“Out of the Shadows”: Groundbreaking Report Spotlights the Global Response to Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation
Guest, Dr. Joanna Rubinstein, President and CEO World Childhood Foundation USA
30 January 2019
Host: James Leckman: So, hello, everybody. It’s a real honor and pleasure to be here speaking with Joanna Rubinstein and bringing everyone up to date about the sad realities that are out there with regard to abuse against children. We’ll be talking at great length about the report that The Economist has prepared with regard to the occurrence of sexual abuse against children, particularly girls in childhood, but also abuse in general. And of course, another important topic is abuse against boys, which is often something that isn’t well recognized.
So, it’s … on behalf of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium that I have the honor and pleasure to introduce Dr. Rubinstein. And I’ll say a few words about her. But let me just mention, as well, that I’m Jim Leckman. I’m a Professor here at the Yale University. And it’s a great honor and pleasure, as I mentioned, to be able to speak directly with Joanna about this very, very important topic.
Joanna is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the World Childhood Foundation. And it’s only been a few years, I think it was 2015 that Dr. Rubinstein was appointed as President and Chief Executive Officer. The appointment was made by Her Majesty, Queen Sylvia of Sweden.
[Note correction: Dr. Rubinstein was appointed by the World Childhood Foundation USA board.]
And interestingly, here in 2019, it’s actually the 20th anniversary of the World Childhood Foundation. Her Majesty actually began the Foundation to invest in innovative programs to end violence and sexual abuse and exploitation that occurs with regard to the children of our world.
Dr. Rubinstein is an expert in global health and sustainable development. She brings the World Childhood Foundation, her decade of experience in leadership roles at both Columbia University as well as at the United Nations. As the Chief of Staff, for Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Dr. Rubinstein helped develop and lead several global initiatives in health, education, and sustainable development.
Notably, she also supported the artist, Shakira, and her organization to develop programs in Latin America and the Caribbean, also to support early child development. And as an Assistant Director of the Earth Institute of Columbia University, Dr. Rubinstein was instrumental in the development of the sustainable development solutions network. And currently, Dr. Rubinstein supports the Sustainable Development Goals Advocacy Group of the United Nations Secretary General.
I should also mention that Dr. Rubinstein serves on numerous boards and committees, including the Board of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, the United Nations World Tourism Organizations Network on Child Protection, and the Steering Committee of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium.
What I would also say is that, for those of you that are listening to the podcast, there will be an opportunity, if you want to click on one of the buttons there at the website, to actually have a more complete and full biography of Dr. Rubinstein available to look at, perhaps as you are listening to our conversation.
So, I think with that, if it’s all right with you, Joanna, we can go ahead and begin to talk directly about the Intelligence Unit’s index report, Out of the Shadows. And I think it’s such an important document. Is there anything you’d like to say before you introduce the new index and teach us about the realities that have been found as a result of the efforts on the part of The Economist and the world experts that you have consulted in preparing this report?
Guest: Joanna Rubinstein: Well, firstly, thank you so much, Jim, for this opportunity and very generous introduction. What I would like to mention is that it was very unusual for a queen of a country, Sweden, who actually grew up partly in Germany and in Brazil, to use her voice to address the issue of child sexuality, abuse, and exploitation. And as you mentioned, it was 20 years ago.
What happened as a result of Her Majesty’s decision is that there were actually four Boards created, one in Brazil, one in Germany, one in the United States, and one in Sweden. The Foundation has been over, now, almost 20 years, mostly supporting different innovative solutions, how to address child sexual abuse, how to prevent it, and how to serve better survivors of child sexual abuse.
But, we were not very much engaged in advocacy efforts. And it is really with Her Majesty’s daughter, Her Royal Highness, Princess Madeleine of Sweden, who nowadays is living in Miami with her three little children that we moved 2014, ‘15, into also using our voice to help with the advocacy and how to raise awareness about child sexual abuse in the U.S.
My mandate is primarily in the U.S, but as Jim mentioned, I also represent the Foundation on a number of international Boards and see myself very often as a placeholder for child sexual abuse and exploitation. This is one of the reasons why I think it was so important for us to really work together with The Economist Intelligence Unit research team and with the support of our Foundation, but also Oak Foundation and Carlson Family Foundation, supports this research that took place in 40 countries over almost one year. And those 40 countries represent 70% of all the children in the world.
The index was really a way of getting everybody’s attention to the fact that we still, today, have so many children in the world being sexually abused and exploited and somehow, we don’t talk about it. And it’s not really on the global agenda.
So, in order to get more attention, we decided that perhaps looking at the response of the countries and different stakeholders would be a way of bringing people’s attention to the fact that so many children are being sexually abused. But also, to help shine light on various solutions. What are the countries doing to prevent it or address child sexual abuse and exploitation?
This is a little bit of the reason why the index was formed. And it was also developed with the thinking of that we now have a new set of global goals and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that all the nations agreed they would try to reach by 2030. And one of them, Goal 16, and especially the target 16.2 is very specific. It says that our goal is to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence, which includes sexual violence, against children and torture of children by 2030. So we needed a tool to measure how we are doing.
James Leckman: Well, thank you very much. And certainly, the need is great. Perhaps you could fill us in a little bit in terms of the work that the Intelligence Unit did with regard to what exactly does it measure? I guess when I was looking through the report again earlier today, I didn’t see precise estimates with regard to prevalence, although that exists within some countries. Just teach us a little bit about how they approached this question and what does it actually measure?
Joanna Rubinstein: You are so right, Jim. It is a challenge to have the data on how many children are being sexually abused and exploited in the world. This is one of the problems, that it’s very hard even to talk about this global public health epidemic when we don’t have concrete numbers. And we don’t have concrete numbers partly because many countries have not been measuring and they have not been following what is happening.
So, this is one of the reasons why there is no good prevalence data or data that shows how frequent child sexual abuse is. But we do know that, in the U.S., for example, it is often estimated that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. One of the official numbers in India is that more than 50% of all the children are sexually abused before the age of 18. But still, we don’t know very well the validity of those numbers.
So, this was one of the reasons why, instead, looked at what is the response of the government, what are the legal frameworks and tools in place in those 40 countries? What is the private sector doing to prevent it? And we know, for example, that internet and information and communication technology like mobile phones and social networks, they are sometimes enablers for child sexual abuse or trafficking. So we looked at what is the response of that particular industry. What are they doing to prevent it from happening?
We also know that travel and tourism industry can enable trafficking. So we looked at what are those companies, what are different hotel chains or airlines or travel agencies doing to prevent it from happening?
And then, also, what is the media coverage? And, I have to say that we probably all have noticed more and more scandals being in the media, but very often, or most often, we actually lack information what can be done to prevent it. So we have the horrific numbers of how many girls have been abused by Dr. Nassar. But we rarely have any information about where one can report child sexual abuse or how one, as a parent or a child, can report it and prevent it from happening in the first place. I think this is also where media can play an important role.
And then, of course, we know that there is a number of national plans. So, certain countries have a strategy how they want to address child sexual abuse. But there are others that don’t include that. So this is what we were looking at.
What we found, among other things, is what you already mentioned, Jim. Is that very often people think that it’s mostly girls that are being sexually abused and haven’t even looked at the number of boys. It turns out that, in some countries, it is equally frequent that boys are being sexually abused. But even in the U.S., we have ignored the boys. But many, many of them, sometimes one third of the children, are boys who are being sexually abused.
James Leckman: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s interesting. I was just in Japan and we’re in the process of preparing an article for one of the Japanese journals. But there actually had been a systematic review of abuse in Japan. And I guess I was really horrified to see that the estimate was between 10 and 60% of the girls, and of course, a somewhat lower estimate with regard to the boys. But they’re actually in the third quartile of all of the countries that were monitored and that the index indicates what their relative position is.
So, I guess one of the questions that I wanted to ask you was what the response has been so far. And I know that you just got back from Davos and you had an opportunity to interact with world leaders across a number of different professions and disciplines as well as government and policy makers. I guess I’m really curious about now that the report is out there and publicly available on the internet, what sort of response are you encountering? And I guess a related question, although it’s an interesting question that probably precedes this one that I just asked, is what were the responses from the various governments, the 40 governments that actually were contacted and who provided information with regard to, at least some information, with regard to the Index?
Joanna Rubinstein: Perhaps it’s a … Let me start with the second question. What were the responses of the governments? The Economist Intelligence Unit clearly makes sure that all the data that related to the government data was also reviewed and evaluated by those governments. So, the governments received all the data and had a chance, several weeks, to review it and get back to The Economist and confirm or say if they had any concerns that the data was not accurate. So it was an iterative process.
We also made sure that during the development of the index framework, there was really a global expert group or a global expertise deployed to inform the process and to inform the development of which questions should be asked, how one should weigh the importance of different questions.
So, one thing I can say is the governments, of course, are always nervous when they are being ranked. So, the governments always react, no government wants to be last. We could see that some of the governments were concerned where they would turn out to be in the ranking system. But I think this is actually good because what it did is that it really generated attention of those governments to look at what is it we are doing at the government level? What is it we can do better? And this is probably really the biggest strength of this index. Is not about shaming and naming. It’s about identifying where are the gaps, what can we do better, but also learn from each other.
One government can look at the response of another government. So this is the government response. And of course, for example, United Kingdom is number one in all the 40 countries, and …
James Leckman: In terms of having the lowest scores?
Joanna Rubinstein: Not the lowest, but the best response, both of the government, of its legal framework, engagement of the industry, how the media is covering. And, they (UK) were very happy to see that they ranked so high. But, this is also one of the governments that, a few years ago, had a lot of scandals in child abuse in sports, and actually took very proactive measures to invest in, for example, how to end online child sexual abuse and exploitation, created new legislation, anti-slavery laws and really has put the topic on the national agenda.
This is why, today, they rank number one.
James Leckman: Good for them. So, tell us just a word or two about your experience at Davos and what kind of response you had from the various world leaders that were there.
Joanna Rubinstein: I think just the fact that I was invited and then now am a Commissioner of the ITU, International Telecommunications Unit, UNESCO, Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, is probably partly because we have this index now and the industry and the governments, regulators, and operators recognize that, oh, God, someone is looking at what we are doing. We better think about how to protect all the children that are online. And we know that already today, in the developed world, at least one third of the all the internet users are children. So we want them to be safe online and they (Commission) established a new working group that I have the privilege to co-chair. That was the group that was also meeting in Davos.
So, it included … the Broadband Commission includes the head of the World Bank. And I had the opportunity to meet with the head of the African Development Bank. The index includes several African countries. And I had the opportunity to meet representatives of Facebook, certain CEOs of major companies, and also representatives of the United Nations system and governments.
I think the index is something concrete that helps us to start the conversation. So, hopefully … I already had several emails. The meeting was last week. People are following up and are engaged. And this is exactly what it’s intended to do. Really to get Out of the Shadows the horrific crime against children that child sexual abuse and exploitation is.
James Leckman: I guess my last question, and I think we’re not keeping to our time schedule as well as we might. But certainly government leaders, what’s happening with regard to the companies and individuals that are involved in the internet, etc., etc. are critically, critically important for our ability to actually address and make a change with regard to what’s happening in this world of ours. But what about the other listeners that are just listening in today and being thoughtful about this reality? What can we encourage them to do that will make a difference with regard to this horrific reality that we’re facing?
Joanna Rubinstein: We also need to ensure that our pediatricians also look if there are any signs or indications that the child may have been sexually abused or groomed by an adult.
We also need to keep in mind that this happens most often in families, behind closed doors. This is a majority. More than 90% of cases, the child knows the perpetrator. So we have to be more vigilant.
Another thing that I would like to mention, and this is because I am a member of your great consortium, is that the best prevention is investment in good, early childhood development where the child is not exposed to any form of violence or neglect, but especially child sexual abuse. Because we do now, and there is enough scientific evidence that child sexual abuse leads to learning disability later in life, mental health problems, other health problems, and very often substance abuse and then also, the perpetuation of violence.
I think you can learn from, for example, our website, childhood-usa.org. We have a Mobile app that we developed together with Darkness to Light, which you can download for free, stewards of children prevention toolkit. And you can simply learn how you, as a parent or an adult, can contribute to keeping our children safe and what to do if the problem is there.
James Leckman: Yes. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today about this really important initiative that you have undertaken with your colleagues at the World Childhood Foundation. I’d like to express our gratitude to you, but also to the Queen of Sweden and her daughter and everyone else that has been involved in this important effort. And we need to make a difference in this world, and one step at a time. But thank you so much. We really appreciate the time and effort that you’ve put into this initiative.
Joanna Rubinstein: Thank you so much for the opportunity to share the news about the Index with your audience.
James Leckman: Thank you.
Joanna Rubinstein: Thank you.