No More Looking the Other Way

September 5, 2014

girl_rain[Trigger warning: The topic of this post is adults who ignore signs of child sexual abuse.]


Not again.

Not another one, please.

But there it is: “Rotherham sex abuse scandal:1,400 children exploited by Asian gangs while authorities turned a blind eye” reads the terrible headline in last Tuesday’s issue of The Telegraph.

The proportions of this crime are epic. A mind-numbing number of children have been abused over the past 16 years, which should make us all weep for their trauma and the deep depravity of the human race. Yet, what makes this case all the worse is that the people who should have protected the children and prosecuted the pedophiles turned a blind eye and ignored all the signs of it. Here are some particularly disturbing statements from the news article and the report revealing the scandal:

 “Police officers even dismissed the rape of children by saying that sex had been consensual.”

 “Senior officials were responsible for ‘blatant’ failures that saw victims, some as young as 11, being treated with contempt and categorised as being “out of control” or simply ignored when they asked for help.”

“Some councillors seemed to think it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away.”

“For years, the police failed to get a grip of the problem, dismissing many of the victims as ‘out of control’ or as ‘undesirables’ who were not worthy of police protection.”

“It emerged that there had been three previous reports into the problem which had been suppressed or ignored by officials, either because they did not like or did not believe the findings.”

 It would be nice to write this off as a problem across the ocean that we in the US would never allow to happen, yet the willingness of both the Catholic Church and Penn State University to turn a blind eye to child sexual abuse within its ranks proves that we are no better at all. I fear that someday we will even learn of similar large-scale trafficking operations in our own country.

The unwillingness to acknowledge and deal with the heinous crime of child sexual abuse is also not only a failing of police and administrators. Countless victims of abuse have encountered the same emotional brick wall from parents and family members to whom they turn for protection and support.

“That can’t be true. You’re lying.”

“You are wicked for making that up.”

“What did you do to entice him?”

“Are you sure you didn’t dream that?”

Here’s what Dan B. Allender says in his book, The Wounded Heart:

When abuse is perpetrated, it sets into motion the tremors of an internal earthquake that requires a strong and nurturing environment to quell. If that environment is unavailable, or worse yet, if the environment is hostile, cold, and/or insensitive to the resultant damage, then a victim will set aside the internal process of healing to ensure his or her own survival….

He notes that parents are especially key to this process: “To the degree that confidence in the love and respect of one’s parents is disturbed, the damage of intra- or extrafamilial abuse will be more traumatic.”

The importance of hearing and believing a child who reports any form of sexual or physical abuse cannot be overstated. When a child cries for help—or merely seems reluctant to be near a certain person or alone with that person—we must be paying attention, ready to listen and to act, regardless of how painful the truth is for us.

And we must avoid rushing victims through the healing process, oblivious to the depth of damage done to their psyche.

“It’s time to get over this.”

“Suck it up.”

“Move on.”

These statements may be well-intended (I’m being generous here), but at their heart they are just ways of telling an abuse victim that we no longer want to deal with their pain. We are uncomfortable with it, weary of dealing with it, or unsure of how to help, so we want it to go away – no matter whether the victim has gone through the full grieving and healing process or not.

When a child is sexually abused, it is a tragic and traumatic circumstance that requires our full attention. We must listen, believe, taken action, and provide nurturing support—not only for a week or a month or a year—but for as long as the victim needs it.

Let’s not allow any more children to suffer the ravages of abuse at any scale.



photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller via photopin cc

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