By: Gaétane F. Borders, Ed.S., ABD
I recently attended a 5k walk to honor the memory of Shaniya Davis, a little girl who was murdered by a pedophile after her mother sold her to him. It’s a story that touched the hearts of so many around the world and garnered a significant amount of news media. However, it has been a year since her tragedy and the television stations are no longer covering her story. The newspapers and magazines no longer have her beautiful face as the cover image. And many people have forgotten how they felt the first time they heard of her sadistic and gruesome murder. Part of the reason for this is likely because people do not believe that something like this could ever happen to their family.
The sad truth is that sexual abuse and sexual exploitation is far more frequent than most acknowledge. While Shaniya’s reported pedophile was not known to her, most individuals who molest children are known to them. They are very slick and manipulative in their approach. They "groom" the child into thinking that they are trustworthy, and gradually involve children in inappropriate acts. Later they often threaten to harm the child or their family members if they do disclose. Victimized children often won't tell because they are afraid that they will not be believed, or feel guilty that they may have, in some way, been responsible for the abuse. Now, all of this is compounded with the fact that more often than not, it is a parent who is committing the abuse. In this case, a child may not want to tattle.
So what can you do as a parent? Be attuned to any changes in your child's behavior because this will tell you a lot! Young children will often regress by wetting the bed, sucking their fingers, or not eating. Elementary school age kids often demonstrate excessive fear of certain people, masturbate excessively, have nightmares, or will withdraw from people. In the teen years, kids may become promiscuous, experiment with drugs, be depressed, and may also have suicidal thoughts. You should be concerned if you see any of these behaviors, and begin asking questions. Also equally important is to understand that not everyone should be trusted with or around your children…whether or not they are related to you. When it comes to your child, you should only trust a few people…and even still, watch like a hawk to ensure their safety.
If your son or daughter tells you that they have been abused, BELIEVE THEM! It is extremely rare for a child to lie about this. Keep in mind that the way that you react to this will help determine how your child will heal. Tell them that you are proud that they had the courage to tell you, and that it was not their fault. They really do need to hear this! In addition, make sure that they receive counseling to address their trauma because it will have life long ramifications if not treated.
If you were abused, and are finding it difficult to find inner peace... just remember that you do not have to let your trauma define who you are. Despite what happened to you, it is possible to live and love without pain. Your healing process may be difficult, but happiness is attainable.