Public Will Building as a Catalyst
Find out how we’re harnessing the power of public will building to collectively end child sexual abuse in Texas.
Public will building can create meaningful shifts in attitudes, behaviors, and policies — especially when the public makes strong and sustained demands for societal change. We’re harnessing the power of public will-building to collectively end child sexual abuse in Texas.
At Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas (CACTX), we envision a Texas free from child sexual abuse. Over the past three years, we have actively pursued this vision, crafting strategies and delving deep into research to explore strategic initiatives aimed at ending child sexual abuse in our state.
Perceptions make all the difference.
Today, myths and misconceptions about child sexual abuse are rampant. Sadly, misconceptions harm children and families by stopping Texas communities from enacting effective policies.
To make meaningful and lasting change in Texas, CACTX is working to transform public perceptions of child sexual abuse. Just as our society has made lasting changes around public health issues like smoking, public will building around child sexual abuse can lead to better outcomes for Texas children.
Shifting public perceptions and building public may take years to decades. However, the prevalence of child sexual abuse and projected growth in the child population of Texas tell us that we must start addressing the issue today.
How can public perceptions be shifted?
Public will building is a deliberate and strategic effort to mobilize and engage individuals, communities, and institutions to address a specific social issue or cause collectively.
Rather than seeking temporary shifts to address short-term challenges, we aim to create lasting change by mobilizing sustained public support for the prevention of child sexual abuse. This approach draws from lessons learned in other facets of public health.
Anti-smoking campaigns and legal actions against the tobacco industry were the first significant actions to curb tobacco usage. But lasting change required sustained public will building activities and communication efforts.
With persistent efforts, public attitudes toward smoking changed. Non-smoking public spaces became the norm. Eventually, the public compelled policy shifts, including pressure for the tobacco industry to fund public health programs. The results included drastically reduced tobacco use among adults and youth.
Partnership with Metropolitan Group.
Shifting public perceptions and motivating action to end child sexual abuse will require a strategic and well-informed communications plan formulated in light of current systemic behaviors, beliefs, and policy outcomes.
To help our efforts to shift public perceptions of child sexual abuse, we partnered with the Metropolitan Group (MG), a renowned social change agency, for the first phase of this work.
MG is known for its approach to sustainable change utilizing the public will-building model and its expertise in crafting and integrating strategic and creative campaigns.
To learn more about public will building, download the MG social change toolkit.
What we’ve accomplished.
Over the last nine months, we have worked closely with MG laying the foundation for efforts to raise awareness, inform the public about child sexual abuse prevention, and rally support for our cause.
In partnership with the MG, we developed a multi-year strategic communications plan to harness the potential of public will building.
This work included an external landscape assessment, key informational interviews, and a statewide survey to uncover the most effective approaches to changing public perceptions.
We’ve examined the effectiveness of facts about child sexual abuse, explored different ways to discuss child sexual abuse prevention, presented participants with prevention strategies, and showed evidence of prevention effectiveness. We also assessed participants’ willingness to take prevention actions based on exposure to various messages.
Inputs from this work were used to formulate in-person focus groups across Texas to further inform our communications strategy. The next phases of this work will begin to package and strategically deploy the most effective messages to diverse audiences statewide.
Working together to make a difference.
By engaging the people of Texas, we aim to change perceptions, instill a sense of urgency, and empower individuals, communities, and policymakers to take concrete actions to prevent child sexual abuse.
Setting our sights on ending child sexual abuse can seem daunting. It will require a strong, sustained, and collaborative effort from all corners of society.
But at CACTX, we are undaunted in trusting the process of engaging with facts, evidence, and effective public health responses to create lasting change.
By embracing the principles of public will building and working hand-in-hand with partners like the MG, we can create a safer and more compassionate future for all. Together, we can build a Texas that is free from child sexual abuse.
 Friedenwalk-Fishman & Kirkpatrick (2020). Public Will Building A 3-4-5 approach to sustainable change. The Metropolitan Group. Portland, Oregon.