Facing up to the problem of sexual abuse

Facing up to the problem of sexual abuse

Anne Lastman

As a precursor to my forthcoming book on sexual abuse, I offer some thoughts about this issue in the hope that there will be an interest in the book so that we can make this scourge, which is proportionately as widespread as abortion, better known, more spoken about, and the victims not forgotten because the topic is considered so repulsive.

The information in this book has been gleaned over many years (nearly 18) of working with post-abortive men and women, including some who have experienced sexual abuse.

It was not my original intention to work within this field of sexual abuse. However, during counselling sessions involving the sharing of people's pain, this abuse emerged as something that contributed to further pain and self-destructive behaviours.

I began to feel it a great honour to be in a position to accompany my clients through times of great pain and in many cases previously unspoken about and deeply hidden because of the shame felt.

The book is written in layman's language for all those with an interest in the topic, including the care, protection and well-being of children.

Self-destructive patterns

Accompanying individuals over many hours and years of painful memories helped me to see the self-destructive patterns established as a result of abuse experienced in childhood.

From this, I came to see the untreated trauma and its effects on the lives of its victims, perpetrators, others within families and ultimately the broader society.

It helped me to see how a client's dysfunctional sexual and daily life, wounded emotions, chronic ill-health and addictive behaviour began when a loved member of the family or friend crossed a line which should never have been crossed.

Slowly, with more study into trauma and its effects, together with insights gained from speaking with clients, I began to see a pattern emerging which has led to this book.

Commissions of inquiry into institutional abuse are needed to raise awareness of sexual abuse of children; but, while necessary, they fail because they fall very short of the mark.

Their limited terms of reference targeting churches, schools, clubs, etc, have limited the inquiries and directed them towards preset targets while the victims and perpetrators now found in these areas began life in their own homes and families.

At times the molesters' own molestations began in their own homes or family friendship circles. A molester's dysfunctional psychosexual development had to begin somewhere.

While some clergy, rabbis, pastors, scout group leaders, medicos, famous individuals (Hughes, Harris) and magistrates have been molesters, individuals in all areas of life have been molesters.

However, these molesters were themselves in some cases molested, or had their sexuality activated too soon and their innocence betrayed.

This is not difficult to accept when we consider that approximately one in three women and one in eight men in North America (with similar figures in other nations) claim to have been sexually abused before reaching their teenage years (Finkelhor 1984, Peters, Wyatt & Finkelhor 1986, and Russell, 1986).

As a counsellor I have heard all it is possible to hear and I pray that I have been a listener with a hearing heart.

I pray that my ears have been the Lord's ears, hearing more of what was not said than what was said; and been able to journey, accompany and help remove the loneliness felt by the victims.

I hope I have shown another way to view the abuse so that mastery over its impact can become possible.

This coming book is the result of years of hearing pain.

I accept the fact that abuses, as reported in my counselling rooms, have occurred; and worldwide studies confirm the abuses and their negativity. For example, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1994) states that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can develop in children who have experienced sexual molestation, even if this is not life-threatening.

It adds, "The disorder may be especially severe or longer lasting when the stressor is of human design, e.g., torture, rape" (p. 424).

Sexual abuse, especially by a member of the family, is not only physical rape but soul rape. In acknowledging this, I am hopeful that my book includes words that will help those reading to hear a child's lonely and silent cries.

Witness the sad eyes of a child who cannot speak out, fearful of some threat being carried out.

Telltale signs

It is my hope that teachers, sports masters, other parents, priests, indeed anyone who has dealings with children, will keep an eye open for signs that a child is hurting, and will then act to stop the suffering.

Perhaps that child has been threatened and is waiting for someone to hear the silent cry of pain.

When this does not happen counsellors like me will hear words such as, "Anne, if you don't help me, I will end it all" (Sophie). And some actually do.

Today we need to speak out about abortion and its dangers, pain and effects on men, women, families, siblings and society.

It is clear that this "procedure", far from being "minor", leaves long-lasting pain. The sexual abuse of children is no different.

As with abortion, sexual abuse leaves an imprint and haunts forever, unless help and support are given. Even a solitary intrusion into innocence remains to haunt and cause fear and loss of original design.

It is not a "minor event", even when it happens just once. Something occurs which changes a child's and later adult's vision of self and leaves both victim and perpetrator changed forever.

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