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Family Secrets: Sexually Abused Children

 

Hush now, we must be quiet, it must stay our little secret; we are fine as we are. Family secrets can be deadly. Secrets can harm family members and the people around them. Often these are detrimental family secrets that can ruin someone’s life; secrets such as child abuse, or even worse child sexual abuse. A form of abuse that happens is not gender specific, usually by someone close to the child, an uncle, cousin, or even worse a parent. It is a tragic event; sadly, but most of the time the parent or guardian knows about the sexual abuse, but does nott do anything about it. It is a terrible family secret that is kept quiet until someone decides to speak out about what is going on. The most horrific part is that the abuse goes on for years and no one reports it.
There are many horrible stories of children being sexually abused by a family member. Thousands happen inside the United States, but one that recently comes to my mind was recently featured on Dr. Phil of a girl named Taylor. Taylor was molested by her father starting from the age of six until seventeen. Her father, Russell, not only molested her, but gave her drugs, and took her to Mexico on numerous occasions, where she was forced to do horrific unspeakable things. No one knew of the abuse until she saw him preparing to “groom” her sister into the same abuse she went through. She decided to come out to not only protect her sister but in a way keep him for herself. As twisted as it is, Taylor wanted to be her father’s only “love interest”. She is now nineteen and a heroin addict. As shown in her case, child sexual abuse causes extensive psychological harm that can affect the person even as an adult.
Children are taught to report it by going to a teacher or law enforcement, but to the child that is being abused, it is not that easy. It is hard for the victim to walk up to someone and say they are being sexually abused. This is one of the many reasons why the abuser targets this category for abuse. The child may have a fear of what can happen to them if they report it, whether it be a rational fear or not. Most of the time, the abuser will threaten the child that if they tell, they will hurt them more or even kill them. For most adults, let alone a child, that fear is enough to keep them from outing the abuser. Most of the victims will have a sense of guilt about what is happening to them, they feel as if what is going on is somehow their fault. They think that they were somehow the ones who instigated the abuse, or something is wrong with them now that they are being molested or raped. They’re ashamed, and would rather not suffer the embarrassment of having to retell what has happened to them.
There are over 3 million reports of child sexual abuse made in the United States every year (“National Child…”,2012). Child sexual abuse (CSA) affects the person as they get older and go throughout their life. Often they will be emotionally or physically distant from people close to them. The person will have trouble being in a relationship or sharing his or her feelings with other people. They can suffer in work settings because of the inability to connect. Experiencing depression, dissociation, anxiety, and sometimes posttraumatic stress disorder are common occurrences in sexually abused children (Whiffen, 2012).
Posttraumatic stress disorder is mostly correlated with soldiers coming back from war; unfortunately, more and more often it is being recognized in abused children. Mostly it is occurring in children that are being repeatedly sexually assaulted. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms can last from a couple of weeks to many, many years. Especially if the abuse is ongoing, and the child is not receiving the help he or she needs. Symptoms of PTSD include loss of interest, worry about dying, inability to concentrate, restlessness, and increased alertness to their surroundings. Many times the child can experience dissociation; which involves them showing intense fear, anger, sadness, horror, helplessness or denial (“Posttraumatic Stress…”, 2011). As can be imagined, none of this is good for a child whose brain is still in the process of developing. Traumatic events, like CSA, can affect the child throughout the rest of his or her life. Whether he doesn’t feel comfortable being close to people, being sexual with his significant other, or trusting anyone of the opposite sex, each one of these aspects can ruin a person’s life.
There are treatments for sexually abused children and adults with PTSD. Antipsychotics, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medicine are some of the most common; if someone doesn’t want to be put on drugs or they need more than just drugs there are other therapies that they can do. Therapies like cognitive therapy: this is a type of talk therapy where the person comes to the realization of what is keeping them stuck. An example of being stuck would be not being able perceive situations normally. Another therapy is expositor therapy; this helps the person safely recall memories that they find frightening. The last therapy is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: this combines expositor therapy and a series of eye movements to help process traumatic memories (“Treatment and Drugs,” 2011). People with PTSD need help in order to fit into the everyday world. They want to have a normal job, family, and ultimately life just like everyone else. The more ways there are to help people with PTSD, the more people can live a normal life, even if their childhood was scared by sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse, or any kind of abuse, affects the left hemisphere of a child’s brain. The left hemisphere of the brain controls writing, scientific skills, mathematics, verbal thoughts, and memory (Joseph, 2000). Adults with this brain change often experience epileptic seizures when they get older (Holmes, 2003). If someone has epileptic seizures they may not be able to drive, or obtain certain jobs. These seizures are caused from abnormal neuronal activity in the brain. While having a seizure, the person will either wildly thrash around, sometimes hitting themselves on sharp objects, or have a brief period of unawareness where the victim slumps over as if asleep (“Epileptic seizures,” 2012).
Studies have shown that people who are abused as children cannot handle stress as well as children that lead fairly normal lives growing up. We deal with stress every day. Stress can be hard enough for people with normally developed brains to handle. Now imagine not being able to handle stress well and living in the world we do. It cannot be easy. Not only was their childhood hard, now their adulthood is difficult because of the repercussions of being sexually abused. Sexually abused children also have a greater suicide risk than normal children because of their inability to handle stress (Carey, 2009).
Sexual abuse hurts children and can keep their brains from functioning normally. The child will always have the memory of the traumatic event even if the memory is repressed. Certain situations or sounds may trigger the memory, and a bad response from the child, even if the child is now an adult. This is called a “trauma trigger.” What triggers the memory doesn’t need to be frightening or traumatic, but once the memory is triggered the person can sometimes become scared. Anything can trigger one of these memories, from sounds, to smells, to a scene in a film, or a specific date. The trigger can be subtle, but as the memory comes crashing forward, it is shocking and hurtful. If a person has trauma triggers a lot, then the person needs to be in a living condition where they feel safe, and where the memories will not be triggered. It is possible for them to go to a therapist that will help them bring the memories forward and experience them so that the memories cannot just come crashing forward (“Trauma Trigger”, 2012).
One thing that is not common knowledge, but is quite common is Multiple Personality Disorder or MPD. MPD is a disorder that is characterized by one person having many different personalities, but often not knowing that the other personality exists. There are different severities of MPD ranging from the person being two entirely different people, to just having minor personality differences. Each personality can have its own habits and behaviors. Personalities can be totally opposite from one another, created by the mind to help the child escape from what is happening. MPD personalities can also have different ages; one personality can be five holed up in a closet trying to escape the reality of what is happening and the other personality will act like nothing is wrong, creating an imaginary world. When a therapist talks to each personality the five year old will have the mannerisms of a five year old even if the person sitting there is 40. One personality will have memories that the other one won’t. For example, the five year old will remember her father having sex with her, whereas the other personality will not be able to recall it, to that personality the incident never took place (“Dissociative Identity…”, 2012).
MPD has been linked to childhood sexual abuse. Strangely enough, it has been found that adult’s who were sexually abused as children, quite often have grown up to become sexual abusers themselves. Many times these adults will also have MPD. The younger the person is, the more difficult it is for MPD to be diagnosed. However, it is imperative that MPD be diagnosed as soon as possible so that it does not worsen. MPD is sometimes misdiagnosed because of the signs it is showing, such as depression or suicidal thoughts. The sooner it is diagnosed the less likely the person is to harm his or her own children, or even other peoples’ children. As with most disorders related to CSA, the person, or child, with MPD needs to go see a therapist. Often a psychologist will put them on medication to help calm the personalities and have one stay to the forefront more than the other. It is a scary thing to think about, but as with everything it needs to be dealt with as soon as possible (Coons, 2010).
Suicide is such a tragic occurrence; it hurts everyone around them. Sexually abused children are 18 times more likely to commit suicide than a non-sexually abused child; they’re 49 times more likely to die of a drug overdose due to an addiction. The study was done on 2,000 children that were abused between the years 1964-1995, they checked to see if they had died from events like suicide and drug use. It was shocking for researchers to find out how many had died. Dr. Cutajar, the lead researcher in the case, says, “We all figured it would be high, but we were surprised at how high it was.” The findings from all of their research were published in an Australian Medical Journal. Many of the victims were loners because the family didn’t want to associate with them or acknowledge what had happened (“Abused children…”, 2010).
Sadly, many people who were sexually abused as children will grow up to do the same. It is said, “About 30% of abused and neglected children will grow up to abuse their own children”(“National Child…”, 2012). It’s an odd thought. Why would someone who was hurt as a child want that to happen to another child? One would assume that they would be the most against CSA. Some are, but others grow up to follow in the path of the abuser that hurt them. There are reasons for this cycle. What they’re doing feels familiar to them, this was the way that the abused was taught to connect. In a twisted way, this is how the abused feels love because of the lack of ability to get close to anyone other than abusing. The abused does not know how to have a normal relationship and translates it into becoming an abuser. For the abused, now the abuser, it is a way to attempt to heal the scars of their own childhood. They are trying to become the powerful one, getting rid of the helpless feeling that they had when their abuser was forcing him or herself upon them (Hartney, 2011).
Often they feel inadequate; when they were being abused their abuser may have told them that they weren’t good enough. They were told that no one would help them because nobody cared about what was happening to them. So the abused is now abusing to try to find the feeling of adequacy. In some cases, as has been seen with rapists, they feel sexually aroused by the abusive behavior. When they were children, their mind turned it into something that was good and would turn them on. Also, the feeling of power that they now have over the other person, instead of being helpless as before they’ve reversed roles and are now the aggressors, which arouses them (Hartney, 2011).
Many times a sexually abused child will grow up to be in an abusive relationship, not necessarily sexually abusive but physically abusive. They feel as though they are not good enough to be with someone who doesn’t hurt them. The abused is used to abuse in their life (Hartney, 2011).
When a child is sexually abused it’s an awful thing. The longer it happens, the worse it is. If a child is being abused, the abuse needs to be reported as soon as possible. If the child reports it, then they need to be given as much support by the listener as possible. It’s scary enough for them to be telling the adult; they don’t need the added stress of someone doubting them or acting appalled. Because CSA causes so much psychological damage, it is imperative that the child be helped. The child needs to be taken not only to a hospital, but also to a psychologist or therapist to help them will the damage that has been done to their brain.
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