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Stopping the abuse, together: Professor works to end a global crisis

A cloak of silence has masked the international epidemic of child trafficking and exploitation for centuries. After dedicating her professional life to understanding solutions to this social problem, one professor had the opportunity to share her knowledge, ideas, and experiences with an international crowd assembled to help children on a global scale.

Carol Plummer, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, delivered the opening plenary address – titled A Global Overview of Child Sexual Abuse – at the First International Conference in Africa on Child Sexual Abuse, held Sept. 22-26, 2007, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Plummer was invited to speak because of contacts she had made in Kenya two years before. She went there to work with local government and non-government organizations and to give a number of speeches at places such as the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. She also did some outreach for LSU’s School of Social Work.

“Kenya has all of the richness of a colorful country, a welcoming country, and a country that is hungry for advancement,” Plummer said. “The professionals there are gracious and open to new ideas and appreciative of the sharing between countries. They aren’t waiting on a grant. They have a lot to teach us about flexibility and creativity in interventions.”

After that initial visit, Plummer says her interest in international connections skyrocketed. She has since taken one of her summer classes on an international study abroad program to India.

“LSU is making a strong effort to encourage and support international collaboration,” Plummer said. “My experience has given me stories to bring to the classroom for my students’ enrichment and created research opportunities that I didn’t know existed before.”

The 450 professionals, stakeholders, and practitioners in child protection who attended the conference represented 45 countries, including Finland, Mexico, Jamaica, Canada, Italy, Thailand, Australia, and many countries from the continent of Africa. Among the impressive list of speakers were the vice president of Kenya, who opened the sessions, and the attorney general of Kenya, who closed the meetings.

“I can’t think of a better example of the positive difference our faculty makes to local, national, and international communities,” said Christian Molidor, dean of the School of Social Work, about Plummer’s leadership at the conference.

Under the theme of “Enhancing Knowledge through Research, Practice and Partnership to Protect Children against Sexual Abuse,” the conference aimed to identify the causes, nature, and magnitude of abuse and create a forum to identify solution strategies.

“We are finding ways to use the expertise from our side and from their side, which provides us with knowledge that cannot be generated without that cross pollination,” said Plummer. “We have a lot to offer, but we have at least as much to learn and receive from others. I am co-authoring articles with people I have met at the conference, who live all over the world.”

The African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect, or ANPPCAN, organized the conference in conjunction with the Oak Foundation, Liverpool Voluntary Counseling & Testing, the Global Violence Prevention Advocacy, and the United Kingdom’s National Children’s Advocacy Centre.

While in Nairobi, Plummer visited seven of the 10 schools in Nairobi that are using her curriculum book Preventing Sexual Abuse, which was written in 1986 and explains sexual abuse and prevention to educators. One of Plummer’s current graduate students at LSU is assisting in evaluating the effectiveness of her curriculum program in Kenyan schools, using data collected from one of Plummer’s contacts who lives in Kenya.

 During her visit, Plummer was exposed to different ideas about how to treat and view children.

“In Kenya and many of the countries in the United Nations, all of their work is framed from the point of view of the rights of the child,” Plummer said. “They educate children that they have a right to be safe and to not be abused. In the United States, we focus on protecting children from abuse.”

Before the main conference, the international Save the Children organization sponsored a pre-conference for children that included a march. Plummer flagged off the start of a 400-child march down the streets of Nairobi. She also gave a speech to the children, along with Joyce Aluoch, the well-known judge who drafted Kenya’s Sexual Offenses Act. 

At the pre-conference, about 400 children met in small groups with each other to discuss their issues and concerns, such as what they worry about. The children drafted a list of recommendations and a short summary to share with the adults at the main conference.

“We can learn from them,” Plummer said. “In the United States, we don’t normally ask for children’s input. Kenya sees that the children have opinions and the adults have an interest in hearing about the children’s thoughts on the issue.”

Plummer has worked as a social worker for more than 30 years. She was one of the first to receive a U.S. federal grant to research child sexual abuse cases, which she received from the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect in 1980. At the time, she was working for a non-profit theater company, where the grant enabled her to work for three years on creating an educational program for children about staying safe. Then, in 1986, she did child abuse training internationally for the Air Force.

After many years in the field, Plummer returned to academia and received her doctorate in 2004. She now teaches and conducts research at LSU on the topics of women, coping, and rumination; child abuse; trauma; mother-child relationships; and sexual assault.

She says much has changed since she entered the field as a social worker in the 1970s, as sexual abuse was not a widely-understood topic. During that period, people thought child sexual abuse only happened once in every million families. Current statistics show that girls have a risk of one in four for being abused, with slightly less risk for boys.           

Plummer says the difference is attributable to having more adults being aware that abuse happens and supporting policies and programs to keep children safe.

“We may be seeing that we are making a difference after literally hundreds of years of silence on this topic,” said Plummer.

Melissa Prescott | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Spring 2008

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