I'm grateful for April's designation as National Sexual Assault Awareness month, as well as National Child Abuse Prevention month. Sexual violence, including child sexual abuse, spans all ages, genders, races, ethnicities and economic backgrounds. Tens of thousands are added to the list of those who silently suffer from abuse each year. While our mission to bring healing to each of the individuals involved should never end, awareness months such as this one serve as an opportunity for many to break the silence that has enslaved them oftentimes for years, if not a lifetime.
Sexual abuse brings an enormous amount of guilt and shame to the victim which leads most of them to bear their pain and suffering alone. On top of that, most victims know their attackers, further encasing them behind walls of silence out of fear of the potential repercussions that can result from exposing the perpetrators. Staying silent, however, never leads to healing. I know. I am an abuse survivor.
I was only 3 years old when I began to be abused by a family member and if that weren't enough, I was raped as a teenager on two separate occasions by two different men. From firsthand experience, I have learned that if we are going to bring people from "victim" to "survivor," they need a chance to speak up and speak out. It is a crucial step towards healing. Without it, the shame, despair and inability to cope with the painful events can lead to depression as well as dangerous behavior, as victims tend to seek other ways to block out the memories and dull the pain.
It is important for all of us to always pay attention to our surroundings and those we come in contact with. Someone may be crying out for help, and if we know what to look for, we can be instrumental in moving them from victim to survivor. Some things to look for are:
Behavior that is sexual in nature or more mature for their age
Depression (Abuse victims are three times more likely to suffer depression.)
Acting out inappropriately
Alcohol or drug abuse. Those who have been abused are 13 times more likely to become addicted to alcohol and 26 times more likely to become addicted to drugs.
If you find yourself in the situation of suspecting sexual abuse, you need to know that the individuals need a safe place to talk about what has happened to them. They need to be able to release the shame, fear and feelings of unworthiness. Since the healing process for an abuse survivor is similar to that of someone suffering grief, they need to feel safe, experiencing the sadness of the loss of their childhood innocence, their virginity or security, whatever it was that the abuse took from them. They need to have the freedom to experience righteous anger and eventually be led down the path to forgiveness of both the perpetrator and themselves. Counseling is key to the healing process.
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