So many opinions are callously and judgmentally tossed out as facts. But how many victims silently feel those opinions as arrows through the heart?
If we want to make this world a better place, we can and should challenge social issues that are frozen in time. When a delicate issue comes up, may we all be mindful of what we
say and do. May we let our words and deeds be beneficial and not stupid, knee jerk comments appealing to the popular line of the day.
It takes real study and a willingness to delve into long held beliefs to gain an educated understanding of delicate issues. One of the latest issues that is bouncing around on our popular media is the very tragic and soul-stealing experience of childhood sexual abuse. It is time for us all to lift the veil off of sexual abuse because it has horrific consequences for the abused and the abuser. Few are willing to know the deep struggle of living life’s traumas and how to grow beyond them.
People who have been sexually abused truly need the help of others but that help should be from those who understand what it is to have endured trauma, or who, at least, are kind and do not judge. The statistics are high for abuse. 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys have been sexually abused by the time they are 18 according to The National Center of Victims of Crime. That is a lot of people carrying around trauma and a lot of people causing trauma.
The latest studies on post-traumatic stress say that children who are continually abused by one or many people in their home (most abusers are relatives or friends of the family, but many are family members) suffer degrees of trauma measurably greater and more complex than those suffering severe attacks as an adult or a soldier suffering trauma in a war zone. For many, a traumatic stress diagnosis goes beyond that of horrible stressors and becomes the DSM-5 diagnostic category: complex trauma/post traumatic stress disorder. How can that be? When a child feels violated and abused by one who he or she has been taught to trust, and who is then powerless and continually vulnerable to their abuse, is unable to escape this fearful abuser, that child lives always in terror. In a very young child who is not able to verbalize what is happening, there is chronic stress and the brain, endocrine system, and developing psychological structures are severely compromised. The effects are long term and often irreversible, leading to mental illness, learning disorders, relationship disorders, disruption of emotional regulation, and susceptibility to addiction disorders, and more. The child has had to learn to adapt to a continuous or frequent trauma and their survival mechanisms develop as pathological patterns in life. Trauma is what the brain and body organize around as the child grows through vulnerable and foundational developmental stages. It is hard for such a child to ever have the skills and capacity to live the life that they were meant to live had their young lives not been so severely damaged by the horrific impulses of their abuser.
I have heard and shared the stories of many who are in prison. I would say that for too many the path to prison began the day that someone began to abuse them. ACLU statistics of childhood sexual abuse reported by those men and women in prison leaps to 54% of girls incarcerated in U.S. juvenile correctional settings and 8 % of men. I would not be surprised if the numbers aren’t actually higher because so many people feel ashamed to report it.
I also have talked to many men and women in therapy who shared histories of sexual abuse and who had never told anyone, yet they know that it has been at the root of great pain all of their life. For some people I have talked to, they felt that abuse destroyed their relationships, sexual intimacy, was at the root of compelling sexual addiction, created sexual and gender identity issues, and planted seeds of violence. Many share that they have pervasive fantasies of doing the same to others. When the perpetrator has been a family member such as an older sibling or a parent, it is virtually impossible to separate an abusive relationship from a loving relationship.
People who are carrying these wounds within are listening to the media and the gossip from all those tossing out their cavalier opinions about how sexual abuse is not such a big deal. It happens a lot in families, they say. It wasn’t rape…or was it?
Most who have been abused listen, enraged, or too ashamed to say a thing.
And then there are the abusers. What are they saying in these conversations with others? Some may join in and jokingly disparage the ‘whiners’ who complain that they were abused. Some abusers may not even reflect back on those incidents done to younger girls and boys in the neighborhood, at family gatherings, or in the family home when the adults weren’t around. Some abusers, of course, are well-respected adults who sought out times to babysit, or take their special niece or nephew to picnics, or the scout leaders, or sports leaders, or teachers, or priests or ministers, or public figures, or doctors, neighbors, or those who have spent their lives craftily gaining access to vulnerable and unprotected children to develop ‘special’ relationships.
Do these abusers know they are abusers and do they feel guilty? Most whom I have talked to have compartmentalized their actions and/or justified them. They often have a fantasy that is so compelling to them that there is no room for reason or a rational perspective of another. Often they truly believe they are giving the child something special and sharing a special kind of love. Deep down, they know it is wrong but, until they are caught, the feeling that they should stop barely penetrates awareness.
This is an illness and a compulsion so strong that a conscious experience of right and wrong is hardly a glimmer. The illness can be caused in part by brain dysfunction, brain trauma, impaired brain development, personality and character disorders, mental illness, or by their own life trauma and its effects. Of course, one may be impaired by substance abuse which hampers their impulse control, but we must grant that the impulse is there and barely controlled until the behavior is liberated by brain impairment. It is somewhat common but not always the case that when one is sexually abused as a child that they will become an abuser as well. Nevertheless, an older child, an adolescent, or an adult that sexually abuses a child has a serious problem. He or she is not just experimenting, acting out what everyone else thinks, or doing childish and immature things. That child or adult needs mental health treatment and to be restrained so that they will not hurt others.
For every person coming out from behind the veils and revealing their pain and suffering, asking to be treated with kindness and respect, and letting us all know that they need our help, we must be there for them. We must honor that this is one who has been hurt and their pain needs to be recognized by our going deeply within ourselves and asking, how do I know that pain too? What have I suffered? Can I have compassion for them as we enter together into the ferocity of life’s pain that we all share?
For those who have been wounded, for those who have done the wounding, and for all of us making judgmental accusations and flaunting our say, we remember.. each and every one of us has done it all. We are all the players. But now, with self-awareness and compassion, can we pause, pray for peace and healing, and say what we know and feel without being disparaging of others? Can our words bring our heart out of hiding, lift the veils on the pain of others everywhere, and offer words that soothe?