The other day I saw a VERY INSENSITIVE comment on a rape story posted to the New Era Facebook page. It was an open letter written by a victim of child abuse to her perpetrator, who was also her uncle. There was a man in the comments’ section, discouraging women from exposing their family members, “because it’s a disgrace to their families”. I have always known that to be the way families and society handle child abuse, but never heard anyone say it out loud. It was one of the most disheartening things I saw on social media this year.
Children are most often sexually abused by someone they know and trust; these are family members or other individuals who are considered part of the victim’s “circle of trust”. These perpetrators will keep destroying lives and stealing innocence if we continue to keep quiet. They count on our silence to protect their misdeeds, and this encourages them to keep adding more and more victims to their list.
Because these are people we trust or are close to, it puts many families in awkward positions and many would rather not report their loved ones. They are more concerned about the shame it brings upon the family than the damage caused by this person’s actions. Pretending it did not happen doesn’t make the pain or suffering go away. Victims on average take almost 25 years before they disclose to anyone, and disclosure is often key to recovery.
Research indicates that because child sexual abuse is by its very nature secretive, many cases are never reported. Many children who are sexually abused don’t tell anyone at the time and are too afraid to speak up. When they do tell, the perpetrator often denies it or is believed over the child. I personally think something has to be seriously wrong for a child to falsely make such accusations. If your child does open up to you, believe them and get help immediately. Don’t call for family meetings if all they’re going to do is convince you not to take action. Get professional help and call the police.
Studies also now indicate that about one-third of people who are abused in childhood will become abusers themselves. These perpetrators are broken and need rehabilitation. Instead of discouraging victims from speaking up, we need to encourage them to never stop. We cannot stop talking about the abuse happening under our noses until children are safe in their own homes and our communities.
Paula Christoph’s column concentrates on positive and inspirational write-ups every second Friday in the New Era newspaper.