Sexual Abuse in the Presence of Others

As Thanksgiving and Christmas are quickly approaching, I felt like I needed to share how abuse can happen despite being in the presence of other people. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that “approximately three quarters of reported cases of child sexual abuse are committed by family members or other individuals who are considered part of the victim’s ‘circle of trust.” I know it is hard to imagine anyone in your family or extended circle of trust harming your child, but it has happened too many times to too many people and we can’t ignore this any longer.

I believe many people have the misconception that sexual abuse can only occur behind closed doors or when the abuser is alone with their victim. It’s interesting that I started this post the other night and today while scrolling through twitter, I saw a very similar post. We sometimes have the thought “well no one will try to do anything with so many people around watching.” Unfortunately, this is not the case. Abuse can happen in your presence and abusers are so powerful in their manipulation skills that no one will be wiser. 

There were many times my abuser was brazen enough to abuse me in the presence of others. Some evenings when I was a child, we would sit around and watch television together in the living room. It became expected of me to grab a quilt and sit in my abuser’s lap during what should have been a safe and innocent bonding time. He was bold enough to do this because he knew how much he had manipulated me. I was so fearful in those moments that I would sit and act as normal as possible while he abused me rather than pushing the quilt away and screaming. Sexual abuse occurred in the presence of others.

If you have children, I hope you will take the time to talk about body rights and healthy touch. Empower them. Give them the choice of whether or not to hug a family member. Maybe a handshake or high five is more comfortable for your child. If your child appears fearful or nervous around certain people, do not brush it off as shyness- ask questions. Fight through the discomfort this type of conversation may bring and have these necessary conversations now.

My intention is not to make you paranoid about every person your child comes into contact with, but to make you aware that abuse does happen in the presence of other people. It is not always isolated incidents.  And just because it is a holiday does not mean an abuser will abstain from abusing.

 

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Children deserve to know their body rights at any age. There are age appropriate ways to have these conversations. It is never too early to empower children.

 

 

 

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12 November 10ths

Today marks 12 years of physical freedom from my abuser. It is a day that I never thought would occur and at some points during my healing journey I wished it never did occur. But today, I am so thankful that on November 10, 2004 I did not have to return to the same home as my abuser.

On this day 12 years ago, I got up like usual and headed to school, excited because it was an early release day. As I walked down the hallway after being called to the main office, I questioned every possible reason I was excused from class. While I knew I had disclosed the abuse at school in the days, or weeks, prior (my timeline is fuzzy), on this day it didn’t cross my mind that another social worker would be waiting for me. When I walked through the front office door, my heart sank. I immediately recognized the first social worker I had talked to standing next to my guidance counselor. A man I did not recognize was waiting to interview me in the office. I learned he was a social worker from another county due to a conflict of interest in the county I lived. I quickly realized this was going to be the day that my abuser would potentially kill me. Ironically, this male social worker I now had to share my “secrets” with, shared a name with my abuser. I’m not sure how long I was in that office, but it felt like forever. I shared some things with him, but not everything. And was eventually allowed to return to class.

As the school day came to a close, my fears of leaving the safety of my school walls resulted in tears falling uncontrollably. I was going to have to go home and inform my family that I told the secret. There were many events that occurred on this day, but my purpose in this post is not to delve into them.

My purpose in this post is to expose the reality that just because physical freedom from an abuser occurs, it is not always a joyous event that we would imagine it to be. It is an extremely hard day. While yes, I look back on that day now and have so much gratitude that I was safely removed from my abuser’s access, I also remember the losses I experienced and the grieving process it involved. The next few days were filled with chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. It was not until years down the road that I was able to function healthily on November 10.

For years November 10 brought with it a rush of memories and emotions that significantly impacted my entire day or week. I can remember one year particularly well because I sat in the social worker’s office at my school and cried over the few tangible possessions I had from my “old life.” Thankfully, healing can happen if you are willing to take the hard steps and work through the trauma.

I finally reached the day that November 10 was just another day in my book of life. After working with an awesome counselor and making my support system stronger, I was able to face November 10 and see the progress I had made. That was when I finally felt free. I reclaimed November 10 as my day, and not one that turned my world upside down.

Today, it has been 12 years since a fearful 13 year old girl went into an office and told a strange man the shame filled abuse she had experienced. 12 years later, that same voice is speaking.

My hope today is that anyone that has experienced abuse in the past or is currently experiencing abuse, will find the strength to use their voice to tell someone they trust what has happened or is happening. Fight through the fear, anger, sadness, shame, and guilt and speak until you are believed.

To anyone that is still persevering through the healing process, keep going and do not give up. Even on the hardest of days, there is hope. That freedom you are longing for will be attained.

To anyone that suspects someone is being abused, speak up! Too many people simply can’t speak yet. Ask questions. Educate others. And report abuse.

We all have a role in this continued fight against childhood sexual abuse and it will take each one of us doing our part to make a difference.

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This photo was taken in November 1999, not long after my voice was silenced. Today, I speak for her.

 

 

Your Response. It matters.

Sexual abuse is not a single-victim crime. It impacts families and communities worldwide. Most people know someone who has experienced sexual abuse. How will you respond when you learn someone you love and care for has been hurt so deeply by this heinous crime? In the years following my disclosure and people learning about my experiences, the reactions have varied across the spectrum from outright rage to assuming I was lying. Each response impacted me- some were extremely comforting and healing, while others caused added distress in my life (unintentionally and intentionally). I hope that through sharing my encounters more people will be aware of how important their responses are to learning of abuse. In this post, I am going to discuss the reaction of wanting to inflict significant injury to an abuser.

 In the days following social services’ intervention and the separation from my abuser, some of the people closest to my family, including extended family, were informed about what had happened. Anger, rage, and the desire to hurt my abuser were very frequent and common reactions. These emotions are absolutely justified and warranted. They are normal reactions and it is okay to experience and express these emotions (not actions)- just not to the person who experienced the abuse. (Just a reminder that these are clearly my opinions and do not apply to everyone). I found myself pleading with people not to “kill” my abuser for what he did. Thus, I experienced further emotional turmoil because I found myself “protecting” my abuser, but also feeling thankful that someone did want to make him pay for what he did to me. I recall thinking “if you kill him, then I’m going to lose you too!” What I could not articulate at the time is the fact that even if someone had inflicted pain on my abuser, it would not have changed what he did to me or erased the impacts of being abused. I was going to have to work through those things despite the condition of my abuser. So, for someone to go and cause him pain, it would only have further negative impacts on me.

“What I could not articulate at the time is the fact that even if someone had inflicted pain on my abuser, it would not have changed what he did to me or erased the impacts of being abused.”

 I do not want to discourage people from expressing their understandable and normal emotions of fury, anger, and rage after learning someone you love has been abused; however, it is more beneficial to the person you love if you can find healthy ways of coping with those emotions. It is also best to avoid expressing these emotions directly to the victim and rather than worrying about the abuser, turn your focus to the needs of the people impacted by the crimes. What are some healthy coping mechanisms to consider when you learn someone you love has been abused and you become consumed with anger?

·       Find a trusted person to talk with about your emotions and reactions

·       Exercise to release some of the intense feelings of anger

·       Focus on the person who was abused and seek to bring them comfort

·       Pray for the strength to not act on your emotions

·       Find a way to turn that anger into pro-active action such as raising awareness about childhood sexual abuse, fighting for stricter penalties for child abusers, etc.

·       Journal – write a letter to the abuser to express the anger you feel, then shred it (probably not a good idea to mail it)

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 Due to the staggering statistics regarding childhood sexual abuse, it is unfortunately likely that at some point in your life you will have to choose how you will reach in this situation. What are your thoughts?