I often get asked to speak at conferences or events to raise awareness about child abuse and sexual abuse. At the end of the lecture several people approach me to privately discuss the abuse they experienced as a kid but never told anyone because no one would believe them or they were too scared to speak up. They are so glad that Children’s Justice Centers exist to make it easier on kids to come forward.
So, what makes it so hard for victims to speak up? How does an abuser gain control over a victim allowing the abuse to go on for years?
Lets face it, abusers don’t want the victim to tell so they may use threats which intimidates the victim to stay silent and comply with their wishes. Some abusers will threaten to hurt family members or pets which terrifies the victim further and they won’t dare speak up to protect their loved ones. It’s completely understandable the intense pressure that would place on victims and why they might take more abuse to ensure the safety of others.
Another reason victims hesitate is because they fear that no one will believe them. “What if I tell and then no one does anything? Then I am in worse trouble with the abuser and they will really hurt me bad.” The reality is that no one else was present during the abuse and the abuser won’t likely admit to it. Perpetrators rarely say, “Yep, that was me! I was the one who abused her!” The victim is already humilated by the experience, so why risk more humilation?
The most important thing we can do to support family and friends when they do choose to come forward and report abuse is to tell them you belive them and will help them in any way you can. That is one of the most comforting and reassuring things to say. No need to quiz them on why they waited so long. Their safety and well being NOW matters the most. If you were in their shoes you might have done the same thing to protect yourself or others.
So if your friend tells you they were abused be a good friend and let them know that you care about them and their safety. It will take a load of pressure off them and make it easier going forward to tell the police so the abuse can stop and no one else will be abused by that person.
That’s really all anyone wants …. is for the abuse to STOP!