It can happen to anyone whose ego strength and life crisis places them in a vulnerable position. It happens to women more than to men, and to children most of all. It destroys parts of them but usually does not kill them, at least not right away, so it often goes unnoticed. Why isn’t there more training, discussion and parental guidance to protect children from being afflicted by it?
Most of you know by now that I am referring to sexual abuse. Statistically one in four women and one in six men acknowledge having experienced sexual abuse before they were eighteen. Most of them couldn’t tell it then. Many others can’t tell it now. Therefore, the statistics are skewed–dramatically skewed.
Since I wrote my book, Redeeming Our Treasures (Finding Joy in the Shadows of an Abusive Past), I have found that both women and men talk to me about their traumatic childhood experiences. I have listened as well as adult women poured out their pain and their guilt over being drawn into a sexual relationship with persons who exploited their vulnerability during a crisis. The pastor who perceived an opportunity to engage in an extramarital affair with a church member who was feeling abandoned by her husband has not only seduced but abused his parishioner.
The elements of sexual abuse include:
1. Power over the victim: the victim is overpowered by the size, age, or authority of the abuser
2. Neediness: every child has needs they can’t meet on their own. They depend on adults for their physical as well as emotional provision. It is common knowledge that babies who are not held and touched will likely die. When need is exploited it is abusive.
3 Access: the perpetrator has access to the child that provides the secrecy required for acting out his crime
.4. Set up: the abuser will win the child’s confidence by appearing nurturing, admiring, loving, and/or by offering privileges that the child may not be accustomed to receiving. A needy child will soak up the attention of the perpetrator and develop a sense of loyalty to him. She becomes entrapped by her (or his) response to the perceived affection, attention, and/or privileges offered by the perp. She may blame herself for enjoying his offerings before she experienced overt violation.
5. Assessment: those who abuse children or vulnerable adults will often (not always) assess her (or his) support system. If a supportive family is visibly involved with the intended victim, offering unconditional love and open communication, the abuser is less likely to attempt victimization out of fear of exposure. He preys upon the needy, neglected, lonely, and sad. Sometimes, however he moves in on a basically healthy child from a stable family–manipulating the child with threats of physical harm to the child or his/her family or shaming him into silence
If we, as a society, seek knowledge about the methods of sexual predators and set up boundaries to protect our children BEFORE a violation occurs, we can begin to make a difference in the number of children being abused. It may be our own child, grandchild, niece or nephew that we are rescuing from a lifetime of dealing with the damages of sexual abuse. Why do we wait until it is too late? Why do most parents and other care givers seek understanding about this social disease only AFTER abuse is suspected?
If a physical disease occurred in our society with the frequency and impact on the physical, mental, and emotional health of our children that affected even 1%, 3% or 5% of our children, we would expect our government to issues warnings, provide guidelines for avoiding contamination, and set thousands of doctors and scientist to work developing a “cure.” And yet, this affliction damages well over 25% of the girls in our society and roughly 20% of the boys. What are we as a society doing about it?
I will write again to provide some suggestions that may be useful to parents, teachers, church leaders, and social workers who are committed to the protection of children in our society. We must all do our part to stop the damage of sexual abuse–to shut it down in our society. Only then will our children grow up free of a social disease that is debilitating to their body, mind, and soul.