Many of us are parents or caring adults to children. Each day includes a set of routines from breakfast to bedtime, with moments of chaos, love, and joy between the “good mornings” and “goodnights” that bookend the day. Many of us are also processing and digesting the news of family separation at our borders and the parents who aren’t able to say those “goodnights” to their kids. This can bring layers of emotions — disbelief, shock, anger, guilt, and grief. Parents and caring adults may feel guilt at the privilege and security of their own children’s lives. They may feel the pain of other people’s suffering. They may feel a sense of desperation, searching for anything they can do to help.
All of these feelings are real and valid.
We may not be able to change the world’s problems overnight, but we can influence the spaces we occupy. By spreading empathy and understanding in those spaces, we can contribute to the ripple effect of changing the culture.
With all that’s happening, it can become overwhelming and feel easy to shut down and close our eyes to it. People often say, “I’m just one person,” underestimating the tremendous power one person can have. Here are a few simple starting points on what each of us can do.
Sexual violence within detention centers is also a widespread problem. Between 2010-2017, over 1,200 sexual assaults were reported in detention centers, although the actual prevalence is largely unknown. In that same period, the Department of Homeland Security only investigated 43 of the reports.
As immigration raids sweep the country, including New Jersey, there are increasing challenges for immigrant survivors of sexual violence and rising risks within detention centers. Conditions that increase the risk for vulnerable people are flourishing. These include:
- Lack of adequate resources in detention centers
- Dehumanizing immigrants, particularly those from Central and South America
- Ritualized and strict power dynamics and power imbalances in detention centers
- The intersections of racism and sexism
There are also unique risk factors for youth housed in detention centers. Sexual abuse against youth in detention centers is widespread and most often perpetuated by staff, not by other detained youth. Several of the risk factors that contribute to this include:
- Inadequately trained staff
- Poor monitoring and oversight of staff
- High rates of trauma among detained youth
- Mixing youth of various vulnerabilites
Immigration and sexual violence cannot be separated from each other Immigrants face high risks of sexual violence in their home countries, during the immigration process, and after arriving to the U.S.
Have the hard conversations
In our homes, workplaces, schools, and other spaces, there are many opportunities for conversations. Don’t shy away from them, especially if these conversations present opportunities for, for teachable moments. If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’ll continue to get what we’ve always been. To change the world, we have to change what we do in it, and that often starts with having the hard conversations.
We all want to do something, but many people may not know what they can do that will make a difference. We each have a sphere of influence; pour your efforts into it. Take actions that align with your values, use strategies that have meaning to you, and choose responses that promote peace and love, not hate and harm. Some of these may include:
- Teach young people to be critical thinkers
- Challenge harmful norms when you see them
- Volunteer with an organization whose work you believe in
- Be an active citizen in your local community
- Model empathy and compassion for the young people in your life
Take the time to care for yourself. Check-in with a friend, have a good cup of coffee, read an escapist book, or watch a funny show. Take a few minutes away from the news and social media. Appreciate the beauty in your life. When you’re balanced, find where your skills can be used and do one thing that will make tomorrow a brighter day.
We cannot change the world’s problems in one night. This is generational work. It takes all of us — professionals, parents, private citizens, and neighbors – committing to creating a safer world for each of us.
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