Darkness to Light

Reducing Stigma and Protecting Children by Educating Adults


Illumination and Prevention: Darkness to Light Reduces Stigma and Protects Children by Educating Adults

Child sexual abuse is a destructive force. A child who is sexually abused will likely experience long term consequences of the trauma, such as PTSD, self-harming behaviors, anxiety, depression, criminality, and substance abuse. It’s a serious public health problem—and one that no one wants to talk about, or even think about.

Thankfully, Darkness to Light is thinking, talking, and doing something about child sexual abuse by training adults to protect children in their communities. The organization was founded in Charleston, South Carolina, more than 20 years ago by a group of community activists in response to a local child sexual abuse crisis. With more than 12,000 training facilitators and 160 certified instructors on board, and a presence in all 50 states and 17 countries, Darkness to Light “has a global reach,” says President and CEO Katelyn N. Brewer. “We do a lot with a little.”

Furthermore, the stigma of child sexual abuse is so great that even the most passionate advocate can be under-educated about it, simply because people in general are uncomfortable with the topic – and finding resources can be difficult. “I am a bleeding heart. Why did I not know child sexual abuse prevention organizations existed [prior to joining Darkness to Light]?” asks Brewer.

“Our work has a ripple effect. The good you put out into the world comes back to you 10-fold. Helping even one kid has a huge impact.”

Shedding light on the issue begins with education. Many citizens who are knowledgeable about other societal problems don’t understand the magnitude of this one. In fact, 1 in 10 children will experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. With stakes this high, Darkness to Light needs to provide “prevention done right, not lite,” says Brewer. The organization’s model combines social behavioral change (SBC) principles with research, education, and advocacy to prevent abuse before it can happen, and to help adults recognize the signs and report when necessary. The cornerstone of this approach is the Stewards of Children™ training for parents, childcare workers, teachers, and concerned community members. The two-hour training is offered online in an individual or group setting in English as well as Spanish and can serve as a continuing education credit for some professionals.

In addition to training, Darkness to Light is partnering with Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman on its Flip the Switch campaign. Darkness to Light also works with the Special Olympics to help protect children with disabilities, who experience sexual abuse at a rate of one in two, according to the organization. As part of their response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Darkness to Light is offering a 30-minute free training on preventing child sexual abuse during times of crisis. “So called ‘stranger danger’ is a fallacy. Some children are sheltering in place with their abusers,” says Darkness to Light Deputy Director of Communication Katherine Lee Wood.  “Eighty percent of child sexual abuse incidents happen in isolated, one-on-one situations, 60 percent by a known and trusted adult, and 30% by a close family member,” she explains.

Recognizing that different cultures and communities experience child sexual abuse at higher rates and manage it in different ways, Darkness to Light is working on replicating their trainings in India. Choosing .ORG for their online presence helps them think big and achieve these goals, according to Brewer, by providing a vital tool to do their work that relies upon openness and trust. “The .ORG community feels like a community of mutual trust—.ORGs aim to do good. Being a .ORG allows us to be a social enterprise and sell our trainings. At the same time, we are a non-profit that talks about social justice. We will make training happen if people can’t afford it,” Brewer says.

While child sexual abuse is a difficult and sometimes overwhelming topic, the leaders of Darkness to Light feel hope on a regular basis and hope that others will get involved and feel it, too. “Our work has a ripple effect. The good you put into the world comes back to you 10-fold,” says Brewer. “Helping even one kid has a huge impact,” agrees Wood.