When children are abused, they begin to question themselves and their world because it destroys two essential beliefs:
- Their sense of trust, and
- Their sense of control over their lives.
Most victims must deal with the physical and emotional shockwaves of what happened, but also with the sense of helplessness, powerlessness, and a loss of control – not to mention the fact that most perpetrators are the victim’s own parents or caretakers!
Unlike the common response when victims are attacked by strangers—which is to retreat into a childlike state, and when the immediate danger has passed, to turn to an authority figure for help like a police officer or nurse—the child abuse victim lives with the perpetrator(s) and thus is silenced and receives no care. This is part of what makes child abuse so heinous.
What would help children and adult survivors is that when they finally do tell someone, the person hearing about the abuse should react in a normal fashion. That is, that the child’s or survivor’s reactions of anger, fear, frustration, guilt, and grief are normal for what they experienced. Anyone would react that way to a criminal act against their bodies. And yet, sadly, that is not the response the child or survivor receives. Instead, they are made to feel like something is wrong with them, the victims, instead of holding the perpetrators accountable.
Instead of blaming the victim, it is more helpful to say things like:
- “You are safe now.”
- “It wasn’t your fault.”
- “You didn’t deserve what happened to you.”
In her book, “Trauma and Recovery”, Dr. Judith Herman states, “People who have endured horrible events suffer predictable psychological harm. There is a spectrum of traumatic disorders, ranging from the effects of a single overwhelming event to the more complicated effects of prolonged and repeated abuse. Established diagnostic concepts, especially the severe personality disorders diagnosed in women, have generally failed to recognize the impact of victimization.” So have most Americans who have been lucky enough not to have been abused as children.”
Dealing with child abuse trauma means that survivors have to come face-to-face with the knowledge of the evil perpetrated against them. The sad reality is that the American public doesn’t want to know or doesn’t care about this unspeakable truth that exists for tens of millions of survivors. By speaking and writing publicly about America’s denial and lack of support for survivors, I am trying to turn that behavior around. We have to start a dialogue and to support all survivors who work very hard to recover. I am committed to doing just that.