Child sexual abuse perpetrators look for certain qualities in their victims: obedience, weak boundaries, innocence, and especially someone deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment. This perfectly describes the naiveté of a child. From these elements they are able to locate the perfect victim whose life will change so dramatically.
Upon this child the perpetrators lay the four cornerstones of child sexual abuse: guilt, shame, fear and despair. Prior to this a child has no knowledge of the existence of these four emotional states. For the most part, if no abuse has ever entered their life, they are happy, natural, curious, playful and filled with love and joyful expectations of this journey called life that they are embarking on. Once they are abused all of these positive qualities are shattered as is their life. They are confused. They don’t know what happened. All they know is they are now fearful of it happening again; they have lost all hope of a happy life, instead now are filled with despair. A new feeling they have never experienced is upon them. They don’t know what it is. It is shame, that painful emotion caused by another painful emotion, guilt. What did they do? If it is something they dare not tell anyone about, it must be bad. If the person who did this bad thing to them is more powerful, older, bigger or more dominant, then they surely must have done something wrong. All children know that they are supposed to be obedient to adults and bigger people, older people. So whatever happened is their fault. ….their fault. Those two dreadful words that are now incorporated into their very being.
No matter the circumstances, no matter the perpetrator, the end result is a child filled with shame and guilt since it is their fault. It can be a minor violation to a major one. It can be an older sibling, an aunt or uncle, a grandfather or a parent. It doesn’t matter. They perceive it as their fault. Only 7% of perpetrators are strangers to the victim. What does that say about our family systems? What does that say about the way we are protecting our children? Try to imagine what it must feel like to go from being joyful to being filled with despair, in a matter of minutes. Try to imagine going from being open and carefree to feeling that you just did something that was your fault. That something is so horrible that you cannot even go to your caregiver to tell them.
I have heard stories that would rip your heart out. A friend told me that when she was four years old her mother put her godfather in her bedroom to share a bed when he came for the weekend. The godfather sexually molested this little girl. She kept it secret for many decades, carrying shame and guilt, fear and despair until she finally told her mother what had happened so many decades earlier. Her mother was shocked and said only: “We don’t have sexual abuse in our family.”
A couple of years ago I had a meeting with the Watch Commander at a local Police Station to discuss The Lamplighter Movement and what I was trying to accomplish. When I finished asking if they would be willing to help me get the word out, with smug superiority the Watch Commander said, “We don’t do child sexual abuse in our community.” I knew better. This is a stonewall I come across often. It is as if, despite 60 million survivors in the United States alone, the bulk of our society has blinders on. They don’t want to hear about it, they don’t want to acknowledge its existence, and it is such a disgusting subject that they literally will turn and walk away if you bring it up.
Do they not know that we, the survivors, if anyone, would love to be able to walk away from what happened to us? We would love to live in a world where incest and child sexual abuse are non- existent. We have dark shadows and torn parts of us that will never be healed. We can go through recovery; we can be happy again. But there will always be those fleeting moments when, we are once again a frightened child; we no longer believe in ourselves, we no longer are joyful………just for a few moments and then it is gone. We have trained ourselves to pull out of it, to remember all the good things we learned in recovery. But what of the millions who will never get into recovery. What of the millions who try and after a few short attempts decide it is easier to end their life then to walk through the darkness again.
It hurts. It hurts not just ourselves to remember, it hurts to think of all the small children in the world who are trusting and innocent but who are in grave danger because of a perpetrator lying in wait, ready to instruct their victim about the four cornerstones of sexual abuse: guilt, shame, fear and despair.
What are we doing about it? We know the world can be a dangerous place. Bad things happen and they usually happen to good people. People’s lives and dreams are shattered on a regular basis. This is part of life. History is full of stories of such horror you wonder sometimes if it really happened: wars, famine, disease, murder……….and child sexual abuse. But our world also contains hope and love, courage and faith, the ability to turn our lives around. For every dark and ugly story there is a story of triumph. Mankind is persistence in its attempts to eradicate the dark side of life. Little by little, we do what we can, plugging along in whatever is our mission in life, hoping to make a difference, determined that we will make a difference. And in all of that hope, in all of that determination we have a message for the perpetrator: We will stop you and your horrific plans to cripple our children. We will save and protect our little ones. Watch out! We have right on our side. That makes us not only survivors but soldiers, soldiers in this war against child abuse.