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by Elizabeth VeuCasovic
There is a dark, seedy underbelly in our society. Truth be told, it has existed for as long as humans have been having children. For a long time, it was generally not talked about. It certainly isn’t a pleasant topic, after all. Even just 20 years ago, it was a topic that more often than not was swept under the rug. On the positive side, it is being discussed more, there is far more encouragement now to speak out than ever before. On the downside, it still is not an issue on which many maintain awareness. So what better time than National Child Abuse Awareness month to help raise that awareness?
In some ways, no matter what, trusting is a chore.
He looked at his wife’s phone. The urge to check her text messages and phone calls ran through his brain. What did she do all day when she was at work? Maybe she was cheating on him with Keith, she talks about him a lot. He could probably just look through her messages with Keith before she got out of the shower. She would never know.
Potentially the worst part about child abuse is that when you are a child, the people you should be able to trust more than anyone else for your care are your parents. According to americanhumane.org over 70 percent of all child abuse cases are perpetrated by the child’s own parents. Unfortunately, more cases of child abuse are being reported now, though it is possible this is more a result of awareness and reporting than actual victims of child abuse. Victims of child abuse learn quickly that they cannot trust their parents, and thus end up with a lifelong issue with trust. You are always waiting for situations to change, for the hammer to drop. It is not impossible to ever trust again, it is just extremely difficult.
It is difficult to accept that life will never match a Disney dream.
Princess Aurora danced across her screen again. Animals followed her as she smiled and sang. She had watched this movie so many times, she had it memorized. Watching this movie allowed her to forget that she was hungry. That she hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday morning when Mom left the house. She promised she’d be back with groceries. Life would be so much better if she was raised by Flora, Fauna and Merryweather.
Media can really make being a victim of child abuse that much more difficult, but also a little easier at times. At some point, we all have to accept that the lives people live on TV are nothing like the life we can expect to live. This is extremely difficult for victims of child abuse. Frequently, an escape for victims is to watch movies or television. And if they’re sitting there, upset about all the yelling, dwelling on the bruises on their arms, or just so hungry because there hasn’t been food in the house for over two days, an escape through a screen can be lifesaving. Most cases of child abuse are cases of neglect, and drug use is often the cause of these situations. Children not being properly cared for are left without food to fend for themselves at extraordinarily young ages. The television becomes a simultaneous babysitter and lifeline. This becomes detrimental as they get older and try to genuinely cope with the past, as not only do they have to accept abuse as part of their past, they have to accept that a Disney dream life will never be theirs.
The memories will always be there.
Child abuse is a very serious issue. If you suspect a child is in need of help, there are plenty of resources available to help.
Child Abuse Hotline: If you suspect abuse, call the Oregon Department of Human Services at 503-731-3100 or toll free 1-800-509-5439.
CARES NW: A community-based program that works to identify, help and treat all those who are suffering from child abuse and neglect. The program is a collaborative effort of Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Providence, Kaiser and Randall Children’s hospital. www.caresnw.org
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate): A program through the Multnomah County Courthouse that teams an advocate up with a victim of abuse to help them navigate the demands of the court system. Advocates are given substantial latitude to speak on behalf of their charge’s welfare, to ensure that all their charge’s needs are met and all the facts surrounding their situation are understood and respected by the court. They are independent of the Multnomah County court system. www.casahelpskids.org
CAT (Child Abuse Team): The Portland Police Bureau’s child abuse team. They handle all child abuse cases in Multnomah County and partner with the CARES NW program, as well as several other area police departments. www.portlandoregon.gov/police/30564
Children’s Center: A private nonprofit group whose goal is to identify and support potential victims of abuse in order to aid them. This program focuses on Clackamas County, and receives referrals to investigate potential abuse from other programs. www.childrenscenter.cc
A great way to help is to simply be involved and aware. If you have children of your own, and they participate in activities, it is a great idea to know some or even all the kids involved — even better, get to know the parents of those kids. The purpose of getting to know other families should not be to identify abuse, but rather to help give kids additional support. If a child is being abused, they are far more likely to report this abuse to another trusted adult than to a complete stranger. Support community programs that support families, like after-school programs and parent education classes. You can do this through time and money, or even just referring families you think might benefit.
She looked across the aisle; a mother had a firm grip on her young daughter’s arm. The mother shook her finger at her child and yelled profanities. Twenty years ago, that little girl could have been her. She wanted to say something, but the scene was all too familiar and she still wasn’t ready to confront a woman who reminded her so much of her mother.
At some point, every abused child has to deal with the fact that they were abused. Some are able to deal with this better than others, some may appear to handle it very well, but internally are not handling it well at all. No matter what, at some point they have to choose to move on with their life. But they will always take the abuse with them. For children that were sexually abused, having a child can actually cause flashbacks to return. A life event that should be exciting and happy can attack the Achilles heel.
And still, you survive, you thrive.
He didn’t check her phone. Countless hours of therapy had taught him that he had made the decision to trust his wife. And he knew he wanted to trust her, to be happy with her. So he reminded himself that his wife would text message him throughout her workday, keeping him abreast of her goings-on. That she loved him.
It had taken nearly ten years, but finally, she had made peace with her past. She had decided that her childhood would never be a Disney dream, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t create a loving childhood story for her own kids. She was happily married; there was food in the cupboard and there were smiles on tiny faces that reminded her of just how wonderful life could be.
She sat in her office and looked at her degrees on the wall. The little girl in front of her had tears running down her cheeks as she talked about what she had survived. This child was only 10 yet she had seen more than most adults would in a lifetime. As a therapist now, she was qualified to help. As a survivor, she knew her empathy and understanding were crucial.
What can you do to help?
Remember, it is important to talk to your children about abuse. They might not be as willing to tell you about possible abuse as you would think. Ask them if certain people make them uncomfortable, warn them that no one has the right to touch them anywhere, or to make them undress. If they do disclose concerns, believe them, investigate what is being said. Most important, assure them such behavior is not their fault, that you love them and you will take care of the situation. Child abuse is never a pleasant topic, but it is a serious one that needs to be discussed. For kids that are abused, these are memories and shadows that never go away—but that can become less powerful with healing support and love.
Elizabeth has a masters degree in history and two crazy boys; throw in some writing and you have a recipe for never-ending excitement!