Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Teen Sexual Abuse Advocacy Letter

Dear Library Director,

Today, I complete Advocate's for Children's Responding to Child Abuse course. Over the last three months, twenty professionals who work in Androscoggin county, and specifically Lewiston /Auburn, visited the class to share their perspectives on combating child abuse. I've learned how several dozen agencies in our community address child abuse, but I've discovered your institution is not fully preforming its responsibility. The library is a community's cultural backbone; a vault safeguarding and distributing knowledge. One gazes upon the high shelves and envisions the answers to life's questions and curiosities within the covers. Yet, your collection ignores the query of one group; within your walls, teenage sexual abuse survivors' plea for help goes unanswered.

My secondary education background coupled with my recent coursework inspired me to seek out non-fiction texts addressing sexual abuse specifically written for teenagers. None of the texts recommended by Androscoggin Children's Advocacy Center for teens are in your collection. Actually, only a handful of copies are available through MINERVA. Hoping similar titles were available, I visited both Lewiston and Auburn Public Libraries and asked for assistance at the Reference Desk. While the librarians were helpful and knowledgeable, no non-fiction texts on sexual abuse exist within the YA collections at either library.

One factor for how traumatic sexual abuse becomes for a child is the victim's access to age appropriate information on sex, love and abuse. Information distribution is the business of the library. Texts on abuse included in the YA collection is one venue for teens to find valid information to heal from their abuse. Housing these books in the teen area not only provides survivor patrons comfort and ease to find the information, but also ensures that the texts are written for, rather than about, teenagers.

One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before turning eighteen – before leaving the security of the teen room of the library. Imagine the discouragement finding no help on those shelves. The implied message: I must be alone, if not even the library has information about what happened to me. Imagine the bravery required to admit such a secret in order to ask a librarian for help, and the painful wait that follows yielding no results. I don't see this experience lessening a teen survivor's sense of isolation and worthlessness either. The survivor then endures a longer wait as a librarian researches further eventually leading the teen to the adult stacks – to books not written for her, but parents or professionals, texts that discuss teen survivors as a topic rather than speak to them to as individuals.

The teen room contains non-fiction on many health topics, so the dismissal of sexual abuse is a glaring hole in the YA collection, and frankly, a disservice to the teen population who use your library to gather reliable information. Maybe young people who value the feel of a book, who find its permanence a reassuring comfort, are unusual in this digital age. But such bookish types should find help in your stacks once gathering the courage look.

During my search, a librarian mentioned that budget cuts may have caused this gap in the collection. Titles with high circulation are what's purchased. How sad my enlightenment; the library might choose to disregard valuable information over the cost of a paperback. I wonder, how many teens might not check out a book on abuse, too afraid someone might see the title? No, I suspect the circulation numbers could be low, but teen patrons would often reference such titles within the walls of the library.

I hope you will investigate adding non-fiction texts for teen survivors of sexual abuse to your Young Adult collection. I suggest How Long Will It Hurt? by Cynthia L. Mather and When Something Feels Wrong by Deanna S. Pledge to begin your research; both titles are recommended for teens by the Androscoggin Children's Advocacy Center.


Jaclyn Boyd

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