Sadly most of my clients have told me that they were sexually assaulted as children. Even sadder is the fact that many of the sexual assaults that take place in Jackson County are assaults on children. Yes! Ask any police officer around here- it happens far more frequently than most of us would like to think.
Children who are sexually abused or exploited often experience feelings of confusion, guilt, shame and anger about what happened to them. As adults, they often relate feeling robbed of their right to a safe and healthy childhood. They describe feelings of hopelessness, difficulty trusting others, low self-esteem, and self-destructive behaviors. Without help, many can suffer into adulthood with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, relationship problems, and further physical or sexual victimization.
With loving support of friends and family and /or help from professionals, children, teenagers and adult survivors can and do find healing. However, children who are sexually abused and who can’t tell anyone or don’t receive appropriate help when they do tell, are at far greater risk than the general population for emotional, social and physical problems. When they do face these problems, like all human beings, they look for ways to cope so they can get through each day and try to lead a normal life.
I see these folks every day. They don’t feel like they can ever have a “normal” life. Many of my clients have turned to alcohol and drugs to help numb the emotional pain they feel. Some use food to give them comfort, perhaps in an unconscious attempt to appear less sexually desirable to an abuser. Others engage in promiscuous sexual behaviors in desperate attempts to feel loved and accepted. These struggles to cope with past trauma are also very high-risk health behaviors that can cause life threatening illnesses such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes.
Our primary goal is to prevent child sexual abuse from ever happening in the first place and to identify children who have been sexually abused. That is a difficult challenge for many reasons.
Abusers use clever tactics to keep children from telling. Most of us believe that our children would tell us if someone tried to sexually abuse them. Parents and children with a strong relationship built on trust and good communication might make some kids feel more comfortable telling their parents about the sexual approaches of an adult or older child. However, abusers often use both subtle and overt strategies with children so they won’t tell.
Here are some of the things abusers say that make it extremely difficult for children to tell: “If you tell anybody. . .”
•I will not be able to take you on special trips and do fun things.
•I will not be able to give you any more great gifts, like video games and money.
•I will not be able to be your friend anymore or be around to give you any special attention.
•Your family will be angry and disgusted with you. They’ll stop loving you.
•You’ll get into a lot of trouble with your parents and teachers.
•All your friends will think you’re weird.
•Nobody will believe you, anyway. It’s my word against yours and nobody thinks I would be involved in something like this.
•I will be sent to jail, and I know you don’t want to be responsible for that.
•You know it’s your fault that this happened.
•You’re in this just as much as I am. I can tell from the way your body reacts that you like it.
•I will find you and you’ll pay for it.
•I just might have to see to it that your dog/cat disappears.
•I just might have to hurt your parents and your brothers and sisters.
As you can see, all of these threats are very frightening and make it very difficult for children to overcome their fear to tell.
I promise you— children rarely lie about being sexually abused. When children do have the courage to tell someone, they must be believed and supported. We find that when they do tell, they often only reveal some of what happened. They need reassurance that their revelation won’t result in what the abuser has told them.
It’s difficult for parents to hear their child tell about being sexually abused. Sometimes parents will start questioning their child’s truthfulness. Please understand that children need you to believe them and to remain calm and supportive. Sexual abuse is never the victim’s fault.