Prevention: What does that mean?

By Lindsay Gullingsrud


The other day, I was driving in the car with my daughter and she was looking at the lights that are still up from the holiday season.  She commented on how she liked the snowflakes the best and then asked me, “Mommy, who puts up these lights anyway?”  I told her that I didn’t know for sure, but I thought it was probably the city workers.  Her response, “City workers, what’s that?  What does that mean?”  I started to explain, and then realized we had never had a conversation about where we live and started talking about cities, towns, and the need for people to tend to streets, parks, etc.  She interrupted me and said, “Mom, what are you talking about?”  It was at that moment I realized I was making assumptions, using language that she was not familiar with, and making it a lot more complicated than it needed to be in that moment.  I changed tactics and started talking about how Grandma Loma lives in ____ city, and Grandma Sue lives in ___ city, and we live in ____ city (We actually live in a suburb, but that was irrelevant to her).  We started having a conversation, and I eventually explained what city workers are.  The conversation didn’t happen in a logical order that made sense to me, but that is the point.  The conversation needed to make sense to my toddler—I already knew what city workers did.


From this conversation, I started thinking about this prevention work, this movement to end sexual violence across the live span, and our focus in Minnesota on child sexual abuse and exploitation prevention as foundational to the prevention of sexual violence across the lifespan— I could hear my daughter asking, “Mommy, what are you talking about?”  I started thinking about the difficulty I have with the question, “What do you do for a living?”   I don’t have an elevator speech for this work.   I don’t have five clear and concise statements that get to the heart of what I am part of here in Minnesota.  In fact, oftentimes I will start answering questions and then start seeing their eyes glaze over as if they were my toddler asking, “What are you talking about?”  How do I talk about something that is so complex that we have developed language “within” this field that prompts looks of confusion, similar to my toddler’s, when I have conversation with people “outside” this field.  You can follow the conversation and start seeing the relationship between the big picture(s) to the minute, concrete detail(s)…if you already know what prevention is.  It makes sense to me, but it doesn’t make sense to anyone who doesn’t spend hours a day thinking about these links and strategies that advance prevention.


Focusing on prevention requires a combination of research, statistics, strategy, promising practices, being visionary, being bold, and believing that small (strategic) short-term change will result in long-term social change—all rolled up in one!


So, what does that mean?  It means taking the current research about our environment(s), taking a look at what that research says about the negative impact it has on us, and finding a solution to change it.  It means believing in equality and finding solutions to ensure that everyone grows up with equal access to education, resources, etc.  It means understanding the continuum of gender and sexuality, and having honest conversations with the adults around me to ensure that the next generation understands and can speak about that continuum with ease.  It means asking my daughter if she wants a car or a Barbie at McDonalds instead of a “girl” or “boy” meal. It means examining all of the aspects in our lives in which the answer would be “That is just the way it is. It has always been that way and always will be that way” and answering it with “If that is the case, what can we do to change it? If it causes harm, it shouldn’t be that way.”  It means that you don’t have to be a Prevention Coordinator to be part of prevention. You don’t have to know everything about prevention to create positive change.  You don’t have to take on the world, but you can do something.


Then, when someone says to you, “But you’re just one person. Do you really think you can change this?” you can be bold enough to say “Yes! Would you like to help me?”


Join us in Minnesota. Together, we can find the solutions.


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