With the media spotlight right now on child abuse accusations, scandals and cover ups, you might be wondering what is happening to all of the survivors out there reading these stories? Many are reporting they are having a visceral reaction. While we (or others that have not been through this trauma) are outraged, disgusted and want to make a change. Survivors are feeling very different than most and we feel it is important to gain some insight into a survivor’s perspective.
At the end of each and every adult Prevention Education Seminar we provide, we are always approached by a handful of people, male and female, who share their personal story of sexual abuse with us. For some they are sharing their story for the very first time – adults in their 40’s and 50’s who have kept the secret all of this time. Adults who have up to this point in their life have been unable to tell about their abuse, after hearing us speak they report feeling a desperate need to share with us.
Why? Well the importance of reporting abuse is highlighted in our seminar, trusting your instincts, breaking the cycle of silence, helping other children by telling and perhaps sitting for an hour and hearing story after story gives them the strength to share. But we believe that it is the emphasis we put on disclosure and believing a child when they tell you they have been abused. We share (though it does happen) how rare it is for a child to lie about being sexually abused. So maybe for the few that share they know we will believe them. Many survivors are explaining that these stories all over the media are bringing up all sorts of issues for them as they watch these tragedies unfold daily in the news.
Don’t get us wrong, most share how happy they are that child abuse is making headlines, that perhaps this secret epidemic is finally out in the open. But for some survivors reading these stories can bring up the past trauma they experienced. It can also have confusing and devastating effects; bring flashbacks of their own abuse, literally a visceral feeling of being abused, difficulty with daily living, trouble sleeping, problems with eating, and an overall sense of emotional imbalance. What is happening for some people who have been fully functioning survivors (our friends and family) is that they may be having a hard time functioning at the present time.
We are writing a blog about this because it’s important for loved ones, colleagues, and friends to understand what a child sexual abuse survivor goes through when hearing others’ stories. Although it ca n be different for each and every person, hearing others speak out does help some heal, it does give many strength to come forward and tell their own stories. But for others who (may or may not have ever told) – they are somewhat in a fugue state for a little while as images and memories they have suppressed to deal with daily life start to break through. This is a completely normal occurrence for anyone who has been through trauma.
Imagine (and we pray this never happens again) if a plane struck a building in the United States by a terrorist, we would all go back to 9/11 and start reliving and remembering that day. But for the people who were directly impacted (lost loved ones, were in the tower or near it) would feel this in a whole different way – possibly suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, in which they would have feelings of it actually happening in present time.
So as we applaud the media outlets for their coverage and helping to break the silence of the epidemic of Child Abuse –Please don’t forget compassion and understanding needs to be extended to those who have survived abuse or may be in the midst of being abused. They read your comments, your posts, your soundbites and we need to be sensitive to what they may be experiencing. We don’t want the media to stop covering these stories, we believe the more knowledgeable the general public is about the issues that surround sexual abuse the more we can prevent it. We just want people and the media to have an understanding of what you say and do has an impact on survivors of abuse in ways you might not have imagined.