She’s got moxie: Anne Lee, President & CEO of Darkness to Light

March 15, 2011

Darkness to Light founder looks back on 10 years of protecting kids

October 22, 2010

Q: In 2000, you and a group of community activists founded Darkness to Light, a nonprofit program to educate people about the prevention of child sexual abuse through education and public awareness. What was your inspiration?

A: As an adult survivor of child sexual abuse, I started doing some research and realized this was much more than my unfortunate story. There are more than 42 million adult survivors, and child sexual abuse leads to decreased academic performance, obesity, depression, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, alcoholism — the list is long and nasty, and yet there was no national, adult-focused prevention-awareness program. We began creating what we had been in search of: a national program that communities/organizations could affiliate with, be a part of a national movement and not have to re-create the wheel.

Q: In order to hopefully help someone else, tell us as much as you are comfortable with about your experience with child sexual abuse. And how did you overcome it?

A: My story of sexual abuse started when I was a 4-year-old at an annual summer family reunion in central Florida. After dinner, the children were sent to bed and the grown-ups stayed up to play music, dance and have a great time. My (distant male relative) followed us up the hill to our house and made sure the kids were tucked in. Well, actually a lot more than tucking in and bedtime stories happened — at least to me. This was the beginning of years of sexual abuse by a trusted and loved family member. He told me I was a dirty little girl, and if my mother knew this about me, she would no longer love me. So silent I remained until I was 38. I’m happy to say once I told my parents, they believed and supported me. I knew if my parents had resources to teach them to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to sexual abuse, my childhood would have been very different. Sexual abuse will always be a hallmark in my life. I get to decide each day if it will be a defining hallmark. Most days, I choose not!

Q: How was Darkness to Light different from other child sexual abuse prevention programs in place at that time? How does the program work, and how did you come up with the name?

A: Ten years ago, there was little about the prevention of child sexual abuse. What did exist was child-focused: “Let’s tell our children to say no — tell and stop the abuse.” More than 90 percent of all child sexual abuse occurs with someone the child, and usually the family, knows and trusts. It’s not realistic to expect our children to say no/stop Uncle Frank or the beloved minister. Our Stewards of Children training is the only evidence-based prevention training available. We have a train-the-trainer model as well as an online training. It’s also available in Spanish. A really smart and creative woman in our community, Cindy Tew, came up with the name.

Q: It’s been 10 years since you started the program. How has it made a difference? How do you measure its success?

A: Our facilitators now number more than 2,800 (that number grows weekly with trainings all over the country) in 49 states and 11 countries. With more than 200,000 adults trained to look for signs of abuse, we know we have better protected over 2 million children! We have just started partnering with some key companies in the insurance industry, who get that our training lowers the risk of children being molested within youth-serving organizations, and we are partnering with The Y (formerly the YMCA) doing a national pilot and with Urban Ministries Inc., 40,000 African-American churches across the U.S.

Q: One in four girls will be sexually abused before her 18th birthday, as well as one in six boys. What is the typical age and gender of the abusers?

A: I do not know a typical age. But we do know the majority of offenders are male. Also the fastest-growing group of sex offenders are youths ages 10-17.

Q: About 40 percent of victims are abused by family members, and 90 percent know their abusers. How difficult is it to teach children and adults to deal with predatory family members and friends?

A: It’s always heart-wrenching to know someone we know and love would have forcible sex with a child. But in fact, almost 40 percent of sex offenders are within the family. What traits should family members look for? An adult who systematically creates alone time with a child and then there is a change of behavior within the child.

Q: How is this program funded? Is this a full-time job for you?

A: Product revenue, generous individuals, private foundations, corporations, special events and the federal government. Is this a full-time job? Beyond full time.

Q: What else are you passionate about?

A: My very great kid, Ansley.

Q: The program recently celebrated a major milestone, training more adults in Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties than any other region in the country. The 22,500 participants represent 5 percent of the entire adult population. Tell us about that and your next goal for the organization.

A: Hitting the “tipping point” of 5 percent of the adult population in the tri-county was huge! We now see the theories of tipping point becoming reality — prevention becoming a part of our cultural expectations. We want communities across the country to learn from Charleston, and they are! Charleston once again is a first. But we are now working toward moving the tipping point to a majority of all adults in the tri-county area trained in prevention. We expect nothing less than a safe and healthy community for all Lowcountry children.

Compiled by Shirley A. Greene

Via The Post and Courier, Moxie Section

On behalf of all of the staff of D2L, thank you Anne for your courage and undying passion.  We are so proud of all that D2L has accomplished and are honored to be a part of protecting the lives of children with you!  Jolie Logan

 

Take care and STAY SAFE!


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