Do what you would want to have done for your child – protect. Call the authorities…. If you’re not sure what number – call 911 – or your local child abuse hot line. We know from experience that this is not an easy thing to do, fear of the backlash, having self-doubt that your reporting will be helpful or more hurtful to the children…. always err on the side of protecting the child.
Oprah this week had on yet another powerful hour of the complexities of sexual abuse. She spoke with twin sisters who since age 5 had been sexually abused by not only their father but by their older brothers as well. This type of familial sexual abuse is a horrific example of the complexities of the cycle of sexual abuse, and the silent suffering that goes on behind closed doors – perhaps at our neighbor’s home. As Oprah brings these personal stories to light she is trying to break the cycle of silence that often prevails around issues of abuse of children…. we share in her mission.
How We Break The Silence: 1. By speaking about their tragic abuse these now 20 year old twins are breaking the cycle of silence that prevail around sexual abuse and in doing so, hoping others will have the courage to come forward.
2. Oprah asked questions of the twins – almost knowing their answers would be hard for us as non-abuse victims to understand – sexual abuse is not about sex – it is about head bending games. It is psychologically destructive – warping a child’s sense of the world, relationships, “normalcy”, and as Oprah so eloquently put.. “killing the person they could have been.”
3. Oprah made numerous efforts to point out how these then children sought and retreated from disclosing their abuse on numerous occasions. BUT noted that there were other adults in these girl’s lives that intuitively new something was wrong in that home – surely not thinking the horrors that were occurring – but that gut feeling was speaking to them – so what do we do when we have that gut feeling?
From our KidSafe point of view this episode was exceedingly powerful. It touched on so many points that we feel compelled to continue this conversation with YOU, the reader.
First we need to break the cycle of silence. If it is common in your homes, in preschools, elementary schools, house of worship, and among your neighbors to talk with our children about the rights they have to keep their bodies safe, their bodies are special, their body belongs to them, touches can be safe or unsafe, not to keep secrets that make you uncomfortable or confused, and we read books with our children regarding the rights they have over their bodies. Then all children are getting the same message – that this is not a subject that is taboo to talk about. Children can gain an understanding of the rights they have over their bodies, and how to keep themselves safe.
Sexual abuse is damaging to a child on so many levels – for these twins the abuse started at age 5 – they were slowly groomed (introduced) into it. These innocent 5 year olds were “taught” that this was “normal” behavior. This is what Daddies do and big brothers do. In the beginning they probably felt “special and loved” for the attention. This was their family and they knew nothing different. Where was the mother you ask? Well for all of this to be able to occur under her roof you must only imagine the level of sick dysfunction with the mother. This was a mother who was never a mother to these children – mother’s love and protect…..she enabled and allowed her precious girls to be abused. So how can a situation like this be countered? There would have been no chance that in this house they would ever hear or see a children’s book about safe and unsafe touch. But perhaps one day at school in 1st grade, the teacher would read a story, and the story would be about good and bad secrets and how your body is special and belongs to you. And then the child would hear about private parts, and that no one should be touching your private parts and if they do, even if it is someone you know and love, even if it feels good, you have to report it to your Circle of Safe Adults. That it is never your fault and that it is okay to get help. Maybe, just maybe they would not have been made to suffer for so many years. We, yes you reader, and all of us, need to talk comfortably and directly with the children in our lives. In this case it does take a village.
That leads us to the question – Who could have been in these twins Circle of Safe Adults? Often children put their parents in their Circle – but in this case they needed outside help. This is a conversation every parent needs to have with their children. Ask your child right now to name at least 3 adults they trust and feel they could go to for help about anything. See who they have in mind. Are you comfortable with their choices? Is there someone you didn’t expect on their list?
For the twins – they had a neighbor who finally blew the whistle. One problem was that the twins after disclosing begged her not to do anything yet….and the children at age 13 returned to the house and were raped yet again. Here is the point – the average adult, not in the field of child protection, would not know how to handle disclosure or who to call when you have a concern for a child’s welfare. When you see a child with a bruise it seems so much easier to comprehend and to do something about it, but with sexual abuse there are not always outward signs.
Educating ourselves on these issues as parents and even just as good citizens is important. For more information on how to talk to your children about their personal safety, and to see excerpts from the book My Body is Special and Belongs to Me! visit www.kidsafefoundation.org. Help us keep KIDSAFE!.