Tuesday, October 28, 2008

child abuse: ways to prevent it and help victims of it

i was poking around lds social service's website this morning and found this article, called "hope and healing: a discussion of the tragedy of abuse" by maxine murdock. it was printed in the january 1993 ensign. i've only put a section of the article in this post, but you can go here to find the entire thing.

How can we spare children this terrible ordeal [of abuse]? Parents, friends, Church leaders—all of us—share a sacred responsibility to protect our children. It is not enough to warn them not to take candy from strangers or not to walk alone in dark places. They need to learn other lessons to protect themselves.

1. Cultivate open communication from the time children are very young. Both you and they should feel comfortable talking about their bodies. Children need to learn not only about anatomy, but also about the feelings associated with various parts of the body. When teaching children about their bodies, make sure they do not feel that their bodies are shameful or that bathing and appropriate physical examinations by a doctor are wrong. Teach that there are special parts of the body to be protected in special ways, just as we protect our eyes and ears in special ways.

2. Teach children that no one—not even Daddy or Mother or brothers or sisters or other relatives—should touch us in certain ways on certain parts of the body. When the child goes to a doctor, tell the child in advance what will take place, and always go with the child.

3. Teach children that it is all right to say no—even to an adult. When we teach our children to obey without question, we may be teaching them to become victims. Abusers can be policemen, physicians, baby-sitters, teachers, or any other person in authority. Children need to learn that they can firmly say no to inappropriate touching. Teach them to say, “Don’t touch me,” or “I’ll scream if you don’t leave me alone.” Then have them report any such incident to a trusted adult.

4. Trust your feelings as a parent, and encourage your children to trust their feelings. Any time you feel uneasy about the activity between a child and another person, intervene. (“It’s time to go home,” or “Let’s eat now.”) You need not explain when you feel a situation is questionable. If a child is uncomfortable with hugs or kisses from an adult, do not encourage her to put up with them for the sake of avoiding a fuss. You might say, “If you don’t feel like hugging Uncle John, you don’t need to. A friendly hand-shake will be just fine.” Then observe the situation carefully in the future. If a child is uneasy about staying with a certain baby-sitter or relative, find an alternative and explore with the child the reasons for her reluctance.

5. Use the word secret carefully. Secrecy is one of the abuser’s most effective tools. You might want to use the word surprise when you speak of happy secrets. (“Don’t tell Mother. It’s a birthday surprise.”)

Helping the Victim
If abuse has occurred, parents and other concerned adults can take steps to help the child deal with the trauma.

1. Face the problem when you first suspect it. In an attempt to keep the family together or to avoid embarrassment, a nonabusive parent may deny or minimize the seriousness of the abuse. Facing the problem can be especially difficult when a spouse has been the abuser. But without intervention by someone, an abuser will likely continue, even intensify the abuse. He may even abuse other children not already involved. Requiring the abuser to face the problem is the first step toward offering help and hope.

2. Report abuse immediately. Look in your telephone directory under Child Protection Services, Department of Social Services, Department of Children and Family Services, or Rape Crisis Center. Or you may call the local police or hospital. The situation will be investigated. Church members who suspect a spouse of abuse should discuss it immediately with the victim and, if suspicions are confirmed, immediately seek counsel from the bishop and a trusted professional.

3. Keep the child’s best interest uppermost in mind. This may be particularly difficult because perpetrators tend to be highly manipulative and deny the abuse or blame the victim for having caused it. Unfortunately, victims usually lack the power, understanding, or skills to stand up for themselves. They often readily accept blame, even though it is totally unjustified. The bishop, police authorities, and professional therapists who become involved are necessary to represent and protect the child adequately and to place blame on the perpetrator, where it rightfully belongs. Keeping the interests of the child foremost in mind and seeking the guidance of the Spirit, Church leaders, and professional counselors can help parents make wise decisions.

4. Stay calm. Discovering sexual abuse may be a shock, or it may be simply a confirmation of nagging suspicions. The parent may also feel guilt for not having prevented the problem. In any case, the child has already been traumatized and will likely misinterpret an adult’s outrage and revulsion as being directed against her. Seeking the Lord’s help and talking the problem through with the bishop, a professional counselor, or another supportive person can help bring the needed calm in this time of great stress.

5. Offer emotional support to the child. Often the child will fear punishment for divulging the “secret” of sexual abuse. In the case of incest, she may also fear damage to the family or hurting the abuser even more than she fears the actual abuse.

6. Help the victim understand her feelings. Although a very young victim may not understand what has happened, an older child may feel great fear and shame. Let the child know that the problem was not her fault and that she is not unclean. Stress that she is innocent of any wrongdoing. The anxiety she is feeling and any regressive behaviors she is exhibiting are normal and can be helped.

7. Don’t blame the child because she did not resist. Child sexual abuse almost always involves some sort of coercion—either emotional or physical. Often the victim has been threatened, bribed, or intimidated. (“You don’t want me to go to jail, do you?” or “Your mother won’t love you and everyone will think you are bad if you tell.”) Trust and dependence on adults makes children vulnerable to abuse. For a child to cooperate with an adult does not imply consent. The responsibility clearly lies with the abusing adult. “One of my biggest fears about reporting the incest,” says one victim, “was that whoever I confided in would think I had asked for the abuse.”

We may be tempted to advise victims who still suffer years later to simply get on with their lives. But most of us do not realize how long-lasting the effects of abuse may be, particularly when the child did not receive professional counseling at the time of the abuse. Certainly, victims can learn to place the trauma in perspective and refuse to let it dominate their lives. They can feel free from guilt and can also learn to forgive. But this may take years of patient work.

8. Seek counseling. Both victim and offender need individual help. In fact, in aberrant behavior of the magnitude of incest, it is extremely critical that professional counseling occur, that neither time nor resources be spared to help resolve the matter. Treatment for the victim will vary with the child’s age, the length of time and severity of the abuse, and the extent to which the child was traumatized. Therapy can help resolve feelings of guilt, stigmatization, and low self-esteem. The resolution will be much easier if the victim feels love and support from family and friends as well as from Church members and leaders.

Family therapy may also be helpful later on, but only after individual therapy has successfully helped the family uncover and resolve the manipulative and exploitive behavior of the abuser. If family therapy is attempted prematurely, the perpetrator may use the opportunity to manipulate other family members into maintaining the victim’s role. Family therapy is always the last stage—never the first—in the treatment process.

1 comment:

JAG said...

Cornnut! I'm so glad you posted this! Every parent should read this. (Even though I'm not a parent yet, I think this is very valuable information)