The Response to Child Abuse Trauma
By: E. Diane Champe, Founder/President of the E Diane Champe Institute
Managing Assistant: Tram Pham
Child abuse (physical, mental, emotional, and/or sexual) and neglect encompasses lifelong consequences for men and women (survivors). Survivors don’t realize until much later in life that the methods they developed and used to cope as children were carried forward into their adult lives.
When children are abused, they begin to question themselves and their world because it destroys two essential beliefs:
Their sense of trust, and
Their sense of control over their lives.
(“The Crime Victim’s Book” by Morton Bard & Dawn Sandry, publisher Lyle Stuart, June 1986)
Most victims must deal with the physical and emotional shockwaves of what happened, but also with the sense of helplessness, powerlessness, and a loss of control—not to mention the fact that most perpetrators are the victim’s own parents or caretakers! (“Child Abuse Facts”, SafeHorizon, http://www.safehorizon.org/page/child-abuse-facts-56.html)
Unlike the common response when victims are attacked by strangers—which is to retreat into a childlike state, and when the immediate danger has passed, to turn to an authority figure for help like a police officer or nurse—the child abuse victim lives with his/her perpetrator(s) and thus is silenced and receives no care. This is part of what makes child abuse so heinous.
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What would help children and adult survivors is that when they finally do tell someone, the person hearing about the abuse should react in a normal fashion. That is, that the child’s or survivor’s reactions of anger, fear, frustration, guilt and grief are normal for what they experienced. Anyone would react that way to a criminal act against their bodies. And yet, sadly that is not the response the child or survivor receives. Instead, they are made to feel like something is wrong with them, the victims, instead of holding the perpetrators accountable.
Instead of blaming the victim, it is more helpful to say things like:
“You are safe now.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“You didn’t deserve what happened to you.”
In her ground breaking work, Dr. Judith Herman stated, “People who have endured horrible events suffer predictable psychological harm. There is a spectrum of traumatic disorders, ranging from the effects of a single overwhelming event to the more complicated effects of prolonged and repeated abuse. Established diagnostic concepts, especially the severe personality disorders diagnosed in women, have generally failed to recognize the impact of victimization. So have most Americans who have been lucky enough not to have been abused as children.” (“Trauma and Recovery,” by Judith Herman, Ph.D., Basic Books, 1992)
Dealing with child abuse trauma means that survivors have to come face-to-face with the knowledge of the evil perpetrated against them. The sad reality is that the American public doesn’t want to know or doesn’t care about this unspeakable truth that exists for tens of millions of survivors.
By speaking publicly and writing articles about America’s denial and lack of support for survivors, I am trying to turn that behaviour around. We have to start a dialogue and support all survivors who work very hard to recover. I am committed to doing just that.
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Diane Champé is retired from a Fortune 20 company where she was a Marketing/Sales Strategic Planner on the Regional Vice President’s staff. She is a Subject Matter Expert (S.M.E.) on issues relating to child abuse and neglect. As a survivor herself, she dedicates her efforts toward working on behalf of adult survivors, publishing books/information and speaking publicly about the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect. Ms. Champé’s nonprofit, the E Diane Champé Institute, will begin providing services in White Marsh, MD this year with a mission to provide survivors a safe haven, education, training and resources.
Tram Pham is an alumna from the Asian University for Women (AUW), Chittagong, Bangladesh. Her interests are diverse, ranging from economic development, migration, education, to public health. She has particular interest in issues such as child trafficking, sexual harassment, and gender inequality. She is a Research Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief at Cancer InCytes Magazine.
By Sasha Wolff from Grand Rapids (Sadness 90/365) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons