I am speaking out to expose the ignorance, denial and lack of national concern about keeping child abusers, most of whom are family members or acquaintances, away from children. I have lived every aspect of child abuse my entire life. I was isolated and mentally, emotionally, physically, and sexually abused throughout my entire childhood as well as suffered severe neglect. Most of the time whenever I tried to talk to people about my abuse, I usually got the same two responses. They were either: “That happened a long time ago. Get over it.” Or, “Why didn’t you tell someone?”
I will attempt to answer those two questions with the hope that the American public will get personally involved in their own families and communities to stop the traumatization of children. First let me give you a few facts.
FACT: 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will be sexually assaulted in the United States before they reach the age of 18. 1
FACT: The rate of child abuse and neglect is 10 times as high (40 children per 1,000 children per year) as the incidence rate for all forms of cancer combined (3.9 individuals per thousand individuals per year). 2
I am speaking out as one of those statistics. I was one of those little girls, and no one helped me.
I am speaking out because this behavior is sickening, pervasive, and ignored by the general public even though our government is fully aware of the magnitude of the problem. The United States Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect concluded 19 years ago that child abuse and neglect in the United States now represents a national emergency.3
While this has been communicated within the government and the psychiatric communities, where are the public service announcements about these millions of cases of child abuse and neglect? Our government has been glaringly absent in informing the public. It is almost as if they want to keep it a secret too.
Let’s talk about “Why didn’t I tell someone?” Picture yourself as a child living with a mother who never held you or comforted you in any way. Now imagine having a father in the military who went away for long periods of time, and when he came home, he physically hurt you and sexually molested you. Add to this picture the fact that you moved from town to town about every six months all over the United States, so you never had any friends or anyone to talk to. Focus on the fact that no one on television, on the radio, in church, at school, your neighbors, or any family member ever mentioned the words “child abuse.” Now imagine growing up knowing that any show of emotion would mean punishment, further neglect, and the threat of abandonment.
That is how I grew up the first 21 years of my life. By the time I graduated from high school, I had gone to 16 schools and had traveled over 31,000 miles. What I grew up hearing from the two people I was supposed to trust the most, my mother and father, were: “Don’t you open your mouth!” and “It’s okay to tell me you like it (his sexual behavior).” By having you form this image of my childhood, I’m allowing you to see a glimpse of the emotional pain I kept hidden all those years. I formed a steel wall in my head to prevent me from feeling the humiliation and degradation I experienced as a child. I grew up starved for attention, but underneath it all was explosive rage.
Let’s now talk about “Get over it.” Growing up in my concentration camp environment, my #1 goal was to survive. To feel was to die. I was my mother’s hate object and my father’s sexual object. I was a receptacle for him and a scapegoat for her. I had to teach myself to completely ignore the day-to-day and sometimes hour-to-hour brutality. It got worse as I got older. I had to adapt to being raped by my father.
During my 23 years in therapy and 5 hospitalizations, I had to unseal my emotions and express my unbridled rage I had kept as a secret. I had to learn I have a right to my feelings and having boundaries with people is healthy. This was an excruciatingly painful learning experience.
The battered, bruised, deprived and terrorized child in me had been locked in a closet psychologically for a long time for a crime she never committed. It was assumed that as I became an adult, all memory of my abuse would be forgiven and swept under the rug.
I will never get over it, but I’ve learned to live with it.
This connection between abusive, parental control at a child’s expense is criminal and pervasive in our culture. I hope I have given you reason to pause about what you are doing with the children you know and to think about all the children that are still going through what I did.
1 http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/ace/prevalence.htm ACE Study - Prevalence - Adverse Childhood Experiences
2 Child Welfare League of America, “Testimony submitted to the House Subcommittee on Select Education of the Committee on Education and the Workforce for the hearing on CAPTA: Successes and Failures at Preventing Child Abuse, August 2, 2001
3 “Protecting Children from Abuse and Neglect, Foundations for a New National Strategy,” Edited by Gary B. Melton and Frank D. Barry, 1994