Trigger Warning: the following post contains content about child sexual abuse.
In this post I would like to speak out about something deeper and darker than rainy days and loving moments.
Something quite awful, in fact. A harsh, heart-stabbing reality that plagues our society every day, whether we choose to see it or not. That reality is child sexual abuse.
The thing is, our general perception of an attack of this nature goes something like this …
You’re at the beach, the park, or a crowded event and your child slips away from you, either for a small moment or a more substantial amount of time. While you panic and search, you imagine a man. A shadowy figure with an even-more shadowy agenda, approaching your lost, vulnerable child.
You picture him taking your child away, or attacking them there and then. Doing unspeakable things, and giving no mercy. Scarring your innocent little person for the rest of their life, if they’re even left living, with you helpless to stop it.
You imagine he is a monstrous stranger that would stand out easily among the normal, pleasant people. Maybe he has an unmissable scar, several vicious, graphic tattoos or perhaps just a terribly readable face that speaks of ill intentions. He hides in the shadows, emerging only for a fresh victim, and slips away again, once his cruel deeds are done.
When you discover your child, safe and sound, playing a hundred metres away with shells, a puppy or a stray balloon you collapse in relief. You wrap your arms around her/him overwhelmed with happiness to see s/he is unharmed. You think to yourself this:
“The shadowy man didn’t show. My little one is still safe from such things, thank God.”
I’d like to acknowledge first, that these types of monsters do indeed exist. The scenario I just described, the one with a far-worse ending, does happen. I’m not by any means telling anyone here to stop putting their guard up when out in public. Of course, stay aware and keep track of your children at all times.
However, I am seeking to debunk the misunderstanding that this is the only, or even most- common, way that sexual assault or abuse comes about. It is in fact the least-likely scenario. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, most cases of child abuse are at the hands of a parent, family member or family friend. It is most commonly someone they know and trust and it is also most commonly ongoing. An inside operation of the most heinous nature.
The worst part about this is that unlike a one-off attack from a stranger, the victim is completely cornered in by the abuser, often for years of their lives, with the confusion of the attacker’s relationship to the family standing in the way of speaking up.
It is a powerful tool predators use. They can warp a small child’s every idea of what is normal, fill them with misplaced guilt and turn them inward, creating confusion, fright and an “at fault” idea of themselves. Predators work with the ability to turn shame around on a child, giving them the sense of being “in trouble” and filling them with the need to conceal their horrible secret. These people are selfish, manipulative, conniving, cowardly and sneaky, often manipulating their victims using phrases like;
“YOU will be in trouble.”
“YOU will ruin the family.”
“YOU should trust ME. I’m YOUR ——”
“YOU asked for this.”
“They will never forgive YOU.”
I myself am a survivor of such abuse.
For 12 years of my life I was a victim. Tortured by someone who I was taught to believe I should trust undoubtedly. I had these very thoughts. Such warped beliefs my assaulter taught me, and I believed him. It was my fault.
When I turned 12 I awoke in a bed to something I couldn’t possibly repeat. After so many years of storing away every horrible moment I’d endured, every horrific day I’d fallen victim to the monster that ruled my life, I finally broke. I could only say my mother’s name until she picked me up and brought me home, confused and concerned with what was wrong with me. I didn’t speak for days, then one night, I burst into tears and buried my head into her during dinner. I was unable to make audible words for what felt like hours. Finally, I said what I could never say. She now knew the truth.
When I reflect on this moment, as a parent, I have absolutely NO idea how she held it all together so well, but she did. She is my idol, my hero and my saviour. She held me for hours that night, kissed me on the head and told me all of the opposites to what he warned she would say.
“It’s going to be all right.”
“It’s NOT your fault.”
“It will end now.”
“I love you.”
After carrying my sleeping body up the stairs and to my bed, I later learned she collapsed into tears. She wept well into the night, then upon finding the strength to move forward, she set about making a plan of action. My hero called everyone she knew who could help her. Physically, emotionally and legally. She planned to bring my monster down.
We went through months of statements, phone calls, DOCS visits, police and attorney appointments. It was hard, but still nothing compared to what I’d already been through. At the end of the day, he did time. Not what he deserved, but enough for me to feel closure.
Even with all the support of my family, an escape, closure and justice, I was still not OK. I had relationship issues that are still ongoing to this day. I am unable to keep focus on anything for very long, as I am always tense and edgy. My mind is constantly on guard and sometimes I cannot even stand to be touched by my own, loving husband. I’m prone to depression and OCD, which I need to constantly keep tabs on and improve through medication and consistent psychotherapy sessions. This is all the result of those 12 years.
I can’t help but think if this is me, the one who got out, who got revenge, who got all the support I needed. What about the others? What about the ones who were ignored? What about the ones who never told, who watch their predator day after day walk free and socialise, content and smug with an ongoing normal life they don’t deserve?
What about the children, who are still living this nightmare? Who cannot speak up? Who feel afraid and alone? Who can’t understand why this happens to them?
They are why I write this now. I ask that you talk to your children. Help them understand that these things that can happen are never their fault. Help them know that being an adult doesn’t automatically earn trust, that there are real monsters, and they look like people. Teach them to be smart and to follow their gut. Most of all, teach them to trust YOU, so they can tell you anything without judgement, knowing you will protect them no matter what.
Keep your eyes open at all times. Follow your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right to you, it probably isn’t. Talk openly with your child and never leave them with someone you feel iffy about. Know however, that it at times can be impossible to pick a predator from anyone else. As mentioned earlier, they are usually very sneaky. So keep in mind that your best defence is the trust of your child and to keep an assertive mind.
If your child comes forward. If they reveal to you the worst, please don’t react with fury, even though it’s not at the child. As hard as it would be, (and believe me, I’d find it HARD), try to stay calm for your child. Simply comfort them and tell them it will all end now and all be OK. Take action swiftly, but do it smart. Get in contact with someone who knows the law and plan your attack strategically. Remember you’re not just saving your child, but other children too. Sadly, paedophiles rarely stop at one, so acting on impulse, though understandable, will be less effective in the long run.
Find support for both yourself and your child. Surround yourself with happy, loving, caring people you do trust. Seek counselling and advice, and work towards the future.
It can get better. Life can improve. I’m now 25 and have a family of five plus two dogs. My husband and I love our children more than life itself and we consider ourselves to be fairly happy, well-balanced people. My predator lost in the end. I don’t allow his memory to plague my life further. I continue to build myself to be strong with all the help and support that I need, all he has is his guilt, his own burden.
If you need help, there is a wonderful Australian support and education network called Bravehearts. They are full of helpful info, tips, and educational programs for kids. Never hesitate to call a helpline or if need be, 000. Trust in yourself.
Take care, be safe, and above all keep your eyes open.
For more information please visit the Bravehearts website.