There’s a bunch of things you shouldn’t say to an abuse survivor, but the biggest no-no is insisting they need to forgive their abuser in order to move forward.
Forgiveness is healthy. It doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation or condoning what happened. PsychologyToday.com defines forgiveness as the release of resentment or anger and describes it as “vitally important for the mental health of those who have been victimized.”
However, forgiveness is a process. And how someone navigates this journey is deeply personal to them. They have to do it in their way and their time. And sometimes, forgiveness is not what someone needs to do in order to heal. Insisting that forgiveness is the only way they can move on it extremely damaging.
I have tried to forgive my parents. But I can’t. It’s very hard to forgive people who show no remorse. If I am ever going to forgive them, I need time. And when people tell me to let go of my anger, it negatively impacts my mental health. You can’t just let go of emotions if you don’t experience them first. It’s unreasonable to ask someone to detach from something you never gave them the space to attach to in the first place.
When I am told to let go of my anger, I bottle it up to please people. The anger gets worse and I engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms. These behaviours are what people think I will engage in if I allow myself to be angry. But in reality, bottling up negative emotions is what leads to acting out and self-sabotage.
Anger is not a bad emotion. It is something everyone experiences. It can be expressed in unhealthy ways, and that is often what happens when survivors are told to “forgive” and “let go of their anger”. The anger isn’t being allowed to be expressed, so it has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, it is often directed towards the survivor themselves.
There are links between being a survivor of child abuse and developing addictions. In a report by the National Institute of Health, it was found that more than a third of teenagers who have experienced abuse will have a substance misuse disorder before their eighteenth birthday.
This anger is also directed at other people, with survivors being more at risk of committing crimes.
“…participants with histories of childhood physical and emotional abuse further showed that female participants were more likely to exhibit internalizing problems such as depression, social withdrawal, and anxiety during middle childhood, which in turn increased the risk of adult crime. In contrast, male participants were more likely to exhibit externalizing behavioral problems, such as aggression, hostility, and delinquency during middle childhood, which subsequently led to adult criminal behavior.”
These behaviour appear to be what people fear the survivor will display if they express their anger. And I believe the advice to forgive and let go of anger is usually well-meaning. However, survivors like me have been given that advice since forever. And since forever, survivors like me have not been given the space to address and understand this anger, which leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
The only way we can truly let go and be free is by having the support to experience our anger. And that’s okay because anger can be experienced in a constructive way. Matthew Tull PhD of VeryWellMind describes anger as a valid emotion that pushes us to express what we need. He gives tips on how to channel this anger constructively, so others hear what you need rather than just hearing that you are angry.
I believe a survivor’s reaction shouldn’t be policed. It’s hard to express anger constructively when you are experiencing pain you have been keeping a secret for so long. Sometimes, a survivor will need to explode and express anger in ways that make you uncomfortable before they can learn to channel it in healthy ways.
Cutting short this healing process with assertions that the survivor needs to let go of this anger is retraumatising. For so long they will have been punished for expressing negative emotions in response to what has happened to them. If I cried or showed I was struggling to cope with how my parents were treating me, they would punish me more. So when I say I am angry with them, it hurts me deeply when someone tells me I shouldn’t be.
If we really care about survivors, we need to support them even if we don’t understand their journey. They have made it this far, so we need to trust they will continue to heal. But they need to do this in their way. And if they cannot forgive their abusers and let go of their anger, that needs to be accepted.
I would argue that my anger and inability to forgive are what helps me to move forward. If I didn’t have these feelings, I would most likely reconcile with my parents and get trapped in the cycle of abuse again. This anger is because I care about myself now. I understand I deserve better. I understand it wasn’t my fault now.
A survivor has most likely been controlled for the entirety of their childhood by people who were supposed to care about them. As people who are supposed to care about them too, please don’t control how they heal from their abuse. Be part of them achieving the freedom they have always been deprived of.
The Catholic Church paid $276 million to victims of alleged sex abuse committed by priests in Australia over decades, an investigation says.
Critics say the system of payments is unfair and not all victims receive the same opportunities or compensation.
Since 2013, the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been holding hearings on alleged Catholic Church sex abuse of children – mostly boys.
“Catholic Church authorities made total payments of [AU]$276.1 million [US$213million] in response to claims of child sexual abuse received between 1 January 1980 and 28 February 2015, including monetary compensation, treatment, legal and other costs,” the statement from the commission said on Thursday.
On average, sex abuse victims received AU$91,000 in compensation, it stated.
The Christian Brothers religious community “reported both the highest total payment and the largest number of total payments $48.5 million paid in relation to 763 payments at an average of approximately $64,000 per payment,” the document said.
The report added that the Jesuits “had the highest average total payment at an average of approximately $257,000 per payment (of those Catholic Church authorities who made at least 10 payments).”
“Even though the church has paid $270 million and it took a long time to get its act together to do that, there’s no doubt the system of paying people and compensating them is best done independently of the church through a national redress scheme,”the Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council chief executive, Francis Sullivan, told AAP.
Sullivan said that not all victims have equal opportunities or compensation.
“Some congregations pay far more than others. Some dioceses pay far more than others. It’s still not a fair system,” he added.
It’s a picture of great unfairness and inequity between survivors across Australia depending on where they placed their claim,” Helen Last, CEO of In Good Faith Foundation, which represents 460 abuse victims, told Reuters.
The commission was established in 2013 to investigate instances and allegations of child sexual abuse in Australia. This month’s report says that between January 1980 and February 2015, 93 Catholic Church authorities received claims of child sexual abuse from 4,445 people.
It managed to identify 1,880 alleged perpetrators, who included 597 (32 percent) ‘religious brothers,’572 (30 percent) priests, 543 (29 percent) lay people, and 96 (5 percent) ‘religious sisters.’ At least 90 percent of the alleged perpetrators were male, according to the report.
Sexual abuse scandals have long dogged the Catholic Church. In 2014, the Vatican said 3,420 credible accusations of sexual abuse committed by priests had been referred to it over the past 10 years, and that 824 clerics were defrocked as a result.
In January, Pope Francis called for “zero tolerance”towards sex crimes against children, and condemned it as “a sin that shames” both the perpetrators and those who cover up for their crimes.
Today’s the day! Although the victim of a childhood full of ingrained occasions of #childabuse (through institutions of church-school-family) another Supervised Occassion involved ‘upgrades(?)’ to previously denied instances. This time round, after expected “memory losses”, the father admitted to remembering that some of these moments had been exchanged, yet had been ignored as simply “unbelievable childhood stories”.
Intriguingly, these same scenario had been raised in multiple Counselling calls, fore-planning an effective way to deal with them. Denial, Blame-shifting + Dismissal were included – along with a regular threat of ‘violence’ (in his ‘coping strategy’!). Counselling, for the parents had also been raised – in coping with the ‘Institutional grooming’, occurring amongst various groups.
Family + reconnection …
Family contact may occur, in the midst of #childabuse #counselling. However, when the unknown parent disagrees with the losses of the child (victim), not much is gained in a reconnection.
21 October 2020 This newsletter gives an update on the National Redress Scheme (the Scheme). It covers the launch of new Scheme resources, a second anniversary review update and recent data.
The update contains material that could be confronting or distressing. Sometimes words or images can cause sadness or distress or trigger traumatic memories, particularly for people who have experienced past abuse or childhood trauma.
The Australian Government is committed to continually improving the Scheme for survivors.
Announced in the 2020-21 Budget, a further $104.6 million will be invested in the Scheme to improve and stabilise the operation of the Scheme and better support survivors to ensure the Scheme meets their expectations.
Redress Support Services play a critical role in providing timely, trauma-informed and culturally appropriate support to survivors. This includes providing emotional support for survivors, as well as practical support to complete an application and interact with the Scheme.
The department is aware that several Redress Support Services are experiencing increased demand. This funding will minimise the number of people applying without support and ensure that appropriate assistance is available to survivors.
The Scheme is continuously working with institutions that have been named in applications or identified by other means to encourage them to join and participate in the Scheme. To date the Commonwealth, all state and territory governments and 288 non-government institutions covering around 53,300 sites such as churches, schools, homes, charities and community groups across Australia are participating.
A further 117 institutions have committed to join and finalise on-boarding by no later than 31 December 2020.
The National Redress Scheme review is seeking responses from survivors and support services, carers and advocates to a feedback study on experiences with the Scheme and especially with the application process.
The findings from this study will inform the findings of the review and are therefore very significant. The study is being conducted by the University of New South Wales and is confidential. The review needs your input to inform its findings and recommendations to improve the operation of the Scheme. There is one for survivors and the second is for survivor supports including advocates, carers, family members and support services. Please have your say. The study is open until 23 October 2020 and links to the study are as follows:
The tragedy of child abuse and neglect is in the forefront of public attention. Yet, without a conceptual framework, research in this area has been highly fragmented. Understanding the broad dimensions of this crisis has suffered as a result.[read full description]
Long suspected throughout many CSA Victims’ childhoods, in 2018 Scientific Alert published the following article on the proven-identified link: “Scientists Have Found a Strong Link Between a Terrible Childhood And Being Intensely Creative”. Opening with ‘exposure to abuse, neglect or a dysfunctional family’ throughout a victim’s childhood, expands to join together how these impacts have a clear linkage. Complemented through Counselling and verifying some Victims’ long-held suspicions, this Article gives another (Scientific/Journalistic) POV – which may also satisfy those of us who often felt disbelieved, palmed-away or ignored. We knew what we were/had survived; we just didn’t know how to word, or should I say ‘Scientifically categorise’ what we ‘endured’! … WTF ?!!!… we were only young, innocent kids at their time: the perfect hunting ground, for these Criminal-Pedophilic-Dirty-(typically)-Senior/Old-(WO)-Men.
I apologise for going off on an emotional-outburst, yet this is a toned-down form of many of the conversations had with Victims, Parents and Relations; Thankfully, their mutual aim is to protect this triggering news from younger Siblings; As horrifying as this possibility is to consider, perhaps this is (another) layer of defence which the Criminal-Pedophilic-Dirty-(typically)-Senior/Old-(WO)-Men know of + exploit. Having (naturally?) always having entered the Arts, this Article gives many reasons and answers questions, yet more interests may be shown. Perhaps this is an underlying advantage of Creativity, yet CSA Survivours I’ve spent any time with each have their own ‘checklists’ to work through. At this point, I’ll aim to re-publish the complete Article ASAP, in addition to again providing the Private + Confidential Counsellors. Of great interest, is the amount of focus I am working through with my Counsellor on the “minor and inconsiderate” events, which are actually mounting up to explain the devastating impact which may result.
Hopes are that each of you, your loved ones and each of our ecosystems copes alright throughout this COVID19 Pandemic.
As the recent HBO documentary Leaving Neverlandso powerfully demonstrated, many adults have yet to tell anyone that they were sexually abused as a child—not their partners, not their friends, not their family members, not even their therapists. Many of us are familiar with the reasons why children do not come forward to report child sexual abuse, but many don’t understand why adults continue to carry this secret, sometimes to their graves. I have been counseling adult victims of child sexual abuse for the past 35 years. In this article, I’ll discuss many of the reasons why some adults continue to keep silent when it comes to being a victim of child sexual abuse.
Many former victims of child sexual abuse are confused as to whether they were, in fact, sexually abused. This can be due to a lack of understanding as to what constitutes sexual abuse, because many people are misinformed as to what child sexual abuse actually is. For example, many people think of childhood sexual abuse as an adult having intercourse with a child—penetration of a penis inside a vagina or in the case of male on male sexual abuse, a male penetrating the child’s anus. But most childhood sexual abuse does not involve intercourse. Also, many people think of childhood sexual abuse as being an adult molesting a child. But childhood sexual abuse also includes an older child molesting a younger child. Child sexual abuse includes any contact between an adult and a child or an older child and a younger child for the purposes of sexual stimulation that results in sexual gratification for the older person. This can range from non-touching offenses, such as exhibitionism and showing child pornography, to fondling and oral sex, to penetration and child prostitution.
As the young men in Leaving Neverland explained, they did not realize that they had been sexually abused until they were in their thirties. Instead, they considered what allegedly occurred between themselves and Michael Jackson as a love affair in which they consented to all the activities that occurred. This kind of thinking is common for former victims of child sexual abuse. It wasn’t until one of the young men had a child of his own that he came to realize what had happened to him. When he thought of someone doing to his son what had been done to him, it suddenly dawned on him that he had been abused. “I’d kill anyone who did that to my son. Why didn’t I feel anything when I thought about what Michael did to me?” the young man shared. This lack of awareness and the inability to connect with and have empathy for themselves as a child is not uncommon in former victims of child sexual abuse.
Another issue that may add to the confusion is the issue of receiving pleasure. Although there is often physical pain involved with child sexual abuse, that isn’t always the case. For some victims, there is no physical pain at all. And victims have often reported experiencing some physical pleasure, even with the most violent and sadistic types of sexual abuse. This confuses victims, causing them to believe that perhaps they gave consent or may have even instigated the sexual involvement. The reasoning goes like this, “If my body responded (through a pleasurable sensation, an orgasm, an erection) it must mean that I wanted it.”
It is very important to understand that experiencing physical pleasure does not signify consent. Our bodies are created to respond to physical touch, no matter who is doing the touching. And many victims of abuse were so deprived of affection that they spontaneously accept and respond to any physical attention, no matter what its source.
Another reason why many question whether they were really abused is that they may not have a clear memory of what happened. They may have only vague memories or no memories at all, just a strong suspicion based on their feelings and perhaps their symptoms. It’s difficult to believe your feelings when you have no or very few actual memories. Some people will even doubt the memories they do have, fearing that “I’m just imagining” or “I’m making this up.”
One reason why someone may have no memories or vague memories is the common practice of victims to dissociate. Dissociation is a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, and actions, and sense of who he or she is. This is a normal phenomenon that everyone has experienced. Examples of mild, normal dissociation include daydreaming, “highway hypnosis,” or getting lost in a book or movie, all of which involve losing touch with an awareness of one’s immediate surroundings.
During traumatic experiences such as crime, victimization, abuse, accidents, and other disasters, dissociation can help a person tolerate something that might otherwise be too difficult to bear. In situations like these, the person may dissociate the memory from the place, circumstances, and feelings caused by the overwhelming event, mentally escaping from the fear, pain, and horror of the event.
When faced with an overwhelming situation from which there is no physical escape, a child may learn to “go away” in her head. Children typically use this ability as a defense against physical and emotional pain or fear of that pain. For example, when a child is being sexually abused, in order to protect herself from the repeated invasion of her deepest inner self she may turn off the connection between her mind and her body creating the sensation of “leaving one’s body.” This common defense mechanism helps the victim to survive the assault by numbing herself or otherwise separating herself from the trauma occurring to the body. In this way, although the child’s body is being violated, the child does not have to actually “feel” what is happening to her. Many victims have described this situation as “being up on the ceiling, looking down on my own body” as the abuse occurred. It is as though the abuse is not happening to them as a person but just to their body.
While dissociation helps the victim to survive the violation, it can make it difficult to later remember the details of the experience. This can create problems when it comes to a victim coming to terms with whether or not they were actually abused. If you were not in your body when the abuse occurred, it will naturally affect your memory. You won’t “remember” the physical sensations of what the abuser did to your body or what you were made to do to the abuser’s body. This can cause you to doubt your memory and add to the tendency to deny what occurred.
Sometimes the reason victims don’t have clear memories of the abuse is that they were drugged or plied with alcohol by the abuser. It’s rather common for perpetrators to sedate their victims with alcohol or drugs as a way of gaining control over them and of ensuring that they will not tell anyone about the abuse. Victims who were sedated often describe their memories as “fuzzy” or have only short “snapshots” of memories that they may have a difficult time making sense of.
Some victims of child sexual abuse deny that they were abused, others deny that it caused them any harm, while still others deny that they need help. There are many reasons for denial. One of the most significant is that victims don’t want to face the pain, fear, and shame that comes with admitting that they were sexually abused.
Like dissociation, denial is a defense mechanism designed to prevent us from facing things that are too painful to face at the time. It can even allow us to block out or “forget” intense pain caused by emotional or physical trauma such as childhood sexual abuse. But denial can also prevent us from facing the truth and can continue way past the time when it served a positive function. This is what my former client Natasha shared with me: “I knew for a long time before admitting it in here that I was abused by my grandfather. But I just couldn’t face it. It was just too painful to admit to myself that someone I loved so much and someone who had been so kind to me could also do such vile things to me. And so I pretended it never happened.”
Another reason some people deny that they were sexually abused is that it forces them to admit that they became abusive themselves as a consequence of having been abused. If a former victim went on to abuse other children he may have an investment in believing that children are never really “forced or manipulated” into sex with an adult or older child. He may convince himself that children do so willingly and that they get pleasure from the abuse. This kind of denial often keeps former victims from admitting that they themselves were abused.article continues after advertisementnull
There are many legitimate reasons that former victims are afraid to tell someone they were sexually abused, even as adults. These include:
Their perpetrator threatened them. It is common for child molesters to threaten to kill their victims if they tell or to kill family members or pets. Even though being afraid of their perpetrator after becoming an adult may not make any logical sense, it is very common for former victims to continue to fear their abuser.
They are afraid they will not be believed. This fear is especially potent when a former victim has had the experience of not being believed in the past. And often, the belief that they will not be believed often comes from the perpetrator telling them things like, “No one will believe you if you do tell.”
They are afraid of the consequences once the secret is out. such as family disruption or violence. Some former victims fear that if they tell a family member about being abused, that person will become enraged and perhaps become violent toward the perpetrator.
Any time someone is victimized, he or she will feel shame because they feel helpless and this feeling of helplessness causes the victim to feel humiliated. There is also the shame that comes when a child’s body is invaded in such an intimate way by an adult. Add to this the shame associated with being involved with something that the child knows is taboo. Sometimes a child also feels shame when her body “betrays” her by responding to the touch of the perpetrator.
This overwhelming feeling of shame often causes a former victim to feel compelled to keep the secret of the abuse because he or she feels so bad, dirty, damaged, or corrupted. The feeling of shame can be one of the most powerful deterrents to a victim disclosing having been abused. This is what one former client shared with me about her shame about being abused: “I didn’t tell anyone when my drama teacher started abusing me because I felt so humiliated that I didn’t want anyone else to know about it. I felt disgusting, the lowest of the low. I guess most of all I felt so much shame about the things he did to me and made me do to him that I didn’t feel I deserved to be helped.”
Self-blame is another major reason why victims keep their secret. Victims tend to blame themselves for the abuse they suffered, especially when it is a parent who sexually abused them. Children want to feel loved and accepted by their parents and because of this, they will make up all kinds of excuses for a parent’s behavior, even if that behavior is abusive. Most often children blame themselves for “causing” their parent to abuse them. Why? Because children naturally tend to be egocentric—that is, they assume that they themselves are the cause of everything. Needing to protect their attachment to their parents magnifies this tendency.
Perpetrators take advantage of a child’s tendency to blame themselves by telling the child it was their fault. They shouldn’t have sat in his lap the way they did. They shouldn’t have looked at him the way they did. They shouldn’t have dressed the way they did.
We as humans have a need to maintain a sense of control over our lives, even when we have lost control, as in the case of child sexual abuse. As a way of maintaining a false sense of control, many victims will blame themselves for their abuse. This occurs both in children at the time of their abuse as well as with adults who are still struggling with admitting they were abused in childhood. The unconscious reasoning goes like this: “If I continue to believe it was my own fault, that I brought this on myself, I can still be in control. I don’t have to face the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness that comes with being victimized. I can maintain my sense of dignity and avoid feeling humiliated.”
Sometimes victims blame themselves for the abuse because they hold the perpetrator in such high esteem. They couldn’t imagine that this respected person would do such a thing to them unless they had somehow encouraged it in some way. This was the situation with my former client Gabriel. Coming from a devout Catholic family, Gabriel became an altar boy when he was 9 years old. Like the rest of the parishioners, Gabriel adored the priest. That is why it was particularly shocking to Gabriel when one day the priest asked him to stay after mass and then sexually molested him.
Gabriel could not comprehend what the priest had done. He knew that what had happened was a sin and that priests were not supposed to be sexual. So in order to make sense of what had happened, he simply blamed himself. Somehow, he decided, he must have seduced the priest. He even believed that since he had begun to masturbate a few months earlier, the priest must have known about this and was punishing him or teaching him a lesson.
Finally, another reason victims tend to blame themselves is our culture’s tendency to blame the victim. “Victim” has become a dirty word in our culture, where victims are often blamed and even shamed. There are even spiritual beliefs that hold that if something bad happens to you it is because of your own negative thoughts or attitudes. Cultural influences like this serve to blame victims rather than encourage a self-compassionate acknowledgment of suffering. Former victims of sexual abuse as members of this culture accept this view, often without question.
A Need to Protect the Perpetrator
As evidenced by the behavior and thinking of the two young men in the Leaving Neverland documentary, some former victims still care about the perpetrator and want to protect him or her. In addition, as part of the grooming process, perpetrators work to separate the child or adolescent from their parents and their peers, typically fostering in the child a sense that he or she is special to the offender and giving a kind of attention or love to the child that he or she needs. Sometimes, the initial relationship of trust between a child and an adult or older child transforms so gradually into one of sexual exploitation that the child barely notices it. Between the time when the attention a child is receiving seems to be something positive in the child’s life and the moment when the sexual abuse begins, something significant has occurred. But the child may not be sure what it was and often remains confused about the person who has been significant to him but has now begun to abuse him. They can be plagued with questions such as: “Does he really love me?” and “Could I have caused these things to happen?”
For many former victims, it is only after months or even years of therapybefore they develop enough trust in someone to tell their secret. Unfortunately, for various reasons, many former victims never make it to a therapist, even as adults.
If you are one of the many people who continue to carry the secret of childhood sexual abuse, it is vital that you break your silence. Even though it is difficult to reach the point where you can finally tell someone, this dark secret can make you sick, emotionally, psychologically, even physically. It can eat at you from inside, draining you of vital energy and good health.
The secret of child sexual abuse is especially shaming. It can make you feel like there is something seriously wrong with you; that you are inferior or worthless. You want to hide for fear of your secret being exposed. You don’t want to look other people in the eye for fear that they will discover who you really are and what you have done. You don’t want people to get too close for fear of them finding out your dark secret. And to make matters worse, carrying around this secret isolates you from other people. It makes you feel different from others. It makes you feel alone.
There is already a tremendous amount of darkness connected to child sexual abuse: the clandestine, sinister way it is accomplished, the manipulation and dishonesty surrounding it, the lies and deception used to keep it a secret, the darkness and pain surrounding the violation of a child’s most intimate parts of his or her body, and the violation of the child’s integrity. Keeping the abuse a secret adds darkness to an already dark and sinister act.
When you don’t share the secret of child sexual abuse, you don’t have the opportunity to receive the support, understanding, and healing that you so need and deserve. You continue to feel alone and to blame yourself. You continue to be overwhelmed with fear and shame.
I urge anyone who is still struggling because they can’t tell anyone about their victimization to seek counseling.
Improving health and wellbeing with adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
Yes, our RCbbc Blog has signed their Policy Statement & as such, we’ll be Sharing much of our parallel beliefs. Starting with the logo + goal.
Our goal is simple: we want to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
At Visible, we are a catalyst for health and social care services system change across Leeds and beyond. We encourage, shape and instigate this change, using the experience of survivors to influence every aspect of the way we work.
Throughout the counselling I am regularly receiving, something which often gets raised is that although there’s quite a list of TYPES of child sexual abuse:
emotional or mental abuse, and
sexual abuse and includes signs, symptoms, and behavioral indicators of abuse.
There may be other TYPES, yet this is just a small example of where ‘traditional’ understanding clashes with the actual impact, victims try to live with, 247, also coping with COVID-19, trying to deal with Climate Change …
According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics for 2006, approximately 905,000 U.S. children were found to have been maltreated that year, with 16% of them reported as physically abused (the remainder having suffered sexual abuse or neglect.)1 In other studies, it’s been noted that approximately 14-43% of children have experienced at least one traumatic abusive event prior to adulthood.2 And according to The American Humane Association (AHA), an estimated 1,460 children died in 2005 of abuse and neglect.3
The AHA defines physical child abuse as “non-accidental trauma or physical injury caused by punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning or otherwise harming a child.”3 However, it can be challenging to draw the line between physical discipline and child abuse. When does corporal punishment cease to be a style of parenting and become an abusive behavior that is potentially traumatizing for its child victims in the long-term?
A recent episode of the popular television show Dr. Phil featured a woman whose extreme disciplinarian tactics later resulted in her arrest and prosecution for child abuse. A featured video showed her forcing her young adopted son to hold hot sauce in his mouth and take a cold shower as punishment for lying. Audience members were horrified—as was Dr. Phil—but the woman insisted that she couldn’t find a better way to control her child. Many child abusers are not aware when their behavior becomes harmful to a child or how to deal with their own overwhelm before they lose their tempers.
At its core, any type of abuse of children constitutes exploitation of the child’s dependence on and attachment to the parent.
Another therapeutic term that is used in conjunction with child abuse is “interpersonal victimization.” According to the book Childhood victimization: violence, crime, and abuse in the lives of young people by David Finkelhor, interpersonal victimization can be defined as “…harm that comes to individuals because other human[s] have behaved in ways that violate social norms.”5 This sets all forms of abuse apart from other types of trauma-causing-victimization like illness, accidents, and natural disasters.
Finkelhor goes on to explain: “Child victimizations do not fit neatly into conventional crime categories. While children suffer all the crimes that adults do, many of the violent and deviant behaviors engaged in by human[s] to harm children have ambiguous status as crimes. The physical abuse of children, although technically criminal, is not frequently prosecuted and is generally handled by social-control agencies other than the police and criminal courts. “5
What happens to abused children?
In some cases—depending on the number of reports made, the severity of the abuse, and the available community resources—children may be separated from their parents and grow up in group homes or foster care situations, where further abuse can happen either at the hands of other abused children who are simply perpetuating a familiar patterns or the foster parents themselves. In 2004, 517,000 children were living in foster homes, and in 2005, a fifth of reported child abuse victims were taken out of their homes after child maltreatment investigations.6 Sometimes, children do go back to their parents after being taken away, but these statistics are slim. It’s easy to imagine that foster care and group home situations, while they may ease the incidence of abuse in a child’s life, can lead to further types of alienation and trauma.
For children that have suffered from abuse, it can be complex getting to the root of childhood trauma in order to alleviate later symptoms as adults. The question is, how does child abuse turn into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder later in life? What are the circumstances that cause this to happen in some cases and not others?
Statistics show that females are much more likely than males to develop PTSD as a result of experiencing child abuse. Other factors that help determine whether a child victim will develop PTSD include:7
The degree of perceived personal threat.
The developmental state of the child: Some professionals surmise that younger children, because they are less likely to intellectually understand and interpret the effects of a traumatic situation, may be less at risk for long-term PTSD).
The relationship of the victim to the perpetrator.
The level of support the victim has in his day-to-day life as well as the response of the caregiver(s).
Guilt: A feeling of responsibility for the attack (“I deserve it”) is thought to exacerbate the changes of PTSD.
Resilience: the innate ability to cope of the individual.
The child’s short-term response to abuse: For instance, an elevated heart rate post-abuse has been documented as increasing the likelihood that the victim will be later suffer from PTSD.
Carolyn Knight wrote a book called Working With Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma that states: “Trauma, by definition, is the result of exposure to an inescapably stressful event that overwhelms a person’s coping mechanisms.”6 She points out that an important aspect of an event (or pattern of events) is that it exceeds the victim’s ability to cope and is therefore overwhelming. A child should not have to cope with abuse, and when abuse occurs, a child is not equipped psychologically to process it. The adults in their lives are meant to be role models on how to regulate emotions and provide a safe environment.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, some of the particular symptoms of child PTSD include:8
Frequent memories and/or talk of the traumatic event(s)
Once a child has grown to be an adult, however, symptoms of PTSD can become more subtle as he or she learns how to cope with this in day-to-day life. The symptoms of PTSD can be quite general and can mimic other disorders: depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, problems with alcohol and drugs, sleep issues, and eating disorders are just a few. Many have problems in their relationships and trusting another person again. Many even end up in abusive relationships and find themselves re-enacting the past.
Community support is a vital tool in preventing child abuse and the PTSD that can result from it. If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from child abuse, please report it to your local Child Protection Services — or the police, if a child is in immediate danger. The longer that abuse continues, the higher the risk of causing severe symptoms.
If you or a loved one may be suffering from delayed effects of trauma due to childhood abuse, I encourage you to make a therapyappointment with someone who specializes in trauma and who can put you on a path of healing.
1 Child Maltreatment 2006. Washington DC: US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children Youth and Families Children’s Bureau; 2008. 1-194