Statistics from The National Center for Victims of Crime website reveal that one in five girls and one in twenty boys is a victim of child sexual abuse (CSA). A 2009 study by The National Child Trauma Stress Network finds that “as many as 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18.” There are different schools of thought about defining CSA, and the victims’ failure to report incidents tends to skew the statistics. Suffice it to say, the numbers are substantial.
Child abuse (CA) is a separate category of adults’ inflicting trauma on children and can include CSA under the umbrella of offenses that are traumatic to children. The Child Welfare Information Gateway identifies several categories of CA:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse/exploitation
- Emotional abuse
- Parental substance abuse
State and federal laws have codified civil and criminal definitions of both CSA and CA, the full scope of which are beyond the purview of this blog. The penalties associated with these categories of child abuse are provided in both the state and federal systems. When I represented the legal rights of adult survivors of CSA and CA, state and federal laws were the key weapons in the war chest for bringing civil lawsuits against alleged perpetrators.
On April 1, 2017, I was a copresenter at the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation’s (ISSTD) 34th Annual International Conference in Washington, DC. The name of the conference was The Ripple Effect: Trauma and Dissociation in the Mainstream. The mission statement of ISSTD is “to advance clinical, scientific, and societal understanding about the prevalence and consequences of chronic trauma and dissociation.”
My copresenter, Christy Wise, PsyD, and I were invited to speak at the conference by a common acquaintance who knew our ripple effect stories. The key point of interest was our pasts and the formula that led Christy and me from professional success to prison. Most importantly, the formula applies to the mainstream—other professionals and people in general—whose life paths fit into the formula of disaster. Here’s that formula:
History of CSA/CA → poor relationship choices → disabling/disastrous futures
During our preparation conversations, Dr. Wise and I were startled by the similarities in our lives. Her book, Breaking Free: From Stockholm to Shackles, is an eyeopener that follows the disaster formula. The more we spoke about our childhoods (I discuss mine in Derailed), the more we felt that prison bond of shared, weird-but-real incarceration experiences. We exchanged stories of our poor choices of spouses who ran our professional businesses amok and used our names to defraud and victimize our clients. We immediately saw the parallels of how we survived in prison using our professional skills and experiences as a former psychologist and a former attorney.
A statement from the prologue of Dr. Wise’s book speaks volumes on this topic:
I can’t figure out how I could spend my entire life trying so hard to help people and end up here! What the f@%k happened!? –A phone conversation with a friend from behind the glass in Las Colinas Woman’s Detention Center
What happened to us is what mental health professionals describe as the impact of vulnerabilities of child abuse survivors who develop highly successful life paths but whose object choices can be impacted by CSA/CA, rendering us at risk for adult trauma. Dictionary.com notes that an object choice is defined in the psychological world as a person “upon which an individual’s psychic energy is centered.” Those choices, as Dr. Wise and I shared and about which she writes, can often be sick.
The Stockholm Syndrome refers to the emotional “bonding” with captors in a hostage situation. If you’re old enough, think of Patty Hearst and her 1974 abduction, at 19 years old, in Berkeley, California, by the Symbionese Liberation Army. A broader definition, Dr. Wise argues, applies to abusive marriages or abusive relationships wherein emotional bonding with the abuser is a survival strategy for victims of abuse and intimidation.
Dr. Wise and I discussed how our situations are not unique to prisons’ general populations. We spoke about men and women whose lives fit squarely within the Child Welfare Information Gateway’s types of abuse listed above. The individual stories prove to be tragic and heartbreaking. I met Los Angeles gang members who had never seen the Pacific Ocean. That fact has stuck in my mind for fourteen years—how could that be, and what’s behind the family relationships that cut off basic life experiences?
There’s a lot of mental health work to be done in our prisons. They fester with people who, as children, were horribly hurt and whose emotional scars carry over as precursors to the road to prison.
If you know of an endangered child, please contact your local police department or child protective services agency to report what you know. Most of the time, your identity will be kept anonymous, unless there are legal proceedings based on a report.
Also, the victims of crime website provides a list of organizations that offer assistance for better understanding and reacting to CSA/CA:
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has a valuable library of resources for those seeking to investigate CSA.
Darkness to Light is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping child victims of sexual abuse and adult survivors. They have a network of service providers as well as a toll free help line.
In searching for answers and healing, a child victim of sexual abuse may exhibit certain warning signs. Stop It Now works with educators, parents, law enforcement, and service professionals to recognize, respond, and react to these signs.
Safe4Athletes is a non-profit that helps sports organizations adopt effective policies, procedures and educational programs that are designed to prevent coach, volunteer and peer misconduct whether it be sexual, bullying, harassment or other forms of inappropriate behaviors.
Children’s Advocacy Center is a non-profit organization that provides training, prevention, and treatment services to fight child abuse and neglect.
Please comment on the topics raised; I’m always interested in finding out what my readers are thinking.
Image courtesy of 123RF.com