Archive for Child Sexual Abuse

Sorry to Upset You, But…

on the swing

We need everyone to face the fact that one in four females and one in six males is sexually abused in childhood. Otherwise caring, responsible people often say to me, “Oh, I don’t want to hear about that. It upsets me.” Well, I’m sorry, but child victims in your neighbourhood need you to be aware of this national epidemic.

If you don’t want to be involved in preventing child sexual abuse, you are on the side of the perpetrator. Yes, that’s true. All the perpetrator asks of you is that you look the other way.

Child victims need you to notice and get involved. They need you to educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse. They need you to be courageous enough to phone your local child protection services.

  • Prepare yourself. Have the number of your child protection services handy.
  • Educate yourself about this crime against our children.
  • Believe the statistics. They’re conservative estimates.
  • Don’t let your denial put more children in danger.

Jennifer Freyd – A Hero for our Times

In a therapist’s office in the 1990’s, a young woman client was asked if she’d been sexually abused as a child. The client, a psychologist and newly appointed Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, was startled by the question. No one had ever asked her this before. She said, ‘no’, but returned home and shook for the next two days.

Her name is Jennifer Freyd. Her parents, Peter and Pamela Freyd reacted by joining Dr. Ralph Underwager, founder of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Peter and Pamela become the organization’s executive directors.

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation claimed that the helping professions were planting memories of child sexual abuse in the minds of patients and clients. Thousands of affluent parents with grown children looked to the Foundation to safeguard their retirement savings from lawsuits being brought forward by their grown children who claimed to have been sexually abused by them when they were vulnerable children. These people, now adults, were no longer powerless.

The Foundation suffered some setbacks.  In 1993, Underwager embarrassed the organization by publicly stating that it is “God’s will” that adults use children for sex. Members of the Foundation’s board of directors were physicians previously employed by the CIA in mind control experiments. Their names include Dr. Martin Orne and Dr. Harold Lief.

1993 witnessed heated arguments over the question of recovered memories. At a mental health conference in Michigan, Jennifer outed her parents.  Her parents countered by explaining that their daughter was suffering from a brain injury!  This is the young professor who was a productive researcher into memory and who wrote her respected book, Betrayal Trauma. Her book puts forth the theory that it is the huge betrayal that forces children to forget abuse by the adults to whom the child’s safety was entrusted. She doesn’t sound like someone with a brain injury!

In the 90’s many therapists were afraid of helping clients who presented as victims of child sexual abuse, fearing being attacked by the Foundation for planting “memories.” Thankfully, science saved the day when brain imaging revealed the physical changes to a traumatized brain. No helping professional could cause these invisible wounds.

 

There’s No Such Thing as a Bystander

  • Anyone witnessing or knowing of child abuse is forced to take sides. You’re on one side or the other. There is no such thing as a bystander.
  • All the perpetrator asks is that we look the other way and do nothing.
  • If we “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil” we help the perpetrator.
  • The victim, on the other hand, needs much more. The victim needs us to get involved, to feel the pain and disgust, to take action.

Judith Herman, in her classic book on psychological trauma, Trauma and Recovery, explains that the perpetrator will do everything possible to discredit the victim. The perpetrator thrives in an environment where people still can’t believe such crimes happen to children.

That’s why we have to keep telling our stories. We need to be brave enough to inform those that claim such things don’t happen  ….. that Joe Smith wouldn’t do such a thing…. that one if four girls and one in six males is sexually abused before the age of eighteen.

What can YOU do to help the victim, not the perpetrator?

Please leave your comments below.

Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery, Harper Collins, Basic Books, New York, 1992

A Perpetrator Apologizes?!

 

I’ve read books about other’s journeys towards healing from the effects of childhood trauma.  I have read about other’s experiences in confronting their perpetrators.  So far, I have not read one story about a confrontation with the perpetrator that has gone in accordance with the survivor of childhood trauma’s wishes.

So I’m now questioning whether it’s actually realistic and possible for a survivor of childhood trauma to ever get the apology, the acknowledgement, the recognition or the peace that they seek and undoubtedly deserve through confronting their perpetrator with their truth (March 23,2014 blog post)

Is it never possible to get the perpetrator to confess? Almost never? Never? Under certain circumstances?

Many years ago in my practice as a trauma therapist, I worked with a family where the father admitted he’d sexually abused his daughter when she was little. The man’s wife stood by him as he expressed his guilt and sadness for the harm he had done to their child, who was now an adult. Part of the therapy was coaching him in telling the victim he was sorry: that he was the only guilty party and that he would do anything in his power to ease her burden.

Now I’m writing a novel. In this fictitious work, the heroine turns out to have been sexually abused and is dealing with her father. I didn’t plan to have the plot revolve around child sexual abuse, but fiction has a way of writing itself. My characters have come alive and, in a way, have taken the story out of my hands.

In 2010, I published my memoir, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist: a Memoir of Healing and Transformation. The memoir is not fictitious. It’s a very personal account of my own experience as a victim of child sexual abuse, filtered through my professional experience as a trauma therapist.

In the piece of fiction I’m now working on, (tentatively entitled Miranda’s Secret) I had Miranda’s father inform her that he’d sexually abused her. It just didn’t ring true. I’ve had to change the plot and tell a story of Miranda gradually realizing the truth about her childhood and her family. That’s the way it happened for me and for hundreds of clients I’ve had the honour of accompanying on their healing journey.

Except for the one example in my practice years ago, does anyone know of similar cases?

I need your help. Please let me know your own experience in confronting – or not confronting – your perpetrator.  Use the space reserved for comments following this post.

 

Confronting the Perpetrator

It’s fairly early days for me in my journey towards healing from childhood trauma.

I’ve read books about other’s journeys towards healing from the effects of childhood trauma.  I have read about other’s experiences in confronting their perpetrators.  So far, I have not read one story about a confrontation with the perpetrator that has gone in accordance with the survivor of childhood trauma’s wishes.

So I’m now questioning whether it’s actually realistic and possible for a survivor of childhood trauma to ever get the apology, the acknowledgement, the recognition or the peace that they seek and undoubtedly deserve through confronting their perpetrator with their truth?

Typically, there is often another party involved, this other person typically plays the role of ‘the allower’, turning a blind eye, avoiding stepping in to stop the perpetrator’s damaging behaviour and to protect the innocent, vulnerable, defenceless and harmless child.   The allower is typically weak, passive, compliant, a people pleaser, with a low self-esteem.

Being able to apologise to another person requires a level of maturity, self-awareness, inner strength, security within oneself, a willingness to take responsibility for oneself and actions, selflessness, a genuine concern for the other person’s wellbeing, the ability to put another’s needs ahead of their own and a love for the other person.  Is someone who abused and caused a significant degree of harm to an innocent, vulnerable, defenceless and harmless child capable of apologising?  Is expecting, demanding or hoping for an apology from a perpetrator realistic or just setting a survivor of childhood trauma up for more pain and disappointment?

Both the perpetrator and the allower are not normal, balanced, mature, responsible and capable adults.  So why then, does a survivor go seeking an acknowledgement and an apology from such people for their abuse, betrayal and exploitation of a sacred trust?

In most cases, both the perpetrator and the allower are simply incapable of giving the survivor the resolution and the peace that they are seeking, just as they were also incapable of giving the survivor the vital sense of safety and protection that they needed when they were a young child.

Survivors have already been horrendously betrayed and exploited by the perpetrators and the allowers in their lives.  Why would the survivor ever go back to the perpetrator and the allower ever again?

Why give the perpetrator and the allower yet another opportunity to betray them and to let them down?

Typically a survivor of child abuse suppresses their traumatic childhood memories, with their challenging and disturbing memories often emerging in mid to late adulthood.  The survivor’s memories are often so challenging and disturbing that they hide their memories and keep their memories a secret from themselves!

A survivor stands to gain a lot from re-accessing and being able to process their excruciatingly painful traumatic memories.  Through working with their painful traumatic childhood memories, a survivor can potentially regain a sense of self, a sense of wholeness and completeness, a retrospective understanding of issues that they have may have spent significant portions of their lives struggling with, valuable insights into who they are, increasing inner strength, increasing inner peace, understanding, acceptance and a genuine love for themselves and who they are.

Conversely, what does a perpetrator and an allower have to gain through being confronted with a survivor’s memories and accusations?  Painful admissions of weakness and failing?   Painful admissions of breach of a sacred trust?  Painful admission of their inability to be able to live up to what others reasonably expected of them?  Painful admission of their failure to fulfil their responsibilities?  An admission that they have spent a significant portion of their lives acting in a way that is appalling, destructive, damaging and shameful?  An admission that they have horrific secrets?

What often occurs when a survivor expresses their truth and shares their memories with the perpetrator and/or the allower figures in their lives is that they are met with at least some of the following reactions: denial, dismissal, criticism, rejection, resistance, attack, conflict, agonising invalidation, further pain, hurt and angst.

Heartbreakingly, survivor’s attempts to speak their truth with the perpetrator and/or allower figures in their lives can back-fire because their perpetrators and allowers can turn and twist their truth back around against them (like some sort of horrendous emotional boomerang), wrongly, unfairly, ironically and painfully, labelling the survivor as the ‘trouble maker’ and ‘offender’.