April is Child Abuse Awareness month which is a very important issue to me. I'm not a child abuse survivor, but I am a children's advocate and I volunteer for my state's Foster Care Review Board. When I learned about this guest blogging opportunity there were so many topics that came to mind. But I decided to write about what I believe is a major cause of child abuse: Abuse is a learned behavior. In other words, it's a cycle. People were abused as children and then they become child abusers as adults. Now this is NOT the case for EVERY victim of child abuse, however the statistics are clear that the odds are not in their favor. It's reported that about one-third of abused or neglected children will grow up to victimize their own children (Administration for Children and Families).
- Abuse is "normal". When you're a child and are abused (in any form) this becomes a normal part of life. You just don't know any different as a child. While I wasn't abused, I would consider my family somewhat dysfunctional (as most family's are). And as an adult, I was dumbfounded when I learned that other family's acted and related to each other differently. I just thought the way we acted was what the world was like. So I had to re-learn how to appropriately engage with others. However if one doesn't re-learn how appropriately behave then that "normal" part of life (i.e. abuse) continues.
- Victims are kept quiet. Abusers typically use threats, intimidation, and fear to keep their victims quiet. This is how abuse continues with no one knowing. Victims are told that "XYZ" will happen to them if they tell, or just as damaging that "XYZ" will happen to someone else that they love, like a sibling. So they continue to be abused and never say a word. This leaves them feeling helpless and hopeless. A perfect target for future abuse. Then they grow up with this world view of being helpless and hopeless, and the only way for them to gain some control
is to victimize someone else.
Victims are helpless to change. Even if they do want to get help to overcome abuse, typically family's will fight against this. Not only to avoid people finding out, but also to keep the victim a victim. The family has come to an understanding (although usually unspoken) that this is the way that the family relates to each other. And if someone changes then everyone has to change which is uncomfortable and undesirable. The best way that I've heard this described is by John Bradshaw in his book The Family. He explains that family system is like a mobile. When the mobile is hanging peacefully from the ceiling then all of the pieces stay in place. But when it's disturbed then it bounces around and gets messy. In order to avoid this mess the family will do anything in their power to keep that person the same. This is how abuse goes on for generations and generations.
If we're going to attempt to break this cycle then a change in our own thinking and behavior needs to take place. While we should not accept the abusers behavior, we need to:
- Keep in mind that they were most likely a victim themself at some point. Therefore, they need professional help and education to re-learn appropriate behaviors. As a child they never learned appropriate coping skills, so abuse is all that they know. And if they don't change this, then they will continue to victimize others and this cycle will go on. Child victims also need professional help, so that they will not grow up to victimize others. Play therapy is great for children who may be too young for typical counseling.
- Be a support system for the abusers. Again, we don't downplay what they've done, but we need to help them get the help that they need. Their family will desperately fight against them getting help, so they'll need outside support in order to make needed life changes.
- Be a support system for the victim. The reality of people finding out about this abuse is as scary as the abuse itself. If the child is removed from the home then they're leaving all that they know. What they know may be horrific, but sometimes it's easier to accept than the unknown. This child will need incredible support. One way to help is to become a foster parent. Good homes are in high demand as more and more reports of child abuse flood our CPS systems.
- Don't stay quiet! Whether you're a victim or know of a victim please tell someone! This is the only way that change can take place. If you're a victim tell someone that you trust, or call The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) which has counselors available 24/7. And if you know of a victim please call CPS or the police.
For more resources please visit this ABC kidZ page.