience shame or a sense of it being their own fault

Ultimately, we need to create a safe space for all victims of all crimes to self-identify to help themselves and others. This connects them to support services, the legal system and, ultimately, to justice. We shouldn't let Twitter wars about numbers and metrics prevent young people like Monique from getting the help they need.