Judd did not say much (or anything) about digital media in schools. Instead, she talked about her life journey affected by depression, alcoholism and childhood molestation. Which was, on one hand, not that surprising, since she had written about this sexual abuse in her memoir, and had talked about it on Oprah. On the other hand, it was surprising to me that she decided to make her speech at ISTE so personal and, one would say, disconnected from the main topic of the conference.
I am totally for speaking about child sexual abuse. I have been working on a project that explores how we can help people discuss all sorts of sexual violence by inviting them to evaluate the knowledge they gleaned from the media. I am glad that the media raise awareness about these things, and that people know that they happen (at least, they know more than, say, 100 years ago). Nevertheless, I think that by only sending the message that society has this problem we are not doing enough to solve it. What my research has shown so far is that people hear about child sexual abuse from the media, but don’t really discuss what they’ve learned, because it’s such a sensitive topic.
I am not saying that Judd should not talk about her painful past. On the contrary, I am glad that survivors like her show that it is possible to heal and help others. However, on this particular occasion, it might have been not the best choice of the topic. Some members of the audience voted with their feet long before the speech was over. Frankly, I am not sure that those who stayed in the room till the end engaged in conversations about sexual assault later during dinner. Maybe some, who knows…
Raising awareness is a tricky business. You do want to let people know about social ills, but where is the guarantee that this knowledge will affect their behavior, that they won’t hide it in the back of their mind together with other uncomfortable thoughts and unsettling memories? I applaud Judd for her willingness to let the world know about her journey and her struggle. But there is another piece of this puzzle, the piece that is missing. How do we make sure that people will act once they know? I am not saying that Judd is the one to answer this question. Yet she and other survivors keen on raising awareness should remember that, although knowledge is instrumental, in and of itself it is not necessarily a solution.