Don’t be a Bystander—That’s all the Help the Perpetrator Needs From You

What can each of us do to prevent a child’s life from being ruined by abuse?

First, we need to be aware. We need to deal with our own denial or dissociation around child abuse. Society’s denial and refusal to believe that child physical, emotional and sexual abuse are endemic allows child abuse to continue unchecked. It’s so easy to deny what you’re seeing or hearing.

In her wise and carefully reasoned book, Trauma and Recovery, Judith Hermann says this:

“It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides…It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement and remembering.

In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens (pp. 7&8).”

Which brings me to my own recent experience when the Globe and Mail published a favourable interview about me and my book, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist. No sooner was the article posted on the paper’s website than those whom I can only assume are perpetrators announced in authoritative tones that recovered memory had been proved not to exist and that I was some sort of hysterical female ruining the reputation of the men who are long dead and unable to defend themselves.

Those of us who join together in the fight to prevent child abuse need to be aware of these dirty tactics.

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