Years ago when the Duggars were confronted with the fact that their oldest son had “inappropriate contact” with at least five girls, they made an active choice to choose to downplay the abuse. Whether they made this choice out of ignorance or misinformation, it is difficult to know, but what we can know is that they probably made this choice without really understanding the impact the sexual touches had on their daughters and the other victim. Why? If they had understood these impacts, they would have worked harder at putting steps into place to effectively deal with Josh’s choices by connecting him with a trained professional and they would have done the same thing for the girls.
STEP THREE: We educate ourselves on the impact of child sexual abuse on the victim.
Regardless of the age of the offender, whether they are a juvenile or an adult, victims have an impact. The immediate impacts tend to center around fear, shame and guilt. These emotions are driven by threats or admonishments to keep the abuse a secret, the idea that they, the victim, did something to cause the abuse or that they should have somehow stopped what was happening. Then, the impact broadens as the blurred boundaries brought on by knowing too much about sexual touches before one is developmentally ready for it sets in. Children, just due to development, cannot provide consent to someone who has more power than them. More power can be defined as an adult or it could be defined as another child who is older, in a beloved relationship with them (such as a sibling or cousin), or a child who is willing to use their sexual knowledge to explore or process. Child victims are incapable of providing consent because to provide consent you have to be able to understand the impact of your choices. Based on their age and the fact their brains don’t fully develop until their mid-20’s, they cannot possibly understand the consequences related to their choices. These blurred boundaries create a low self-esteem in the child that often follows them in to adulthood. They then filter their choices through this low self-esteem which causes them to place less value on themselves. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see these survivors make unhealthy choices for themselves in the form of drugs and alcohol, risky behaviors, poor relationship choices, and perfectionism. These individuals often struggle with depression, anxiety, and anger and often hold rigid, black-and-white beliefs about life. These victims always need professional help – regardless of how young the child is when victimized, who victimizes the child, or what kind of victimization the child experiences. Unfortunately, it is very typical to see surviving families receive advice from less qualified sources such as the education field or faith communities. Though these areas of a child’s life can play a pivotal role in their healing, they should not take the lead unless they are experts also in the field of child sexual abuse. To find an expert close to you, please visit www.tncac.org. In Nashville and surrounding counties, the Sexual Assault Center (www.sacenter.org) is available to see both children and surviving adults.
However, professional help is just one piece of the puzzle. The other part is that the victim needs to be protected. They need to know that their home, parents and family are safe. They need to know that their rights will be championed and not ignored. Therefore, separation of the victim and offender, until reunification can happen under the guidance of professionals, will be required. This allows everyone to process safely and gives everyone time to put safety measures in place because band aids do not work.
COMING UP: PART 4 – WHY DO WE REPORT?
Written by: Valerie Craig, Co-Founder and Director of Education