Friday, 31 October 2008
I was sexually abused by a family member as a child. Do you think this is rare? Nearly 25% of girls and up to 15% of boys are sexually abused. Did you know that 30% of abusers are relatives and another 60% are family friends? This means if your child is abused, there is a 90% chance that you are very close to the abuser.
One might think that they would know their family and friends. How many people do you think are interviewed after such abuse comes to light and say, “I always knew there was something creepy about the person. I saw this coming from a mile away.” It is almost never. It is almost always along the lines of, “I never saw this coming. She was so kind and loving. He was such a normal guy.”
One might think they would know the signs but how many of us are actually looking for them?
Is it poor performance in school, not getting along with others, starting fights, nightmares, trouble sleeping, unexplained bruises, overt aversion to being near their abuser? Or is it outstanding performance in school, getting along well with others, being a peacekeeper, normal sleep patterns, and a very close to bond to a family member or friend? The answer is…both.
Either child in the examples given may be a victim. Parents should be looking for any behavior that is out of the ordinary for the child. Parents should be talking to their children about sexual abuse and making sure the child knows they will be believed, loved, accepted, protected, and defended no matter what. It is important that these conversations start at a young age and before abuse starts if possible. This could be as simple as saying, “Honey, if anyone ever hurts you, come to me and I will help. Or go to a teacher or your favorite aunt/uncle. Just tell someone. They will believe you and help you”. Then, as the child grows you can go into more age appropriate detail.
Is it enough if your child learns in school, church, or after school special that any touching making them feel afraid, wrong, dirty, or simply uncomfortable should be reported to an adult they trust? Do you think children naturally know they can trust their parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or teachers to believe them after their abuser tells them nobody will believe them? Is it common knowledge among a young child that the abuser’s threats to hurt them, their family members, friends, or pets are empty threats? The psychological hold an abuser can have on their victim is astounding. They convince the child they will not be believed, that they aren't loved, it isn't wrong, they want it, someone will be hurt and so on and so on. Sitting in on an AMAC (Adults Molested as Children) group would rock a parent's world.
We are living in a society that is nearly paranoid with the possibility of terrorism or violent crime but too many of us completely ignore the facts and numbers of sexual abuse. For parents who have never been abused, they are inclined to believe their children are more likely to be the victim of terrorism or a school shooting than the victim of sexual abuse. While 15% and 25% are not numbers in the field of the majority, they are not small numbers either. I am not advocating paranoia. I am advocating awareness and education.
I was abused for over a decade before I found the strength to report it. My family was ripped apart and has yet to reconcile. My parents never talked to me about abuse. They never made it abundantly clear that I could turn to them. In fact, when I did report the abuse, they found it so inconceivable that they shunned me and the truth.
Will you talk to your children? Would you believe your child if he or she came to you with a report of abuse? What if the accused is a beloved family member?