Abuse hurts forever

Published 10:21 am Friday, November 28, 2008

Abuse hurts forever

What did Wendy&squo;s abuser tell her, at age ten, about why she was having sex with a grown man?

As a fifth grader, she would have been a mere child interested in hobbies and bonding with playmates using &dquo;secret girl codes&dquo; and silly, made up languages. Yet she was not allowed to remain a virgin even through her first menstruation.

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It is hard to even contemplate the horror of child sexual abuse. Adult survivors report they were told, &dquo;You&squo;re a bad, nasty, dirty girl, and that is why I&squo;m doing this.&dquo; Others heard, &dquo;You&squo;re such a sexy little girl, I can&squo;t help myself.&dquo; It is estimated from surveys that as many as one out of every three girls prior to 18 experienced sexual abuse, one out of seven boys.

Even the &dquo;slightest&dquo; abuse is life destroying. As one victim said, &dquo;A father can (touch his daughter inappropriately) in 30 seconds. After that the world is not the same.&dquo;

Throughout their lives, victims of child sexual abuse struggle with unspeakable feelings. To cope they minimize what happened, rationalize it, deny it, forget it, split their personality, adopt control, practice chaos, escape into mental illness, self-mutilation, addictions, eating difficulties, begin lying, stealing, gambling, avoiding intimacy, practicing old time religion, compulsive sex or total avoidance of intimacy.

They continue to feel vulnerable and powerless. Like damaged goods. They talk of &dquo;my desperate places&dquo; where they still panic, and of entire decades wasted, &dquo;the trauma years.&dquo; It never ends, entirely. One woman in a poem recalled her grandmother, &dquo;still ashamed, lying, eighty years later, in the hospital bed, trying to tell me, trembling, weeping with anger.&dquo;

It is such a betrayal. The perpetrators are often the very adults who were supposed to have protected the child: family, helping professionals, clergy, teachers, doctors, law officers, neighbors. The victims feel even God abandoned them.

Only in the past 20 years has our male-dominated society begun to care. Since 1860 when child abuse was first &dquo;discovered,&dquo; society has been blaming everyone but the perpetrator. Only recently have we seen the rise of battered women&squo;s shelters, rape crisis centers and the Safe, Strong and Free Project for children in the UK ‐ evidence of monumental advances in our willingness to be aware, to care and to respond. Yet even now, defense attorneys have ramped up a national backlash, with claims of &dquo;false memories.&dquo; False denials are much more common. Most abuse continues to go unreported.

The fact is, sexual abuse is happening every day, and there is never an excuse. It is absolutely the responsibility of the adult not to be sexual with children!

Counselors work to make survivors understand, &dquo;Nothing you did caused it, and there is nothing you could have done to stop it. You were in an unsafe place, where adults were untrustworthy and out of control, where your well-being and sometimes your very life were in danger. Look to the children, and remember how small and powerless you actually were.&dquo;

Survivors have spent their lives pretending it didn&squo;t happen, wishing it didn&squo;t happen, being told they are crazy. We honor Wendy&squo;s courage, on display for 20 years, during which time she never gave up trying to be heard. Most survivors find, as did Wendy, that when they finally speak, &dquo;People probably ignored you, said you made it up, or told you to forget it.&dquo; Wendy wouldn&squo;t forget. A child still, she slipped a note to a dispatcher. In response, the county sheriff and chief of police both wrote letters to the state saying the matter was &dquo;settled.&dquo; As a teenager, Wendy tried again. She wrote a letter to the newspaper. Finally, two years ago, the state paid attention when another victim reluctantly, finally told her story.

To heal, survivors must learn and do many painful things. They must grieve for the loss of feelings, grieve for the abandonment, grieve for the past, grieve for the present. They must realize their life is more than just&bsp; reaction to abuse. To heal, the victim of child sexual abuse also many times must give up one, frequently spoken hope. As one counselor said to a survivor, &dquo;As long as you continued to hope your abuser would change, apologize or understand you, you lived in a fantasy.&dquo;

May Wendy&squo;s healing be a reality.‐ JB