With his new web series Man Enough, actor Justin Baldoni has been shedding the spotlight on a variety of social issues. In the fourth episode of Man Enough, the beloved celeb dad of two and his co-stars focus on how men can be better allies and support survivors by playing an active role in the movement to end sexual violence. They also explore the experiences of male survivors of sexual violence, specifically child sexual abuse. It was for that reason that he teamed up with The Child Safety Pledge to create a PSA which aims to educate and engage parents to prevent child sexual abuse.
"When you become a parent you start to see the world a little bit differently," Baldoni tells Parents.com. "Suddenly, it’s like you wake up and realize that your heart is now existing outside your body in the form of your children and quite literally anything and everything could potentially harm them. Now, that might be a slight exaggeration, but the truth is our world is a scary place right now...especially with little children."
His concerns as a dad lead him to speaking with male survivors of child sexual abuse and working with The Child Safety Pledge. "Child sexual abuse isn’t a subject that people typically speak openly about, yet the statistics are overwhelming: One in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, and 60% of children who are sexually abused never tell anyone," he explains. "I was shocked when I heard these statistics and wanted to do something to increase awareness with parents, and point people towards resources and solutions."
And what he did was create this heart-wrenching but oh so important PSA.
As many parents note in the PSA, most don't want to believe that something so horrific could happen to their children or anyone else they know, so this subject isn't one that they are actively discussing.
"Sexual abuse is something many people don’t ever want to deal with or talk about, especially when children are involved," Baldoni says. "It is quite literally every parent's worst nightmare. It gets my blood boiling even mentioning it, so it of course becomes easy to just push away and say that our kids will never become part of that statistic. But what about the millions of parents whose kids have become part of those numbers? What about those kids? Could any of those situations been prevented if this topic wasn't off limits? I also think it’s taboo, because there isn’t much of a framework on how we as parents even begin to address it; parents know it exists and want to protect their children at all costs from it ever happening to them, but there are little to no resources out there on how to be educated on this issue. The team over at Child Safety Pledge are doing something about it and have created a system that builds a foundation for much-needed solutions."
In addition to signing the pledge, Baldoni encourages parents to educate themselves on the warning signs, engage with their children, ask them questions, get to know the people they surround themselves with when they're not around (teachers, coaches, instructors, etc.) He also hopes the PSA encourages parents to have discussions with professionals and community members that work with children about how they can improve training and background checks.
"You better believe from now on Emily and I will be making sure that schools and daycares or any programs our kids are a part of put their employees through background checks," he says. "I just think it’s important that parents, schools, and community members know that when it comes to a child’s safety, it’s critical that everyone comes together to play an active role in addressing abuse and how they can work to prevent it from happening."
Confronting this topic is undoubtedly difficult for so many reasons, and it's easy for parents to feel overwhelmed by potential threats their kids may face on a daily basis. Baldoni admits he and his wife are "dreamers with big imaginations, which is both a blessing and a curse," in that it doesn't take much for them to "become emotional just talking about something like this even if it hasn't or may never happen."
But the main thing he and Emily feel they can do to avoid getting overwhelmed is be present and engaged in their kids' lives, Baldoni says. "We want them to know that open dialogues are always encouraged and that they can come to us about anything," he notes. "Now, our kids are 3 and 9 months, so we are just beginning to lay the groundwork for those conversations, but being conscious and proactive is important no matter how old they are."
Baldoni reminds fellow parents that stressing over potential dangers won’t make coping or protecting your L.O.s any easier. "It’s important to know that as a parent, you’re not alone," he says. "Try to stay informed and active in your child’s life. Put your phone down and give them the gift of your presence. Save that Instagram post for when they are asleep and really connect with them. If you have older kids, know that they are smarter than you realize and know and understand far more than you think. Be brave. Get uncomfortable and ask how they feel about this topic and start from there. We want to protect our children as they learn to navigate the world, but taking the first step in opening a dialogue is the best place to start. Our children need to feel like speaking with us as parents is a safe space and that can only happen if we put our own discomfort aside."