Since 1983, April has been designated Child Abuse Prevention Month, an annual observance in the United States dedicated to raising awareness and preventing child abuse.Bioengineering graduate student Helia Hosseini knows firsthand how important it is to use one’s voice to uplift others. Growing up in Iran, she experienced verbal abuse when she was 10 years old. She also remembers friends who were abused either verbally or physically by parents or other adults in their lives.
Child abuse is often not a topic discussed openly for various reasons. Hosseini says she wants to change that dynamic and encourages an open dialogue on this difficult subject. This is one of the reasons she recently launched a podcast called The Blue Radio. The program serves as a platform for survivors of child abuse to share their experiences and to raise awareness on the trauma that continues into adulthood.
“It is important to provide a safe space for people to talk about their hardships, setting aside labels and really just listening,” Hosseini said.
“It is important to provide a safe space for people to talk about their hardships, setting aside labels and really just listening,” Hosseini said. “This way, we can learn from our experiences to heal, grow and improve together.”
When she was a child, Hosseini remembered being called a prostitute by her religious studies teacher simply for not wearing her headscarf correctly and not attending the prayers. While she was fortunate to have a safe haven at home, she couldn’t raise awareness of such an egregious, but common, act committed by school officials and other adults.
“In Iran, child abuse is unfortunately tightly knit with traditional family practices and is a controversial issue that has the potential to be politicized, making activism quite risky,” Hosseini said. “I could not do anything besides being a non-judgmental listener for my friends.”
Hosseini completed her undergraduate degree in Iran before moving to the U.S. to study at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. While there are more legal and social ramifications for child abuse in the U.S., Hosseini noticed that the problem remains prevalent. With her newly acquired freedom of speech, however, Hosseini says she wants to use her voice to push for change.
The first podcast aired in January, with interviews of child abuse survivors describing their journey and the steps they have taken to heal. Two recent episodes featured UCLA psychology professors Jennifer Silvers and Bridget Callaghan, who shared their respective research and discussed the impact of children’s interactions with caregivers on their social and mental development.
“Having expert opinion helps listeners know that the experience of child abuse does not define a survivor, and there is a road to recovery with awareness being the first step,” Hosseini said. “Learning to set aside the stereotypes about child abuse survivors would make it easier for victims and survivors to speak up and seek help.”
Hosting the podcast has been a new experience for Hosseini, who found it challenging at first to convince child abuse survivors to share their experience. Some of the guests she has hosted had never shared their story in public.
Besides being a podcast host, Hosseini has always been interested in the human body, which drew her to study bioengineering.
“I love being able to come up with ideas, and to design and create things,” said Hosseini, who has worked in UCLA Samueli Prof. Pirouz Kavehpour’s Complex Fluids and Interfacial Physics Laboratory. “Bioengineering brings together the best of both worlds; it is a major that equips students to build upon their knowledge of life sciences and then design procedures that potentially improve the quality of life for others.”
Hosseini is currently working as a researcher at the Bitan Lab directed by neurology professor Gal Bitan at the David Geffen School of Medicine. She collects information about rare neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases. Her ultimate goal is to work as a physician-scientist.
For the next season, Hosseini plans to focus her podcast on systemic and institutional child abuse. Those who wish to share their own experiences related to child abuse can email Hosseini at . Her podcast is accessible on several platforms.
Chloe Slayter contributed to this story.