National Leadership Council Highlight on Nicole Epps

Each month, RAINN highlights a member of its National Leadership Council (NLC). The NLC is a group of dedicated individuals who have shown their commitment to RAINN’s mission of supporting survivors and ending sexual violence.

Nicole G. Epps is the executive director of the World Childhood Foundation USA, which works to protect children from violence and sexual abuse. Before joining the World Childhood Foundation USA, Epps has been a leader in anti-trafficking efforts and work to protect street-affected, vulnerable youth populations, both domestically and internationally.

What inspired you to become part of RAINN’s National Leadership Council?

I have always admired RAINN and the reputation of their work. I know the power of having hotlines and helplines available, especially for child survivors of abuse and sexual violence. During COVID, I learned of the number of minors calling for help spiked and that spoke to us directly as an organization. World Childhood Foundation USA is committed to supporting the development of solutions to end child sexual abuse and exploitation. I am honored to be a part of RAINN’s National Leadership Council, as the partnership is what really drives change.

What do we need to do more of as a country to prevent sexual violence?

We need to have these conversations and we need to talk about sexual violence. In the same way we as parents talk to our pediatricians about vaccines is the way that we need to talk about trafficking and child sexual abuse (CSA). It needs to be roped into all conversations. Whether it is human trafficking, CSA, or online exploitation, it’s one of those things that’s very easy to make an “other.” Unless it is your family and your friend, you think it doesn’t affect you. But, to me, that’s a lie.

We need to change the narrative from just stranger danger. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but more realistically, it’s probably someone you know in your family that you love and care about. We need to have those tough conversations about who we have and leave our children around.

How do we bridge that gap to make sure all children get equal access to education, warning signs of trafficking in their communities, resources, etc.?

We need the inclusion of more survivor voices, and we need community leadership. We need to democratize the power dynamics and support mom-and-pop/grassroots nonprofits that work on the ground. Knowing that sexual abuse can be multigenerational, our community leaders must be engaged. We need to return to the village mentality that the safety of our children is our collective responsibility.

We need to stop saying we care about our children when our actions do not match in society. For example, we can’t say children are the most important in our society when we cut funding for head start programs. We can’t say that children are the most important when parents have to make choices between safety, care, and working and there are no policies in place to protect children and parents. Until we have a holistic approach, we will never keep our children safe.

How can we all be better supporters and advocates for survivors in our lives?

The first thing is to believe them. Our job isn’t to solve the problem, but our job is to listen and to believe them.

We need to give our children autonomy which isn’t only teaching them the names of their private parts but also teaching them the importance of respect and consent. We should not force our children to do something that they don’t want to do which may go against family rituals and dynamics. We need to create safe spaces for our kids where they can share their feelings and concerns

What is your message to survivors?

You are the strongest people in the world. The strength and the courage that it takes every day is not unnoticed. What happened to you was never ever, ever your fault. There is absolutely nothing for you to feel ashamed of and there is nothing for you to feel guilty of. The shame and the guilt are for your offender. The shame and the guilt are for those of us who do nothing. You are strong.