ChicagoCAC’s Community Advisory Council is a committed group of locals who have a vested interest in the work we perform and the messages we share. Throughout the years, they have generously offered their time and perspective to create educational videos, do legislative outreach, and share ChicagoCAC resources within their networks. They are a vital part of how we connect with people and places beyond those we already serve. Jeanine Otte and Robert Markus were kind enough to share their experiences as part of this council with us during Child Abuse Prevention Month.
What made you want to join the Community Advisory Council?
Robert Markus: In 2017, during the beginning of the #metoo movement, I was dealing with the reemergence of the repressed memory of sexual abuse I experienced and witnessed in high school. A month later, ChicagoCAC’s former Education, Prevention and Policy Director Julia Strehlow was at the school I teach at for a training. Not only was the presentation captivating, it was almost as if she was speaking to me. I asked to meet with her, and she asked me to join the Community Advisory Council. It was a serendipitous moment.
Jeanine Otte: I joined the Community Advisory Council because I felt it was the time in my life to speak up, and to continue to heal from my own experiences of child sexual abuse and sexual violence. As a survivor who was not given the support to heal as a child, I am filled with immense joy and gratitude when I learn that our contributions as a council have contributed to the healing of suffering and prevention of sexual abuse of children.
What’s something you’re proud of accomplishing while working with ChicagoCAC?
RM: I’m proud of the work we’ve done combating Title IX changes under DeVos, the prevention education videos that we made, working on trainings for CPS and beyond, and all of the legislative work ChicagoCAC has done in the past few years.
JO: I am proud of the partnerships we are cultivating with mission-aligned organizations such as the survivor-led group, Healing to Action (H2A). In support of H2A, we sent a letter to the Chicago Board of Education advocating for comprehensive sexual education – including sufficient and equitable funding for staff and caregivers. Even though the Board has yet to implement the recommendations, I am proud to partner with survivors to raise awareness that such education is urgently needed in every community in Chicago and the country.
I am also proud that I have used the knowledge I’ve gained through ChicagoCAC to learn more about my own child’s education and share resources and information with my family and local school community about child sexual abuse prevention. Finally, I am proud to know that the prevention videos we produced are helping other adults protect and support children.
How has working with ChicagoCAC changed your perspective on your everyday work?
RM: Tremendously. I am more aware of all of the issues behind the work that you do. It has given me so much more perspective on how to work with the kids that I teach everyday, and the sensitivity needed to make them feel safe and cared for. I’ve also been able to feel more comfortable and confident in my own skin so that I can be there for them. I have been able, too, to share my story more openly which has brought a lot more understanding and trust to my life and my work.
JO: Working with ChicagoCAC has given me courage, support, and resources to be a safe adult to my children and all the children in my life. It has also given me additional perspective into the behaviors of survivors, which helped me better understand my own struggles as well as the struggles of other adult survivors such as reluctance to speak up/use your voice, and/or trust oneself. Now if I notice people are particularly quiet even when asked for their opinion, I consider that they may have experienced trauma in their lives. I seek to respond by making space and listening to their feelings. In many cases, we were not listened to at the most critical moments in our lives. By being present for people now – children and adults – we can give our most powerful gift of love.
What’s something that you feel everyone should know about prevention?
RM: Basically… everything, especially for anyone who works with children. It floors me every time how little teachers know about prevention, and the sensitivity necessary about the situations that arise in this area.
JO: We all have the power to prevent child sexual abuse. Know that any fear you feel about the topic is valid, and can be overcome with knowledge, open communication, action, and support. The more comfortable we become talking about uncomfortable things with children and other adults, the more confidence children have in coming to us with sensitive topics, including unsafe or potentially unsafe situations. Check out ChicagoCAC’s resources, Keeping My Family Safe workbooks or sign up for a free or low-cost training.
Anything else you’d like to add?
JO: Be a safe adult and invite other adults in your life to join you. Join the Five Days of Action to get started. Being a safe adult means that a child can trust you to be there for them when they need help.
Listen to children, look them in the eyes, tell them you will take action to support and protect them. Tell children you believe them.