By Quinn Fireside, Fellow of Single Carrot Theatre
I will preface my analysis of the work I have done thus far on Community Engagement for Mr. Wolf, by pointing out two things: I am incredibly new to the world of Community Engagement, and the world of curating research in general. I have little to no experience in the production of intentionally socially conscious theater, although I suppose we all start somewhere. Additionally, it should be noted that, while I hold and have long since held the utmost respect for organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (henceforth referred to as the National Center) , my admiration of them and the work that they have done has been from afar until this point in my life. I am coming into this world completely and wholly green to the reality of the work they do – I have been, until this point, a mere observer of and advocate for the unimaginably important work these organizations do and have done.
That being said I have, in my entrance into the work that Single Carrot has done in partnering with and learning from organizations like the National Center, been struck by several things that I believe, if not immersed in the sort of research we have been doing or the sort of work the members of these groups have been doing, most people would find particularly compelling.
I grew up in an era that emphasized internet and personal safety particularly if you are a young woman, and to be frank I had gone into this training with the assumption that it would be similar to the conversations I had been privy to in my training as a camp counselor last summer – as given by Child Protective Services – or the equal parts patronizing and widely ignored internet safety chats I had been forced to be a part of in middle school.
I have long since been weary of adults talking to children about how to be safe as, in my teenaged and admittedly narcissistic and immature state of existence, I had kind of always assumed that any advice I had been given by an adult was outdated and altogether useless. I had my first phone at 11, and my first Instagram account at 13, immediately becoming well versed in the use of the block button in response to fully grown men asking me what I was up to and calling me “baby girl”. I was first catcalled and propositioned by a grown man at 12. I have, in my 17 years of life, been sexual assaulted twice. Despite all of this, I live. What can an adult tell me that I don’t already know about how to navigate the tumultuous world of grabby men and pervy online personas?
As genuinely interested as I was in the training I was going to receive from the National Center, I went in a jaded high school senior and fully expected to emerge much the same. Not so. I left the training all but enlightened, and here is the moment that most struck me, in all of its profound glory.
Last night I was given the privilege of sitting in on a training presentation given to us by the National Center presented by Tina Bigdeli. The whole of this presentation was insightful, devastating, and in some ways very heartening. Knowing the difference I could make as a young person with all of this knowledge to impart on my peers as well as children I interact with seemed to pad the genuine heartbreak I felt when staring into the faces of children my age and younger who had yet to be found. Seeing all of the programs that the National Center has put in place to both recover missing children, and provide resources for them once they are found, as well as preventative educational programs was an enthralling combination of empowering and heart breaking.What was most salient about this presentation to me, however, was the moment when Tina very clearly stated that youth endangerment, abduction, exploitation, and trafficking is never the child’s fault.
This statement, one which might seem so sensible it has the potential to almost feel unnecessary, struck me for many reasons. As someone who is growing up and has grown up in the aforementioned system which forces those patronizing and commonly ignored conversations about never posting pictures of yourself online and never looking a strange man directly in the eyes (both actual pieces of advice I have been given by adults on the topic of avoiding being kidnapped or taken advantage of), I was struck by this succinct removal of responsibility from my own shoulders. With this statement I no longer felt so burdened with the pressure of protecting myself because, as Tina said: adults are always responsible for protecting children and keeping them safe.
Will I stop carrying my keys between my fingers when I walk home? Will I stop immediately blocking creepy older men who appear in my DM’s on Instagram and Twitter? All of this in the hopes that at some point if I am ever put into danger, some adult will come to my rescue? No. But this statement has opened my eyes not only to the fact that children, myself included, are so often given adult responsibility as a means of systemic victim blaming, but also to my responsibility as a soon-to-be adult, and what this means for my future and how I interact with the children in my life.
This post was inspired by the research I have done on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as a training session presented by Tina Bigdeli, with the National Center.