Think of any form of abuse and a child somewhere in the world is experiencing it at any given moment. As a therapist, I hear and deal with the worst of stories. Sometimes, they are presented factually in a way that says the emotions behind the stories are frozen or dead. The worst of stories are often minimised by victims as a form of protection. Others can hardly utter the words they need to explain what happened. All of them are suffering from trauma and this defines their life and relationships. Let’s remind ourselves that they are living with this because an adult made a choice and in many cases, an adult they knew and trusted. Many of my clients have described the classic cycle of abuse where their abuser rewarded them for the abuse by treating them with gifts or outings. Others have been threatened with pain or worse if they tell. Some were guilted into silence by being made aware of the consequences for their abuser if they told anyone. These stories are heartbreaking and no-one should ever minimise the impact it has on victims.
What makes an adult abuse a child? Healthline came up with a summary:
- history of child abuse or neglect during their own childhood
- having a substance use disorder
- physical or mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- poor parent-child relationships
- socioeconomic stress from financial issues, unemployment, or medical problems
- a lack of understanding about basic childhood development (expecting children to be capable of tasks before they’re ready)
- a lack of parenting skills to help cope with the pressures and struggles of raising a child
- a lack of support from family members, friends, neighbors, or the community
- caring for a child with intellectual or physical disabilities that make adequate care more challenging
- family stress or crisis caused by domestic violence, relationship turmoil, separation, or divorce
- personal mental health issues, including low self-confidence and feelings of incompetence or shame
- ignoring or denying a child’s problematic behavior, changes, or difficulties
- using language that shows they view the child as worthless or burdensome
- demanding physical or academic performances that aren’t achievable by their child
- asking teachers or other caregivers to use harsh punishment if the child misbehaves
- rarely showing physical affection to the child
- showing hostility to the child, especially in light of bad behavior
- displaying little concern for their child
The list above can be seen as many reasons why this happens but never an excuse. It is always the victim who carries the burden of the consequences. I am reminded of an article I wrote in 2012, which you will find below.
Children are suffering from a hidden epidemic of child abuse and neglect. Every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States alone involving more than 6 million children (a report can include multiple children). The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations – losing on average between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect.
1 in 10 children suffer from child maltreatment. 1 in 16 children suffer from sexual abuse.
Nearly 1 in 10 children are witnesses to family violence.
The youngest children are the most vulnerable to maltreatment. Over 25% of abused children are under the age of three while over 45% of abused children are under the age of five.
Number of children in the United States who died because of abuse or neglect in 2012: 1,593
Of the number of children who died because of abuse or neglect…
70.3% were younger than three years of age
44.4% were younger than one year of age
While boys and girls are equally as likely to be victims of abuse and neglect (in 2012, 48.5% of abused children were boys while 51.2% of abused children were girls); the rate of child fatality is higher for boys (in 2012, 57.6% of child fatalities due to abuse and neglect were boys).
More than 85% of the child fatalities in 2012 were white children. However, when comparing the number of child fatalities to the population data, Pacific Islander and African-American children had the highest rates of child fatalities (4.69 and 4.67 per 100,000 Pacific Islander and African-American children).
In over 20% of the child fatalities that occurred in 2012, the child was exposed to domestic violence in the home.
Number of reports of child abuse every year in the United States: 2.9 million
Let the following snippets from victims remind us that child abuse is the most unforgivable of crimes…….. victims live every day with the knowledge that someone has stolen their most precious gift..the future.
“I always wondered why Dad did the things he did to me (us), was it my fault? Did I do something to entice him? I kept the secret until just recently. I have terrible nightmares. And I thought that was all it was until one day my sister said “Sorry honey that was not just a dream”. All the dreams I had about “some man” touching and violating me when I was 6 – 8 years of age turned out to be about my own father. He did not just violate me, he chased my older sister away from our home, he raped the two sisters that came after me, and he assaulted our five-year old nephew. How can any one man destroy so many lives and so many innocents? “
“When I was 4 or 5 I remember it was just me and my mom, and I loved that. She paid attention to me and we had so much fun. Then she met her husband Doug. When I turned 6 that’s when things started to happen. He started to sexually abuse me on a regular basis. It took me years to figure out that what he was doing was wrong and unacceptable. When I was at my babysitter’s I had told her what he was doing and she called my mom and Child protective services. That did nothing though; my Mom just sent them away and told them I was over reacting and that I just wanted attention. After that I just kept my mouth shut for years because I knew she’s just going to tell me it didn’t happen and she didn’t believe me.” .
“Several days prior to my birthday, February 6th, I started feeling anxious again. From dealing with this in the past, I knew a memory was coming, and it was tied to a date. I couldn’t believe until the last moment that it was my birthday, he did it on my birthday… Now there was no need to wonder why I could never remember any of my birthday celebrations – they were all blocked because of THAT one”
” I have lived with a secret for the majority of my life. Many others are living with the same secret and they, like me, are suffering from the damage and pain it causes.”
” Even though I am approaching fifty, I will never forgive you for sentencing me to thirty years of trying to make sense of what you did and then denied “
Keeping a secret can be a very lonely responsibility. As survivors of childhood sexual abuse we were taught to keep the secrets of our trauma. Sometimes we kept the secret because we were afraid of the consequences, and sometimes we kept the secret because we thought we shared a special relationship with our abuser. For whatever reason; quietly and in solitude we endured shame and confusion, unaware that countless other children were bearing the same burden as we were. Never be afraid to BREAK THE SILENCE…ABUSE IS NOT YOUR FAULT !! If you are a victim of child abuse, a survivor or know someone who was or is a victim of child abuse and you need someone to talk to, please feel free to contact me*. I would be more than happy to help you get through in the same way I did. Don’t live with the silence
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That picture tells a thousand words all by itself…
I very stupidly… asked my brother recently if my “caretaker” ever asked about me as he still speaks to him every now and then…and I guess I was curious….
He said: “no… never!”
Thank you for the work that you do Dr Jenner. You help us feel seen, heard and make us feel we actually exist.
We forgot what that was like…
Thank you for the comment. Hope you are well.
I am a survivor of horrific abuse for from the ages of 5-17. Im focused on healing, but part of that healing is telling my story abd bringing awareness to this horrible crime. It’s hard. I struggle. But I’m still here.
Thank you for educating and bringing awareness. 💜🙏🏼
Thank you for taking the time to comment8
“It has been said that if child abuse and neglect were to disappear today, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual would shrink to the size of a pamphlet in two generations, and the prisons would empty. Or, as Bernie Siegel, MD, puts it, quite simply, after half a century of practicing medicine, ‘I have become convinced that our number-one public health problem is our childhood’.” (Childhood Disrupted, pg.228)
Yes. I had no idea that I was not alone. Today, as I am speaking and advocating, I realize that this a pandemic that even Covid can’t match. And yet it is the children who are forced to prove that a crime was committed.
You are not alone…MJ
And yet we are all very alone too, probably some of the loneliest people out there, because there is no loneliness as deeply painful as the loss of a self that was never able to be formed.
It is not something you can take a pill for or have an operation for, nor is it something you can even communicate well to others.
It is also something you can never put back or right.
How do you possibly teach children that the very closest people to you that made you and “love” you. It is these people whom you love and trust and look up to…in your own household….yes…. these are the people that are going to abandon, neglect, betray, abuse, hurt you in every conceivable way. They are going to crush you, and manipulate you and do very cruel things to you, so that you do not then know what to believe, and doubt everything, and feel there is no way out.
And then they are going to make it all your fault and pretend like none of it never happened. Just because they can.
No kid wants to be taught that do they?
Yet that is what we were forced to learn very quickly.
And then wonder why we fear life…and have trouble living…
In this world, every day of the year should be Child Abuse Prevention Month, though it’s only for April. …
Emotional and/or psychological trauma from unhindered toxic abuse typically results in a helpless child’s brain improperly developing. If allowed to continue for a prolonged period, it can act as a starting point into a life in which the brain uncontrollably releases potentially damaging levels of inflammation-promoting stress hormones and chemicals, even in non-stressful daily routines. It’s like a form of non-physical-impact brain damage.
The lasting emotional and/or psychological pain from such trauma is very formidable yet invisibly confined to inside one’s head. It is solitarily suffered, unlike an openly visible physical disability or condition, which tends to elicit sympathy/empathy from others. It can make every day a mental ordeal, unless the turmoil is treated with some form of medicating, either prescribed or illicit.
It’s written in the book Childhood Disrupted: “[Even] well-meaning and loving parents can unintentionally do harm to a child if they are not well informed about human development” (pg.24).
Being free nations, society cannot prevent anyone from bearing children. Society can, however, educate all young people for the most important job ever, through child-development science curriculum. [Mindlessly minding our own business on such matters has too often proven humanly devastating.] If nothing else, such education could offer students an idea/clue as to whether they’re emotionally suited for the immense responsibility and strains of parenthood.
The health of all children needs to be of real importance to us all — and not just concern over what other parents’ children might or will cost us as future criminals or costly cases of government care, etcetera — regardless of how well our own developing children are doing. I strongly believe that a physically and mentally sound future should be every child’s fundamental right — along with air, water, food and shelter — especially considering the very troubled world into which they never asked to enter.
“This is the most important job we have to do as humans and as citizens … If we offer classes in auto mechanics and civics, why not parenting? A lot of what happens to children that’s bad derives from ignorance … Parents go by folklore, or by what they’ve heard, or by their instincts, all of which can be very wrong.” (Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School)
Thank you. Excellent comment.
Thank you for your excellent article.