Silence and child abuse
CW: Mention of child sexual abuse, abuse of authority
Out of the 45 000 children in Australia who experience abuse and neglect each year, 5000 are affected by sexual abuse. The recent Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse found that around 63% percent of victims are male and around 37% are female. 93% of perpetrators are male and 7% female. The effects of such abuse on children can be life-long. They vary from increased rates of depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and drug use, lowered stress coping mechanisms, decreased ability to be emotionally and physically vulnerable around others, lowered trust for others (especially in intimate relationships), nightmares and flashbacks. What often happens is that the experience is brushed aside as normal or it’s repressed. Only when victims become older and develop their own moral compass of right and wrong do they realise what happened to them.
Our culture today, especially for men, implicitly promotes certain values such as not being emotionally vulnerable or silencing shame around the topic of sexual abuse. The topic of childhood sexual abuse elicits abhorrent thoughts which is in my opinion why discussion around it is so taboo. It’s also done in respect for victims considering their experiences are quite personal and that they wouldn’t want them being made public which is fair. However, men and women still feel ashamed of their experiences. Some blame themselves and that somehow they should’ve prevented it. The perceived identity and label of being a victim of such a crime also prevents people from talking.
In movies, popular culture and media there’s also a constant perception that victims of childhood sexual abuse conform to the statistics and these portrayals. This definitely occurs and I’m definitely not discounting their awful experiences but everyone is different, not everyone becomes a statistic. Part of opening up discussion around this topic is acknowledging that everyone has their own story and their journey.
When I was nine years old I was sexually abused by my female caretaker which puts me at the bottom 7% of cases as an Australian male. My experience hasn’t been easy to come to terms with and I certainly wound not be recovering without help along the way from friends and professionals. Realising what my experience meant as a twenty year old adult after years of repressing the memory as a child was also incredibly confronting. But here I am, a university student with a great life just like everyone else trying to get along in life. I’m not damaged, tainted or lost; my experience has made me a stronger and more resilient person if anything. I’m more appreciative of the life that I have and of the opportunities and comforts others in my position may not have.
I’m here to tell you that if you’re a victim of childhood sexual abuse it doesn’t mean that you’re a statistic. By no means do you have to conform to a cultural stereotype and by no means has it permanently affected your life in any negative way. It may seem hard to see that at first but I can empathise with you in my unique experience as a male victim. I know the feeling of despair and confusion as an adult coming to terms with that kind of experience. I know what it’s like to open up to friends and family about the past. I know the deep resent you may have for your perpetrator and I know how hard the recovery process is. I’ve questioned the experience and what it means for me as a person many times and considering I never said anything as a child meant that my perpetrator got away consequence free, something I still grapple with today. I know the emotions and struggles in recovery but I want you to know that there is hope. Life has put you through one of the most horrible and testing experiences it can throw at you but you have the strength and the courage to persevere. You have friends you can talk to and there are professional services available for you.
If you’ve been wrapped and silenced in a culture of shame and guilt like I was for a while, I want you to read this with some kind of hope that it’s possible to come back from this. Part of recovery is not only acknowledging the experience for yourself but finding ways to continue on with your life. It’s up to individuals to begin the process of breaking down the culture of shame and guilt and it all starts with you. I hope that my experience and this article gives you the strength and hope to see things through. One more thing, trust yourself, because once you’ve been through something like childhood sexual abuse, nothing and no one can hurt you.