A reader emailed me and asked me to cover the topic of how the world blames the child abuse victims and how the world thinks they know the effects. This is a great topic idea that we need to talk about.
My experience is that, while most people are sympathetic to an abused child, they are mostly ignorant about the aftereffects of child abuse, especially in adulthood. I frequently hear comments such as, “an abused child is just going to grow up to become an abuser himself.” (This is not supported by statistics. Actually, only 1 in 10 abused children have been found to abuse in adulthood, which means that 90% of abused children do not become abusers. See this article.) I have been asked why I did not tell anyone. My response was, “Who would I tell? My own mother was hurting me. Who would I possibly have thought was safe when my own mother wasn’t safe?”
These are comments that I hear from well-meaning, law-abiding, “good” people. These are not abusers or people who in any way condone child abuse. However, society as a whole is woefully uneducated about child abuse and the aftereffects. This is one reason I am so passionate about educating people about child abuse every chance that I get, and I do this a lot at my church. Church people have the collective power to make a difference if they take a stand, but they are not going to do it if they are ignorant to the issues and statistics.
Another big area of societal ignorance is repressed memories. I strongly believe that the big wave of false memory syndrome propaganda in the 1990’s was perpetuated by child abusers, and many members of society still buy into the misconception that, if you did not always retain every memory of abuse from childhood, then it must have been implanted.
Stepping up on the soapbox…
When someone tells me that I must have false memory syndrome, I feel insulted, and I don’t feel this way easily. This assumption about me presumes that I am so weak-minded and weak-willed that I would simply allow another person to embed false memories in my head. I don’t trust many people, and I am a very intelligent person (graduated from a Top Ten graduate school). To tell me that I am so gullible that I would allow another person to implant these memories in my head is incredibly insulting.
Stepping off the soapbox…
Now that I have that off my chest, I will tell you how I respond … My sister and I have recovered numerous memories of the same events, and we have never seen the same therapist. We haven’t even lived in the same state since I started having flashbacks in 2003. So, to implant this many memories with this level of detail in two women living in two different states who do not see the same people regularly sounds like a much greater conspiracy theory than the truth that it happened.
It is well documented that young children (and even many adults) repress traumatic memories. Soldiers frequently return from battle with no memory of seeing their buddies’ body parts blown to bits. I know a five-year-old boy who was in a fatal car crash that took his mother’s life. He has no memory of that event, yet nobody questions that it happened. Everyone gets that the event was so traumatizing that he has repressed the memory. So, why does society at large have so much trouble understanding that a child exposed to repeated traumas would repress those memories?
Bottom line – Society at large does not “get it” about child abuse, and they are never going to “get it” unless we educate them. We need to do all we can to educate society about the epidemic of child abuse and the aftereffects. We need to stop sitting by silently listening to ignorant comments and educate these people. Of course, you need to heal enough to feel strong enough to take this on, but when you are ready, join the fight! If 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5-7 men spoke out about the truth of child abuse, it wouldn’t take that long to educate the world.
Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt