Childhood abuse never ended for thousands of Australian adults

PHOTO After surviving years of abuse at the hands of her family, Sarah has started a family of her own. ABC NEWS: TRACEY SHELTON

Sarah is living proof that “life after hell” is possible. 

For more than 20 years she says she endured beatings, rape and degradation at the hands of her family.

She tells of being locked in sheds, made to eat from a dog’s bowl and left tied to a tree naked and alone in the bush.

Her abusers spanned three generations and included her grandfather, father and some of her brothers. She has scars across her body.

“This is from a whipper snipper,” she says, pointing to a deep gouge of scar tissue wrapped around the back of her ankle. Higher up is another she says was caused by her father’s axe.


Family violence support services:


But Sarah survived.

Now she is speaking out in the hope of empowering others trapped in abusive situations. 

“There is life after hell, but you need to learn how to believe in yourself,” she says.

A reality for many Australian adults

As confronting as Sarah’s case may be, she is not alone. 

While most people assume child abuse ends at adulthood, it can bring control, fear and manipulation that can last a lifetime.

Incestuous abuse into adulthood affects roughly 1 in 700 Australians, according to research by psychiatrist Warwick Middleton — one of the world’s leading experts in trauma and dissociation. If that estimate is accurate, tens of thousands of Australian adults like Sarah are being abused by family members into their 20s or even up to their 50s.

PHOTO Warwick Middleton is one of the world’s leading experts in trauma and dissociation. ABCNEWS Tracey Shelton

“It’s a mechanism of ongoing conditioning that utilises every human’s innate attachment dynamics, and where fear and shame are used prominently to ensure silence — particularly shame,” says Professor Middleton, an academic at the University of Queensland and a former president of the International Society for the Study of Trauma & Dissociation.

He has personally identified almost 50 cases among his patients, yet there was no literature or studies on this kind of abuse when he began publishing his findings.

Hidden in ‘happy’ families, successful careers

Sydney criminologist Michael Salter has found similar patterns in his own research. He said cases of incest are “fairly likely” to continue into adulthood, but this extreme form of domestic abuse is unrecognised within our health and legal systems.

“It’s unlikely that these men are going to respect the age of consent,” says Mr Salter, who is an associate professor of criminology at Western Sydney University. “It doesn’t make sense that they would be saying, ‘Oh you’re 18 now so I’m not going to abuse you anymore’. We’re just not having a sensible conversation about it.”

The ABC spoke with 16 men and women who described being abused from childhood into adulthood.

They said their abusers included fathers, step-fathers, mothers, grandparents, siblings and uncles.

Medical and police reports, threatening messages and photos of the abuse supported these accounts. Some family members also confirmed their stories.

PHOTO Sarah’s father often recorded the abuse. This image is the first in a series of five she discovered in the family home.

Sarah says her father and his friends photographed some of her abuse. One image shows her beaten and bloodied with a broken sternum at five. In another photo (pictured here), she cowers as her father approaches with a clenched fist.

Most victims described their families as “well-respected” and outwardly “normal-looking”, yet for many the abuse continued well after their marriage and the birth of their own children, as they navigated successful careers. 

“You see a lot of upper-income women who are medical practitioners, barristers, physiatrists — high functioning in their day-to-day lives — being horrifically abused on the weekends by their family,” Mr Salter says.

Helen, a highly successful medical professional, says she hid sexual abuse by her father for decades.

“They didn’t see the struggle within,” she says. 

A mental ‘escape’

Professor Middleton describes abuse by a parent as “soul destroying”. In order to survive psychologically, a child will often dissociate from the abuse.

Compartmentalising memories and feelings can be an effective coping strategy for a child dependent on their abuser, says Pam Stavropoulos, head of research at the Blue Knot Foundation, a national organisation that works with the adult survivors of childhood trauma.

‘I learnt to disappear’

Like a “shattered glass”, three women discuss the myths and challenges of living with Dissociative Identity Disorder.

The extreme and long-lasting nature of ongoing abuse can result in dissociative identity disorder, which on the one hand can shield a victim from being fully aware of the extent of the abuse but can also leave them powerless to break away, Ms Stavropoulos says.

Claire*, 33, describes her dissociation as both her greatest ally and her worst enemy.

“You feel like you’ve keep it so secret that you’ve fooled the world and you’ve fooled yourself,” she says.

In her family, women — her mother and grandmother — have been the primary physical and sexual abusers and she says some of her abuse is ongoing.

“In a way you have freedom, but at the same time you are trapped in a nightmare,” she says.

‘It’s like he’s melted into my flesh’

For many, the attachment to an abuser can be so strong, they lose their own sense of identity.

Kitty, who was abused by her father for more than five decades until his recent death, says she did everything her family said to try to win their love.

“I thought I was some kind of monster because I still love my father,” she says. “It’s like he’s melted into my flesh. I can feel him. He is always here.”

Raquel’s rage grew from her family’s dark past

Four years into my relationship with my new partner, I realised I was continuing a cycle of abuse. I am a survivor of family sexual abuse who was raised by a child molesterer, and I was releasing my rage on the closest person to me, writes Raquel O’Brien.

Mr Salter says the conditioning is difficult to undo, and often leaves a victim vulnerable to “opportunistic abuse” and violent relationships.

“If the primary deep emotional bond that you forge is in the context of pain and fear then that is how you know that you matter,” he says. “It’s how you know that you are being seen by someone.”

Many of those the ABC spoke with were also abused by neighbours or within the church or school system. Others married violent men.

“They don’t have the boundaries that people normally develop,” Mr Salter says, adding that parental abuse could leave them “completely blind to obvious dodgy behaviour because that’s what’s normal for them”.

‘You believe they own your body’

Professor Middleton said premature exposure to sex confuses the mind and the body and leaves a child vulnerable to involuntary sexual responses that perpetrators will frequently manipulate to fuel a sense of shame, convincing them they “want” or “enjoy” the abuse.

For Emma*, violent sexual assaults and beatings at home began when she was five and are continuing more than 40 years later.

“When you are naked, beaten, humiliated and showing physical signs of arousal, it really messes with your head. It messes with your sexuality,” she says.

“Your sense of what is OK and what isn’t becomes really confused. You come to believe that they literally own you and own your body. That you don’t deserve better than this.”

A medical report viewed by ABC shows Emma required a blood transfusion last month after sustaining significant internal tissue damage from a sharp object. The report stated Emma had a history of “multiple similar assaults”.

She said medical staff do want you to get help and sometimes offered to call police.

“What they don’t understand is that for me police are not necessarily a safe option,” she says.

As a teenager she had tried to report to the police, but was sent back home to face the consequences.

She said a “lack of understanding about the dynamics of abuse and the effects of trauma” mean victims rarely get the response and help they need.

While Emma has been unable to escape the abuse, she has made many sacrifices to shelter her children from it. But they still suffer emotionally, she says.

“It makes it hard for anyone who cares about you having to watch you hurt over and over again.”

Incest after marriage and kids

For Graham, it was devastating to find out his wife Cheryl* was being sexually abused by both her parents 10 years into their marriage.

“I had no idea it was going on,” he says, of the abuse that continued even after the birth of their children. “The fight between wanting to kill [her father] and knowing it’s wrong wasn’t fun. I don’t think people know what stress is unless they’ve been faced with something like that.”

With Graham’s support, the family cut contact with his in-laws. He says the fallout of this abuse ripples through society impacting everyone around both the abused and the abuser.

Mr Salter urges anyone suffering abuse to reach out for help, and for those around them to be supportive and non-judgemental.

“You can get out — don’t take no for an answer. Keep fighting until you find someone who is going to help you keep fighting,” he says.

A new life

Sarah met Professor Middleton after a suicide attempt at 14, but it took many years for her to trust and accept that things could change.

“I just couldn’t grasp I was free. It didn’t matter what anyone did,” she says. 

“I still felt overall that my family was in control of me and at any moment they could kill me.”

Through therapy with Professor Middleton — who she spoke of as the only father figure she has ever known — and the support of her friends and partner, Sarah finally broke away from her abusive family to start a new life of her own.

“You need people to help you through it. In the same way that it took other people to cause you the pain, it takes new people to replace them and help you give yourself another go,” she says.

“If I can give hope to one other person out there, then all my years of pain will not have been for nothing.”

*name changed to protect identity

https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-01/family-sex-abuse-survivor-took-rage-out-on-partner/10155992

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Long-term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse (9)

Prevention 

The ideal response to child sexual abuse would be primary prevention strategies aimed at eliminating, or at least reducing, the sexual abuse of children (Tomison, 1995). This review has, however, focused on issues related to the deleterious outcomes linked to child sexual abuse rather than on the characteristics of abusers and the contexts in which abuse is more likely to occur, which are relevant to primary prevention. From the information presented here, the implications are for secondary and tertiary preventive strategies aimed at ameliorating the damage inflicted by abuse, and reducing the subsequent reverberations of that damage. 

Child sexual abuse may be a necessary, but rarely (if ever) a sufficient, cause of adult problems. Child sexual abuse acts in concert with other developmental experiences to leave the growing child with areas of vulnerability. This is a dynamic process at every level, and one in which there are few irremediable absolutes. Abuse is not destiny. It is damaging, and that damage, if not always reparable, is open to amelioration and limitation.

Those who have been abused who subsequently have positive school experiences where they feel themselves to have succeeded academically, socially or at sport, have significantly lower rates of adult difficulties (Romans et al. 1995). Those whose relationship with their parents subsequent to abuse was positive and supportive fared better, and a good relationship with the father appeared to have a strong protective influence regarding subsequent psychopathology (Romans et al. 1995). Even aspects of the parental figures’ relationship to each other seem to have an influence. Expressions of physical affection between parents was associated with better outcomes, and marked domestic disharmony, particularly if associated with violence, added to the damage (Romans et al. 1995; Spaccarelli and Kim 1995). Finally, those who can establish stable and satisfactory intimate relationships as adults have significantly better outcomes. 

There is no reason why a well-organised and funded school system should not provide all children with a positive experience academically, socially or in sport. There is no need to identify and target abuse victims, but simply to make every effort to ensure adolescents have the opportunity to share in the enhanced social opportunities, the increased mastery, and the pleasure of achievement that school should provide at some level to all. 

The encouragement of sport may seem trivial, but it has a protective influence on psychiatric disorders in all adolescents, not just those with histories of child abuse (Romans et al. 1996; Thorlindsson et al. 1990; Simonsick 1991). Similarly in adult life, success in tertiary education and in the workforce is associated with reduced vulnerability to psychiatric problems for the abused and the non-abused alike, but particularly for the abused (Romans et al. 1996).

The secondary preventive strategies of relevance in reducing the impact of child sexual abuse are equally relevant to reducing a wide range of adolescent and adult problems unrelated to abuse. These include improved parental relationships, reduced domestic violence and disharmony, improved school opportunities, work opportunities, better social networks, and better intimate relationships as adults. The list is so familiar as to be platitudinous, but is nonetheless of central importance. 

The model advanced in this paper is of child sexual abuse contributing to developmental disruptions that lay the basis for interpersonal and social problems in adult life. These, in turn, increase the risks of adult psychiatric problems and disorders. If this is correct, then focusing on improving the social and interpersonal difficulties of those with histories of child sexual abuse may be the most effective manner of reducing subsequent psychiatric disorder. 

This argues for tertiary prevention strategies aimed at improving self-esteem, encouraging more effective action in work and recreational pursuits, attempting to overcome sexual difficulties, and working specifically on improving the victim’s social networks and capacities to trust in, and accept, intimacy. This does not imply that established affective disorders or eating disorders should not be treated in their own right, but suggests that focusing on current vulnerabilities and deficits may be more productive than extended archeologies of past abuse in the search of an elusive retrospective mastery. 

Conclusion 

The hypothesis advanced in this paper is that, in most cases, the fundamental damage inflicted by child sexual abuse is to the child’s developing capacities for trust, intimacy, agency and sexuality, and that many of the mental health problems of adult life associated with histories of child sexual abuse are second-order effects. This hypothesis runs counter to the post-traumatic stress disorder model, and suggests different therapeutic strategies and strategies of secondary prevention. 

In practice, both models may be of value. The post-traumatic stress disorder like mechanisms may predominate in the short term, and in those who have been exposed to the grossest form of child sexual abuse. The developmental and social model may carry the weight of causality in the far commoner, but less utterly overwhelming, forms of child sexual abuse. 

References (see Library)

Long-term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse 
by Paul E. Mullen and Jillian Fleming

wwww.aaets.org/article176.htm

GLOBAL Articles …

After reading through the recent WP Articles of Supply and Demand – What about the Truth?, Abuse – Turning a Blind Eye no MoreOfficial: Priest accused of going AWOL & How to Let Go of the Need to Control Others it is noted that the patterns of Child Sexual Abuse is by no means cases of ‘isolated incidents’, ‘sole Predators’ or ‘one-off errors’. In what some have long suspected as an endemic problem, this will also require a common solution. Beyond the Religious basis of Catholicism (where many of these ordeals were hidden; 7% of all Catholic priests in Australia; age at the time of the abuse was 11.5 for boys and 10.5 for girls) , a multi-facetted approach will be needed. Australia’s 5 yr Royal Commission 2013-2017 uncovered many of these ingrained occasions, yet so much more is needed for effective change. It is known that many families of CSA Victims continue to follow their Church beliefs, ahead of acknowledging the wrongful impacts on their targeted child.
Perhaps the ingrained element of Control over our vulnerable stems from Caesar’s control over Rome, Anakin’s/Darth Vader’s control over Resistance (Star Wars), or simply the control dynamics found in many a child’s playground. The 4th Article gives us an outlook of personal stresses with micromanaging our children & spouse. Control of ourselves is a major stage in Dr Perry’s Article, involving personal strengthening stages. There may always be others trying to control us, yet through effective parenting-family-networks light will always be possible.

Familiar? Child sex abuse victim finally speaks out after decades of shame

Thinking back to the times Brett Sengstock was molested as a young boy makes him want to vomit.

Even seeing photos of Frank Houston causes him to breakdown.

After 30 years of silence and shame, Mr Sengstock has finally decided to come forward because he says he is tired of others speaking for him.

Breaking down in Sunday’s night’s 60 Minutes program sharing his horrific story, Mr Sengstock recounted the graphic details about what happened to him starting when he was seven years old.

The predator was Hillsong founder Brian Houston’s father, Frank Houston, a high-profile pastor who used his position of power to sexually abuse young boys.

Decisions around how the matter was handled were made by Brian while he was head of the Pentecostal movement, the Assemblies of God in Australia.

As a young boy, Mr Sengstock said he considered Frank Houston royalty. He was leader of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand and when he visited Mr Sengstock said it was like the Pope coming to town.

He would stay with the Sengstocks when he came to Australia.

“He would come into my room and lay on top off me,” Mr Sengstock said.

“I couldn’t speak. I could not speak. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t push back, I just went rigid and I couldn’t breathe, I was petrified.

“(He would say) ‘You’re my golden boy, and you’re special to me,’ and all these sort of things, which, as an adult now, I look back at, it makes me want to vomit.

“When you do that to a child you murder them, you take everything away from them, there’s nothing left.”

The abuse continued until Mr Sengstock was 12 but at 16 he finally decided to tell his mother what had happened. He was shattered by her response.

In a statement on its website, the Hillsong Church said Brian Houston “acknowledges the inexcusable crimes committed against” Mr Sengstock.

“It is misleading that the report failed to mention the many who knew about this issue before it came to (Brian Houston’s) attention,” the statement said.

“Pastor Brian was the one who actually took action when he learned of it as evidenced to by the transcripts of the royal commission readily accessible to the public.

“From the day Frank Houston was confronted by Pastor Brian, he never preached again.”

He became emotional when recounting the sexual abuse he received from Frank Houston. Picture: Channel 9

“She turned around and said to me that you don’t want to send people to hell, and stop sending them to the church,” he said.

When his mother finally revealed what happened 20 years later, without telling him, the matter was “quietly” dealt with.

Frank Houston confessed and paid Mr Sengstock $12,000 for his forgiveness.

The matter was never reported to the police, even when Brian Houston found out about his father’s actions in 1999.

Frank Houston died in 2004. Many didn’t know of his actions until Mr Sengstock spoke to the Royal Commission into child sex abuse in 2014.

Brian said he believed it should have been up to Mr Sengstock to report his father to the police when he first found out about his father’s paedophilia.

Frank’s son Brian spoke to the royal commission into child sex abuse. Picture: Channel 9

The church did strip Frank Houston of his credentials and he retired on a pension with no one the wiser.

It was not until a letter to church members in 2001 that they suspected something serious had taken place.

In the letter the church described his acts as a “serious moral failure”. They would later learn they were criminal acts.

In interviews during the commission, Brian said he “didn’t have any doubt that it was criminal conduct”.

“Rightly or wrongly, I genuinely believed that I would be pre-empting the victim if I were to just call the police at that point”.

After the Royal Commission Mr Sengstock sought compensation, but was not successful because he could not prove the Assemblies of God in Australia was responsible for Frank when the abuse happened.

REFERENCED: https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/child-sex-abuse-victim-finally-speaks-out-after-decades-of-shame/news-story/ecaab6cdf6e38deeb3d4fe31025d14f7