Adultism: Power and Control
Power is not inherently good nor bad, but it is used to benefit or target individuals along a spectrum of accessibility. We can easily identify ways in which racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc., manifest in our society, and how they might intersect with each other. We can also see how individuals and groups of people who have less access to power, or who are targets of power, are more vulnerable to sexual violence. Sexual violence is indeed about power and control.
Enter adultism: Children and youth step into a world where adults control their access to resources and decision-making. In fact, children and youth are striving to navigate a world in which they have little to no authority. Adults create and reinforce power and control over children and youth through systematic, pervasive, and institutionalized ways.
- Example 1
- Children are told what they must eat and wear. They are conditioned to assimilate to and obey authority.
- Example 2
- Young children are told how they should communicate, not only with their words, but with their physical touch, i.e. being forced to give hugs and kisses to family members.
- Example 3
- Children are told to practice “stranger danger” and to tell a trusted adult if someone touches their “privates.” In this way, adults inadvertently shift the responsibility of child sexual assault prevention to children.
Engaging in anti-oppression work as agencies and individual advocates is crucial to the anti-violence movement. Here are some ways we can challenge our personal and cultural assumptions about teens and children, and include an anti-oppression lens to our work with teens and children:
- Inform the child of their rights. Explain clearly what it means to have confidentiality, and what might trigger a mandated report.
- Talk about safety. Ask the child what safety looks and feels like to them.
- Explore options: explain what different options mean with child survivors. Wherever possible, give choice and power to the child to make their own informed decision.
- When meeting with a child survivor where a parent might be present, direct your conversation to the child. Take care to not discuss the child in the third person. Directly involve them as an integral participant in conversations and decisions.
- Meet separately with the child or youth. Whenever possible, assign a separate advocate to the child/youth and their non-offending caregiver. This reduces the risk of cross-information. Additionally, children have the opportunity to express emotions and thoughts they would not otherwise say in the presence of their caregiver. This is not a slight against the parenting skills of the non-offending caregiver. The child may simply be embarrassed to talk about certain things, or they may want to spare their caregiver’s feelings. Parents and non-offending caregivers also should be offered their own advocate. They may want to process their own emotions, and ask questions without their child present.
Remember to assess your own assumptions about children and youth on a regular basis. This will increase the amount of power-sharing, decision-making, and general empowerment you bring to your advocacy appointments with youth and children. When advocates become allies to youth and children, they more effectively assist in the path to healing from sexual violence.