Predator (noun) - a person or group that ruthlessly exploits others
Children are generally trusting and believe the things that people say to them. Their ‘safe place’ is created by their parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends. But what happens to a child when they are violated in their ‘safe place’ by the very people that they trusted…
Child sexual abuse often takes place within the family, by a parent, stepparent, sibling or other relative; or outside the home, for example, by a friend, neighbor, childcare person, teacher, or stranger. When sexual abuse has occurred, a child develops many distressing feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Children may be threatened by the abuser and be fearful to tell anyone else, especially if the abuser is someone they know well.
No child is prepared to cope with repeated pain and fear of sexual abuse. The child who knows and cares for the abuser becomes trapped between affection or loyalty for the person, and the fear, pain and betrayal that goes along with the sexual abuse. If the child tries to break away from the sexual relationship, the abuser may threaten the child with violence or loss of love. When sexual abuse occurs within the family, the child may fear the anger, jealousy or shame of other family members, or be afraid the family will break up if the secret is told.
Most children don‘t understand the act of sexual abuse until they grow up and learn to differentiate between consent and violation. Most children are never told by their elders how to know the difference. Child victims become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults, depressed, intentionally harm themselves, and/or become suicidal.
But what happens when a child breaks their silence….
Most children grow up in families where sexual abuse is not talked about. When a complaint is voiced they are told not to say anything. They are made to believe that if they say something it will bring shame to the family or worse break the family. What will people think? Most times these instances are brushed under the carpet. Children are told things like:
- are you sure this happened
- i don’t believe you, they would never hurt you
- you were to young to remember exactly what happened
- you need to forgive the person, they didn’t know what they were doing
- if it wasn’t for the alcohol you would have never been hurt
- what did you do
And what happens when the family believes their child and wants to get justice….
The discovery that someone you love and trust has sexually abused your child is extremely stressful and can bring up intense feelings of shock, rage, confusion, denial, disbelief, and guilt. Dealing with these reactions—and helping your child recover from the abuse—requires time, strength, and support from your extended family, your community, and from professionals in law enforcement, child protection, and mental health services. Although it may be difficult, it is important to let the whole family (immediate & extended) know what has happened, and notify law enforcement.
Some family members may find it hard to believe the abuser could do such a thing, and take sides (or feel pressured to take sides) over who is telling the truth. Family members may also struggle with how to manage their divided loyalties toward the abuser and the victim. Even in families that accept that the abuse occurred, reactions to the abuser may be ‘we love the person but hate the crime they committed’. Tensions may arise when different family members have different opinions about loyalty, fairness, justice, forgiveness, and responsibility
Families break not because of the abused child, they break because the family does not have the strength to support and stand up for the abused child. Most extended family members prefer to remain neutral or take the drastic step of shunning the child and their immediate family members. The child ends up suffering more without the support of their immediate and extedend family while the perpetrator walks around with no consequences.
Knowing full well what has happened, do you really want a child predator at your family Xmas, Diwali or Eid dinner? Do you really need a police report to believe the child? What will it take for families to stand up for each other? Why does the perpetrator not suffer consequences for what they have done? Why is it that the child has to carry the burden of shame and guilt? Not standing up for the victim and continuing to engage with the perpetrator makes you just as guilty. Do you really think that the person will not commit the act again?
Sexually abused children and their families need immediate professional evaluation and treatment. Child and adolescent psychiatrists can help abused children regain a sense of self-esteem, cope with feelings of guilt about the abuse, and begin the process of overcoming the trauma. Cognitive- behavioural treatments can help both the child and their parents deal with the consequences of sexual abuse. Such treatments can help reduce the immediate emotional aftermath of abuse on children and families, and reduce the severity of future problems. By ending the secrecy surrounding sexual abuse, by supporting the child, by supporting the family, you can help to heal, protect, and nurture the abused child.