I just read an article in Psychology Today, enumerating the reasons that parents don’t discuss child abuse with their children. Not surprisingly, they are the same reasons that people, in general, don’t want to hear about child abuse. There have been more than enough studies showing it is an under reported crime and far more prevalent than anyone would like to admit.
Not too long ago I had lunch with someone I had worked with years before. When we got around to discussing what I had blogged and written about, the subject of child abuse came up. My lunch companion’s reaction was immediate and strangely fierce: “Oh, how uplifting!”. I was shocked, though this wasn’t the first time I’d experienced this level of anger and uncharacteristic annoyance at the mention of the subject. I stared at my friend for a good long time. What I wanted to say was, “I doubt the children who are abused are any happier about it than you are.” I said nothing because there wasn’t enough time, during a single lunch hour, to even begin to chip away at that type of denial.
Years ago, before I became concerned about child abuse and its effects, I can remember being “not aware” of child abuse. When I heard about it, my eyes would glaze over and I would “just not be present” in the moment. It was like the conversation was irrelevant and I was waiting for the rain to end so I could get back to my life.
At this point in my life I’ve realized that, for most people, child abuse is like an urban myth: disturbing and not entirely real. They hear about it in fleeting seconds in a report on the news. Or someone mentions it in hushed whispers, speaking about someone they know who has a child that was molested; when the conversation moves on, most people are more comfortable. I have had members of my own family tell me that “that doesn’t happen”. And, like an urban myth, the subject of child abuse is not seen as requiring anyone’s attention or action. People will become annoyed when it’s brought up or they will tell you that the child brought it on themselves, due to their own actions. Some will tell you that it only happens in certain low socio-economic groups. Denial is a powerful thing.
The reality is that child abuse is not an urban myth. Abuse is theft. And what it steals is one or more lives, often in a cycle that passes the curse of trauma from a parent to his or her own child. I will not quote statistics here because they have been put before the American public countless times by NEWS agencys and NGOs that fight child abuse; it is rare that anyone reacts. I will only say that the numbers are staggering. And it takes many forms. Children are literally lost in foster care. We have the relatively new scourge of Trafficking. There are many areas where it exists beyond the nuclear family.
The theft is egregious, its affects often spanning a lifetime. PTSD, depression, criminal behavior, recidivism are all part of its malign arsenal. Recent studies have shown a close correlation between child abuse and incarceration.
We are all given so many resources: so many years of life in an unknown quantity, so many opportunities to make our dreams a reality, so many chances to form relationships that are important in our lives. Child abuse, physical and sexual, steals these opportunities from victims. For victims of child abuse, the assumptions of trust that act as a foundation to being human are ripped away. The aftermath of child abuse can be even bleaker than the original theft of trust at the hands of abusers. The issue here is the slow, insidious way that the dysfunction of child abuse leeches the sense of purpose out of life. It separates us from our fellow men and shrinks our view of the world until we can only see a few feet in front of us. Every person I’ve known or people I’ve seen interviewed who were victims of abuse always talk about the parts of themselves they have lost. While some people have taken the awful lemons of abuse and made lemonade by helping other victims and telling their own stories, there are many more who suffer in silence, who may never learn to be dancers, musicians, teachers. Whatever dreams they might have normally pursued are barred to them in ways that even they can’t understand. This is theft in its most basic form; it’s a theft that is built into the fabric of someone’s life and it can make loss and failure seem inevitable. For many abuse victims, their problems become a moving target that often defies both understanding and healing.
Is it so hard to understand why some people are so zealous about removing the blight of child abuse from our society? All of us carry fears from our childhood that make us less than we could be. For a victim of child abuse those fears and constraints become constant companions limiting the scope of what they can do. Our prisons are filled with victims of child abuse and medicating the beasts that live within us has become a thriving industry in the form of big pharma.
What can be done? If you accept that something must be done and that you don’t want to live in a nation where this type of thing is a reality then there are two avenues for you. One is convincing the American public that child abuse is real and affects all of us, financially and morally. The other avenue is the entity that we are forced to use when things get out of control: the law.
As far as convincing Americans that child abuse must be stamped out, after all my experience talking to non-victims about it, I would say not to hold your breath waiting. If this were to be done it would take money and aggressive education campaigns nationwide to make people feel responsible. This is highly unlikely so, we are left with the law.
And here is what I’ve been leading up to. For the first time in history there is a lobbying organization called Protect.org that lobbies our law makers to strengthen child abuse laws. They have made enormous strides in putting teeth into laws that let pedophiles get off with a slap on the hand. Recently they put a program into effect that trains veterans to investigate the growing child pornography industry and bring purveyors of this kind of poison to justice.
Protect.org is the beginning of a long overdue overhaul of our legal system to end a scourge that is the polar opposite of what the United States stands for. Our weakest citizens need your help. Please go to the Protect.org site and donate. Get on their email list and find opportunities to help them in their fight by contacting legislators who need to hear the truth about child abuse.