Wednesday March 6, 2013
Help to heal
SHAME is the sex predator’s most powerful ally.
Its grip on victims and their families shackles them in silence, guilt and denial. Families are unable to seek help to deal with the devastating abuse, and cannot support the victims.
It’s crucial to reverse this culture of shame, says Penang Women’s Centre for Change executive directive Loh Cheng Kooi.
“We must break the silence. Once the secret is out, you put the perpetrator to shame for committing such a heinous crime. It will also stop the perpetrator from going on to abuse other victims, as he knows he cannot get away with it.
“Family members must support the victim so she understands that a wrong was done to her and not that she has done wrong. You must listen to the child, and believe her when she tells you someone is harming her. Don’t blame her, or scold her, or shut her up,” says Loh.
By doing nothing and keeping the abuser’s secret, the family is complicit in the victim’s abuse.
It is also important to recognise that rape affects the victims’ loved ones, and they too need help.
“Different families deal with it differently. We had a case of a six-year-old sexually abused by someone close to the family. The father was angry and tried to get help. But the mother broke down completely, so much so that the victim had to reassure her that it wasn’t her fault.
“When a child is the victim, the parents are even more traumatised. They need counselling to deal with the guilt and shame. There is a lot of guilt because, as parents, they are supposed to be the child’s protectors,” says Loh.
The victims’ siblings may also need counselling. Families cannot pretend that a child or a teenager will get over their trauma with time.
“The effects of sexual abuse on a child are lasting. Sometimes, the experience comes back in the form of flashbacks which they have no control over,” says P. Nagasayee Malathy, executive director of Protect and Save The Children.
Research has shown that victims’ trauma is manifested in extremes. They suffer higher levels of sexual dysfunction and sexual identity confusion (they either shut down sexually or become promiscuous), cannot fully function as an adult, and experience depression, isolation and low self-esteem. Many engage in self-destructive behaviour and are much more likely to become abusers as adults.
“They find great difficulty leading a normal life and establishing relationships with colleagues, peers and even their spouses,” says Malathy.
Child sexual abuse survivor Amelia says that even though she doesn’t see herself as a victim anymore, she still bears the scars (or “open wounds”, as she calls it) of abuse.
“I didn’t realise how hard it would be to talk about this … but the fact that I am sharing my story shows that I am no longer a victim but a survivor. However, I still have a huge problem with trust and functioning sexually. I still have low self-esteem but I am definitely not the person that I was,” she says.
Getting professional help is critical as one of the steps to healing is talking openly. Counselling and therapy create a safe place for the victim to explore the painful childhood experiences. By sharing, victims do not feel alone any more as they have broken the “secrecy” that their perpetrators had enforced on them. Also, through therapy, victims acquire new and positive coping skills that are not destructive.
“Therapy is a crucial part to recovery, without which most children will demonstrate behavioural problems. It is also important that the parent or guardian of a child has the appropriate knowledge and practical skills to deal with the abuse,” says Malathy, adding that P.S. The Children provides support through counselling and therapy.
TO get help, contact
Protect And Save The Children
(P.S. The Children):
(03) 7957 4344 / 7956 4355
Women’s Centre for Change
(04) 228 0342
Women’s Aid Organisation:
(03) 7956 3488 All Woman’s Action Society (Awam): (03) 7877 0224