Myth: “Child abuse doesn’t happen in my community, it can’t happen in my family.” Yes, it does. Much more often than you think.
I know that most people are not naive enough to think that child abuse doesn’t happen, but like most difficult topics it is common to think, “Not here, not in my community” or “Yeah, I know it happens, but out of sight out of mind.”
1 out of 3 Girls and 1 out of 5 Boys experience child sexual abuse before they reach 18
90% of Child sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator
68% are abused by a family member
I am a Forensic Interviewer at River Bridge Regional Center based in Glenwood Springs, CO serving Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin, and Rio Blanco counties. On a regular basis I have the privilege of bearing witness to stories of child sexual abuse, physical abuse and crimes that children witness. In this unique position, not only do I hear a child’s experience, I ask for details that are personal, emotional, and often clouded by shame, guilt, and fear. I do this as a stranger, someone the child has never met and will likely never see again. I meet these brave children once, under some of the most terrible circumstances of their lives and I ask them to divulge the worst things that have ever happened to them.
I am filled with a deep respect for the children I work with. They define bravery, overcoming barriers that most would find insurmountable in an attempt to stop the abuse that they have endured. They come forward knowing that they may not be believed. Their abuser may be a family member, a friend, a loved one and to stop the abuse, the child must call them out. In child sexual abuse cases, children are manipulated to keep the abuse secret and to maintain the status quo. When I talk to kids they often wonder, Was it my fault? Did I make this happen? Children naturally want attention and when they seek this from a trusted adult, no child should be met with manipulation, exploitation, and abuse. I want to tell them, “It is not your fault”. Instead, I sit across from them and listen. I give the child space, knowing that in my role as a Forensic Interviewer, I cannot provide the reassurance the child is seeking.
Kids are smart. They know that by telling their secret their life will change. Some kids know that it means they are going to get help. That they may be able to get better, to overcome the pain and trauma that the abuse has caused in their life. Other kids know that their family will have to choose sides. Who will my grandma believe? Will I ever see my cousins again? Some kids know that by telling they will have to move, they won’t be able to afford the home they live in or that it is no longer safe. But still they tell. This is the bravery that I see, the pure courage that I wish I could harness and pass on to children who are still keeping the secret of abuse.
People often ask, “How can you do that kind of work?” Or they will simply say, “Your job sounds awful.” I understand how my job can appear that way. But what I experience are kids who still have hope. They have the courage to tell their story and they trust that by disclosing their deepest secrets we will help them. They have hope that the abuse will stop. They have hope that their lives will get better. They have hope that this will prevent the abuse from happening to their brothers and sisters. They have hope that the thoughts that cloud their mind, that cause them deep pain will shrink and maybe even go away. They have hope that by coming forward they will get justice for the years of their lives that were taken away.
I have hope too. For each child that discloses abuse, I know that they have taken a step toward healing. My hope lies in their resiliency. These experiences may never be forgotten and have likely changed the way these children will see the world. With this first step of telling their secret and with a team of people in our community, my hope is that each child gets to rebuild their life. I know with the right support, the right tools, each child I talk to can move forward and begin to live the life they deserve.