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Not everyone is comfortable talking about this subject. Not everyone will agree with my perspective on such a topic. And not everyone will understand why it’s important to talk about. But, what I will say is that I am speaking from personal as well as professional experience. This is what I’ve learned about child abuse.
When the #metoo movement took charge, I was no longer isolated. When it happened to me, I was only a kindergartner. I didn’t understand. My abuser was supposed to be someone who loved and cared for me. Yet they betrayed me. I didn’t know that it was wrong (being that I was only five years old at the time). But I knew it was supposed to be kept a secret.
My History with Child Abuse
Professionally, I worked as an abuse/neglect investigator for some time. I specifically worked with children. I came across several children with similar stories to mine. Of course, I never told them my story, but I could relate to how they felt and the confusion of it all.
While working in this profession, I often joked to friends and family that I was Olivia Benson from Law and Order: SVU. Who wouldn’t want to be her?! She’s a badass who puts the abusers away and I felt like I was contributing to that mission in my own role. It made all the difference to me to be someone’s Olivia Benson because I could’ve used someone like her.
During my personal and professional experiences, I’ve learned what these vulnerable children want others to know about them. This vulnerable population stems from elementary age to teenagers. It’s a wide age range, but there are some similarities:
1. They are confused
This is important to understand because it seems like everyone wants an answer from the child about what happened to them. It’s not so easy for them to answer. In their mind, they sometimes can’t distinguish what actions were wrong. This could be due to their young age, their misinterpretation of the actions, or several other reasons. These children are confused about why it happened to them. Oftentimes, the victims are left questioning every encounter they ever had with that person. Unfortunately, a high percentage of abusers are often someone we know and trust.
2. They are hurting
With all the confusion there is also hurt. I don’t remember exactly how I felt when I learned that was happening to me was wrong. However, I do remember feeling upset when I learned that this same person was harming others.
The abused children search in their minds for things that they did wrong and often begin blaming themselves for what happened. Alternatively, they may have thought that this was the way their abuser showed them love. Now, the child doesn’t know if they were ever really loved at all by anyone.
3. They feel embarrassed
Once it’s determined that the action(s) was not appropriate, it becomes embarrassing to know that someone has harmed you. It’s especially embarrassing when you have detectives, investigators, medical professionals, case workers, etc. asking you the same types of questions and you’re having to repeat your story multiple times when all you really want to do is curl up in a ball and be alone.
4. They don’t want you to feel sorry for them
As vulnerable as this population is, I’ve also learned that some of them just don’t want to feel pity from anyone. We are survivors. We are strong. But we do need help and we don’t want you to feel sorry for us while doing it. The pity makes it all feel even more embarrassing and can lead the abused child to shut down completely.
5. They want to forget it ever happened to them
With all the testing, questions, and legalities of a child abuse case, you can imagine that being a child in this situation is overwhelming. Truthfully, you just want to forget it ever happened and not think about any of the details anymore.
This is a time when the abused child needs those around them to understand that they also need some space to process. As much as a loving family member or friend may just want to wrap this child up in their arms to comfort them, sometimes that’s not what the child wants. Be sensitive to their needs and wishes to a point. Be as understanding as you can be in this situation. It’s a difficult situation to be in.
6. They don’t know who they can ever trust again
The abused child, regardless of their age, has trouble trusting others again. Internally, they have hesitations and constantly question the intentions of those around them and those that they meet. When you have been betrayed (especially by someone you knew, loved, and/or trusted) how can you trust anyone again? Their guard is going to be up no matter what and reasonably so. I think I could have benefited from counseling sessions when I went through this difficult time. Counseling is an option for abused children to participate in to help them overcome some of their hesitations.
7. They don’t want this event to define them or their future
I didn’t share my story with anyone for several years. I kept it to myself and basically locked it away inside and tried to keep it from defining my life. My story was brought to the surface when someone else spoke up about the abuse they faced by my same abuser. Since then, I’ve struggled with keeping that truth far from mind.
As much as I or any other victim of child abuse doesn’t want this to be a defining event, unfortunately it is now part of who we are through our experiences. It changes us. But don’t underestimate the power we have once we have taken control of ourselves and the life we want to live from that point on.
Why bring awareness about child abuse?
I am a mom now. Therefore, I felt it was important to address this topic. My experience as a victim of child abuse has left me with trust issues in the sense that I am extremely particular with whom I allow to be alone with my child. My mind plays tricks on me at times and I become an overbearing mother.
Nevertheless, my experience will be something that I think of often as my child grows older and when I can’t always be there. Recently, I spoke to a friend whose child went through a similar experience. She didn’t know how to help her child through this situation. The seven points in this post are the same points I made to her to help her family get through this difficult time. I only hope that these seven points will help others who find themselves in a similar situation and needing resources and guidance.
Child abuse happens more often than we would like to admit. Unfortunately, the majority of child abuse victims are abused by someone they know.
To all parents: Be involved. Ask questions. And don’t be afraid to be overbearing when needed.
- Joyful Heart Foundation- by Mariska Hargitay
- Why You Need to Teach Your Kids about Tricky People- EverydayMomSquad.com
- Healing Steps: A Gentle Path to Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse
- Healing from Childhood Abuse: Understanding the Effects, Taking Control to Recover
- Helping Your Child Recover from Sexual Abuse
- The Inner Child Workbook: What to do with your past when it just won’t go away
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