Is There a Worse Crime?

This is not going to be one of my nicer posts, and some of you may get your feelings hurt, but it’s something that I see quite frequently in the survivor, and child advocate, communities that I have a real problem with.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that phrases like these are a way to draw attention to the very significant problem that child abuse, specifically sexual abuse, is. I’m sure that most of the people who make this claim are well-intentioned, seeking only to describe just how devastating it can be for a child to be sexually assaulted, but I would also like these folks to think a little bit more about what they say.

What’s the claim that I’m talking about? There are some slightly different connotations, but the gist of it is that child sexual abuse is a crime worse than even murder because of the damage it does to a child that lasts long into adulthood, possibly even affecting the next generation.

Here’s my problem with it. Murder is murder. If you kill someone, they are not going to recover from that. They will never experience joy, give of themselves, raise a child, or experience any of the millions of other positive things that life can bring. They are dead, their life is over. That’s all she wrote!

When we spend a lot of time talking about how child sexual abuse is even worse, what message are we sending survivors?¬† That they are damaged beyond all hope of repair, or that what happened to them would be less damaging if they had been murdered instead of surviving? That their lives are going to be so full of pain and despair that they would, in fact, be better off dead? That the world, including the very community that offers support to them, will always think of them as damaged, as “worse off than murder victims”? What kind of hope does that offer survivors?

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse myself, I refuse to send that message to any survivor. Every single one of you have the strength, the courage and the ability to overcome what happened, and should never give up hope. The sexual abuse of children is a horrific crime, and can do a great deal of damage to the childhood of it’s victims, but so long as we survive, and continue to breath, there is hope that our futures will be brighter than our pasts. Isn’t that the message we really want survivors to hear?

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  1. Some people may think child abuse is worse than murder because they are so badly damaged it is like living in hell here on earth. I am not one of those believers. I have 2 kiddos who survived horrible child abuse and they have been able to live a happy life, albeit with some problems. The key is ensuring that life here on earth can be happy and even joyful sometimes. Murdered people would miss out on that joy, (and hot fudge brownie sundaes, and beautiful sunsets, and lunches with friends and so forth.) Life is definitely worth living, but you have to surround yourself with people who also believe that!
    Lindsey Petersen

  2. Good post. Thanks.
    I think sometimes survivors say this because they feel like their pain was so minimalized or ignored. For years I have wanted my abuser to understand my pain. I finally realized he never would and it didn’t matter to me any more. A sign of healing? I hope so.

  3. I agree with both you and Colleen on this for different reasons. I agree with you simply because to be alive is more hopeful than being dead. Dead people can’t make changes and of course we are still alive. We were not murdered. I also agree with Colleen because I can relate to what she said and I think people who say it is worse than murder are not necessarily speaking literally. That said, the damage for some is very profound. Many who have lived through such decide not to continue. It does not bother me so much when people say it is worse than murder. I am much more deeply hurt by those who refuse to acknowledge what happened to me. I am much more deeply hurt by people who will not understand why I struggle with agoraphobia, PTSD and a severe sleep disorder and think I should just get all spiritual and Move On. No one hears, Mike. They don’t want to see and sometimes it makes me feel quite angry. Even so, I have not been murdered. It wouldn’t surprise me though, if that saying originated directly from a survivor in an effort to explain their anguish to people who refuse to hear them.

  4. I agree completely with your point of view! As a matter of fact it’s the fear of people judging me as “damaged beyond repair” that has kept me from getting professional help or confiding in anyone about my abuse. I feel as though once anyone finds out, they might think I’m disturbed beyond help and might keep the abuse cycle going instead of being able to heal completely and lead a healthy life. That is the main reason I created my blog, to vent out how I feel without anyone ever knowing who I am… I know it may sound ignorant to put it that way but I truly feel that once people know you’ve been abused, they feel as if you are a threat to them or as if you are so angry that you want to see others suffer what you’ve suffered and therefore do the same thing to someone else… Sorry for the intrusion, btw… I just really felt that I should let you know that I totally agree with you… Thanks for sharing…

  5. Anon, I think we can find a better balance though, between expressing that sexual abuse of a child is a horrible thing to do, and as Mari points out, not leaving the survivor with the impression that they’d be better off dead, or living in fear of everyone treating them as damaged. For myself, if I wanted to express how horrible it was, I wouldn’t resort to something like that, and if someone still didn’t want to hear me, I’d quit trying to tell them. If someone out there doesn’t think childhood sexual abuse is horrible enough without us having to resort to hyperbole that may be doing damage to survivors just as much, they aren’t worth our time and energy. Period.

  6. This post is rather simplistic.

    There are MANY factors that determine how deeply one suffers or how much times one loses to the pain of it.

    I don’t know how young you were when you abuse started, how severe or how long it lasted. Or if your “memories” have been largely repressed.

    Others of us have not been so fortunate, my friend. But we are happy for your light sentence. Regards.

    1. You’re right, there are many factors, and I would never suggest that how someone else suffers is wrong, or too much/little. But I can tell you, without any doubt, that I truly believe there isn’t a single survivor out there who would be better off dead. Believing that about a survivor, or even yourself, does you no good at all. I hope, for your sake, that you can find a way to see that.

  7. Mike,

    I never suggested any survivor would be better off dead. I certainly do not believe that. For myself, the question is what can I do about it:

    1. Where the laws allow, file charges against your abusers. I think this is the single most empowering thing one can do, even though it is difficult.

    2. Where the laws do not allow, fight to get those laws changed. I am working on this with other Survivors groups from NY. Confront both your abuser and those who kept you silent as a child. Tell them the shame of it belongs to them–even if they do not acknowledge it. for your own sake.

    3. Always show support to other survivors in speaking their truth. And understand that people react to the abuse differently.

    The truth is there is very little of this out there. But there are many who claim they have ‘the answer’ to finding peace–just buy their book, tapes, etc. I think finding peace involves fighting, speaking out against this crime and pushing for tougher laws that keep those animals locked up. that’s all i’m sayin. thanks.

  8. Just goes to show how we each, as individuals, internalize words differently. Saying child abuse is worse than or equal to the crime of murder, does not convey messages of hopelessness, lifelong despondency and despair, or ‘better off dead’ to me. Those aren’t the messages I get from it at all.

    I find equating child abuse to the crime of murder to be a validating and accurate description of the vileness, heinousness, and horrificness of the crime. As a survivor of long-term physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, I definitely feel child abusers are equal to the most sadistic and cold-blooded of murderers, as is their crime.

    I think this post is a good example of how we each interpret things in our own way…. what is validating to one survivor might convey a different message to another.

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