Monday, September 7, 2015

Raising Sexual Abuse Awareness

I recently watched TLC's Breaking the Silence, a documentary on sexual abuse.  I was very impressed with how it was presented, and I liked the way they left the viewer with the urgency to take action to help prevent sexual abuse from happening in his own family.  I would encourage every adult to watch this video and take heed the action steps. 

As a victim of sexual abuse myself, I was nervous to watch the video because I was afraid of all of the bad memories it might uncover.  While it was gut-wrenching to hear the stories of the victims, I was surprised by how many things they said that I could completely relate to as a victim myself.

It seems that sexual abuse is a taboo subject that not many people like to talk about, but it's so important the people understand how common it is and know what to do about it.  Awareness goes a long way for prevention.

It's also so important that people be aware of how commonly a trusted family member or friend is the perpetrator.  Minimizing the opportunities is very important, and most people tend to be the most lax in their vigilance around those trusted family and friends.  For me, it was a deacon in my church who happened to be the husband of my beloved Sunday School teacher.  They had also babysat my siblings and me on more than one occasion.  You just can't trust anyone, and therefore it's best to never let your child(ren) be alone with any one person.

Talking to your children about sexual abuse even when they are young is really important.  Even if you don't use the exact terms, it's so important that your child understands the importance of private parts staying private and inappropriate and appropriate touch.  They also need to understand the importance of never being alone with just one person.  Help them know the importance of telling a trusted adult about any inappropriate touch or behavior no matter what they were told (keeping a secret or threats of bad things happening to them or their loved ones).  My abuser had been abusing his grandchildren, and the truth wasn't uncovered until my abuse had been reported to the authorities.  My abuser violated me twice, and unfortunately, the second time (most traumatic time) could have been avoided had I known the importance of reporting what he did to me the first time.

It is so easy to miss the signs of sexual abuse.  Everyone reacts differently to abuse, but often there is a significant change in behavior.  For me, I became shy and had low self-esteem and a low self-concept.  For a while right after the abuse, I used to rock, holding myself saying, "I'm dirty" over and over again.  I was desperately afraid of anyone of the male race and flinched if I came into casual contact with a male.  I would have panic attacks in the store if I couldn't find a female cashier because I was afraid to accidentally touch a male's hand in the exchange of money at checkout.  I struggled with flash backs of the events and would startle easily.  I shut down emotionally and didn't talk about my feelings and prevented myself from being able to feel emotions (sadness as well as happiness and all of the other emotions).  I stopped crying.

If someone trusts you enough to tell you about their abuse, please react responsibly!  Don't over-react or under-react. BELIEVE them!  Help them get help!  The investigators assigned to my case when I was 5 mistook my silence and lack of emotions to mean that I was "handling the situation well."  As a result, when they normally require therapy, they told my parents it would be optional.  My parents, not having a lot of money and trusting the experts that I was "fine," chose to not get me therapy.  For the next 12 years, I suffered in silent agony.  I had attempted to talk to my dad about it a few years after the abuse, and the look of pain and shock on his face when I brought it up was enough to silence me for many more years to come because I thought that I had said a very bad thing and should never say anything about it again.  I hit a breaking point my junior year of high school because of a male teacher who did not appropriately handle himself around his female students.  I was desperate enough to bring up my suffering.  I started working on convincing myself that I can live with the scars and not let my abuse continue to dictate my life, and things did improve somewhat.  My final breaking point was my sophomore year of college (15 years after my abuse) when I saw a man who looked and acted like my abuser, and I had an emotional breakdown.  Thankfully, I got professional help, and with trauma based, Biblical counseling, I learned that God could heal my scars completely and make me whole again, and that's just what He did!  I don't fault my parents in the least for what they did or didn't do.  They simply acted as best as they knew how.  However, I want my experience to help others not have to suffer for as long as I did.  I want people to realize the importance of getting therapy as soon as possible so that they can learn to live a happy and fulfilled life despite their trauma and abuse.

If you haven't had a serious talk with your children about appropriate and inappropriate touch and their private areas remaining private, please take time to talk to them today!  The information can be simplified even for a preschooler.  Don't let ignorance leave your child susceptible to sexual abuse!

  1. Learn the facts
  2. Minimize opportunities
  3. Talk about child sexual abuse
  4. Recognize the signs
  5. React responsibly

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