Adults, this will be a difficult read. Our kids need us to know the facts before we can truly help them.
And just like that, snap, the children were home. For some families, the experience has been an opportunity for peaceful self-reflection, new rhythms in the family schedule, spending quality time interacting with each other, and appreciating the small things. For them, the fridge is full, the grownups have an income, and the family is healthy.
But what about the children whose only safe moments each day were at school? Even if these children were not disclosing their abuse, they had a few hours reprieve from their abuser. Sadly, most children are physically, emotionally and sexually abused at home – by someone in their immediate family. At this writing it has been 6 weeks of isolation orders. Some children are suffering horrible injustices in their homes as they shelter in place and are NOT #safeathome.
This type of horror, the inhumanity of sexual abuse, crosses all boundaries. It is a global crisis: happening in silent, secret corners of homes, causing long-term trauma for all who are suffering. Imagine for a moment a child, any gender, any age, in a small over crowded apartment in an urban setting, or perhaps out on a farm, or behind an electric gate in a fancy mansion. The injustices and damage are the same.
The experience for children who are living with their abuser is one of living on high alert. We all know that feeling you get in a horror movie: tightening in the chest, accelerated heartbeat, butterflies in the belly, sweating, tense shoulders, blood coursing through our bodies. This is fight, flight or freeze mode. Now imagine your body surging with that level of stress ALL of the time. When will be the next blow or unwanted touch? Where can I go to hide? How can I protect my siblings?
“I am in bed. It is way past 11pm. But I am awake. The grown-ups are watching TV but I hear mommy is going to bed. Will he come to my room tonight? Should I push my dresser up against my door? He gets angry when I do that. I have tried to fake I am asleep but that does not stop him. I hate the next morning trying to make believe that everything is okay. I am afraid, scared to tell, what will happen to me if I tell? Will I be believed?”
“My older brother has been helping to take care of us, and mostly he’s awesome. My mother is so happy, because she is making masks for the first responders. He feeds us, takes us outside, but then sometimes he has us watch videos on his phone and act out what we saw. I can’t tell you what we saw because I know I would be in terrible trouble for having seen it. I feel sad and scared now when he pulls out his phone to play that game. He says it is our special time and that he will not take care of us if we don’t play. I love my brother and I know my mother needs his help, so I play.”
“My uncle is in quarantine with us. When I was nine, he taught me how to play baseball so I could play on the league. I love baseball! He even has taken me to some games. I am not sure when he started touching me, I don’t remember. But he does touch me, and it is so confusing. Sometimes it hurts. I feel sad, and angry and I want to run away. Now that we are home all the time, I have no place to hide. I don’t want to get in trouble, I know it is my fault that my uncle does these things to me, he said so.”
“People would not understand. My house is not typical. We have cameras set up and even a green screen. My parents have been filming all of us kids since we were born. No, not family photos, and not funny videos like I see on TikTok and YouTube. Now that we are home all the time, they film us more.. There is no escape. Do I have to tell you out loud? Can you please understand and hear my voice without me speaking?”
What do all these factors bode for a child at home with their abuser? Some children are feeling the joy of a walk with their family, or baking with their caregiver, or playing a board game and learning how it feels to be empowered and at peace. Other children are experiencing trauma, not from COVID-19, but from child sexual abuse.
What is happening to the children who teachers and other caregivers used to see on a regular basis?
Know someone who needs help? Call the RAINN Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.