Brother and Sister Survivor Show How Secrecy Works

The latest episode of the Survivor Stories podcast, featuring Ben Glade and Annaka Vimahi, brought home two important things to know about child abuse:

1. How deep does the secrecy surrounding child abuse run? A brother and sister, 4 years apart, have no idea they were both being abused until they were in their thirties.

Think about that. When we talk about child abuse being a secret epidemic, this is a prime example. Abusers groom kids and do everything they can to keep them silent. Survivors grow up and face all kinds of stigma, so they keep silent, and the cycle just continues. The only way out is to keep talking, and let kids being abused, and adult survivors, know that they aren’t alone.

2. Survivors truly are all around us. We just don’t talk about it and therefore we don’t know how many people right in front of us can identify with what we are dealing with. We need more survivors willing to identify themselves and let it be known that they survived, and have overcome, childhood abuse.

What’s the End Result?

Tomorrow I get to do something that, according to statistics, is one of the things adult survivors of sexual abuse dread the most. I have to have some dental work done.

I was terrified going to the initial appointment for an exam, I’m terrified of going back to have this work done, and I’m terrified of the number of appointments I will have to have to fully complete the work. Luckily, we found a dentist here in Corvallis who specializes in sedation dentistry, so I will actually be sedated long before I step foot in the office tomorrow, but even with that added bonus, just the thought of being in a dentist chair makes me feel queasy.

The only thing that is getting me through this, and the thing I’m counting on to get me through this whole process is the knowledge that the end result will be worth it. I’m looking forward to getting these things fixed and moving forward.

I think healing from abuse is a similar reality. Some of the steps toward healing can be scary, and many of them won’t be all that pleasant. Facing what happened, and facing the self-destructive behaviors we’ve developed over the years to help deal with it can be pretty terrifying. Healing isn’t always pretty. Sometimes, it can be a lot like taking a drill in the mouth, but we do it because the end result is worth it.

A life beyond “surviving” is out there, and it’s possible, but you have to show up to each appointment to get there. Keep your eyes on the end goal and keep moving forward!

Irrational Fears?

That’s what Bruce Schneiner suggests is at the root of a story about a woman in South Carolina who was arrested for letting her 9 year old play at a park while she was at work. Now Bruce is an expert on security, and risk assessment and I tend to agree that we don’t assess the risks very well, especially when it comes to very emotional topics like protecting children.

Lovely Sunday in St. James Park. Oh, if you like the deck chairs, you can sit in one, for a price. ;-)
Now, without knowing the kid, the park, the neighborhood, the people in the park, or anything like that, I can’t say how much of a risk this truly was. I was allowed to walk to a neighborhood park as a 9-10 year old by myself for Little League games, so I don’t find the idea of a 9 year old hanging around a park by herself to be as shocking as some others might. I also know the truth about child abductions and abuse, that the vast, vast majority of them are the result of someone the kids already know, not the random stranger on the street. But, the random stranger on the street abducting a child does happen from time to time, and perhaps in this situation, leaving the kid there wasn’t the safest thing in the world. But, it also sounds like maybe there weren’t a lot of options here, which is a whole other blog post that I’ll let someone with kids write!

No, what I want to talk about are the irrational fears we have as a result of media attention. You see it’s the rare and random crime that gets the media attention precisely because it is so rare and random. A child being abducted due to custody disputes, or a child being abused by a family member, doesn’t grab headlines the way these other stories do, so you don’t notice it as much. Unfortunately, our brains are hardwired to pay attention to the risks that we see and hear, and those are the ones that make big news, rather than the risks that we take everyday.

So, it’s the “stranger danger” risks that grab our attention, because the stories are horrifying, but also because it’s the type of risk we feel like we can do something about. Managing the real risks of children being abused is hard. Figuring out how to keep kids safe from the much more likely risk, the people already around them, requires a lot more work and good ideas. But people don’t want to acknowledge the real rate of victimization, or imagine that kids are being abused by people they already know! It’s too scary to think about!
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How We Make It Harder For Kids to Tell

I was dismayed, though not surprised at all, when I saw a number of Facebook users and pages link to an article about an inmate convicted of child molestation being murdered in prison.

The posts were, for the most part, followed by near unanimous comments celebrating the death of a pedophile.

Look, I get it. I don’t have sympathy for the guy either. But we have to seriously think about what we want to accomplish when it comes to dealing with pedophiles, and the message we are sending to kids. Here are some facts:

  • We know children are most likely to be abused by someone they know and trust, someone who is either part of their family or a close friend of the family.
  • We know the abuser is more than likely going to groom the child, and the family, in order to create a bond with the child.
  • We know abusers are manipulative, and use that bond to convince children not to tell, because it would cause bad things to happen.
  • We know Stockholm syndrome is a very real thing.
  • We know these kids have been traumatized and the only way to encourage more children to speak up about what is happening to them is for them to feel safe in telling.
  • We know most abused children do not tell anyone because they don’t feel safe.

So how is running around talking about how anyone who abuses a child deserves to be killed in horrible ways going to help a child feel safe and secure about telling? Are we not handing an abuser a manipulation tool to be used against our own kids? (“Look if you tell, your parents will kill me, and you don’t want to be the cause of someone’s death, do you?”)

Lastly, wouldn’t that death just be adding more trauma onto kids who have already been traumatized enough?

Hey we know you were abused and you’re going to have a hell of a time dealing with everything that goes along with that, so in the name of “justice”, we’re going to go out and kill the sicko and then let you go ahead and add the guilt of someone’s death to your therapy bill, cool?

I’m not going to get into a disagreement over what is “just” and “fair”. That’s not my concern, and it shouldn’t be yours. Our concern should be what is the best way to help this child get help and heal. Adding more trauma doesn’t do that!

Career Advice That Is Relevant to Healing as Well

appreciationIn my quest to try every new piece of social media tech that exists, (that might be a bit of hyperbole, but not by much!) I have penned a piece with some career advice called The Appreciation File over on LinkedIn.

It did not escape my notice, however, that this same bit of helpful advice could also apply to healing from abuse, or helping with depression, or whatever else you might be struggling with.

So, fellow survivors, start hanging on to cards, notes and emails thanking you for something. Then on the rough days, go back through the stack and remind yourself of all the good you have done, and continue to do, all the worth you have and all the value you bring to others. Also, make sure you’re letting people know the value they have, so they can start building their own file!

If you’re so inclined, I’d appreciate it if you went over to LinkedIn and shared the plan with your own contacts! Thanks!