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National Child Abuse Prevention Month

By Dr. Catrece Dantzler | April 2019

The Problem

When one thinks of Abuse, most if not all individuals first thought goes to the negative effects of abuse. In fact, there have been an enormous amount of research done concerning those negative effects of traumatic events (Brooks, 2012). There are over six million children affected by abuse in the United States every year (Child help, 2014). These survivors of abuse can suffer from the effects of that abuse throughout their life time. The negative effects of abuse have been discussed throughout research continuously, yet where is the hope for these six million survivors (Child help, 2014). On the other hand, there is another side of abuse that is rarely discussed. This is the side that talks about how these victims become survivors. Children have been known to be very resilient if given the opportunity and the assistance to heal.

Childhood abuse, no matter the form or by whom the child was abused, affects the survivor. Survivors of childhood abuse may be affected in different ways which could be both negative and positive. The fact that individuals respond differently to negative life events can lead some to term their experience of abuse as a traumatic event that surpasses their ability to cope effectively (Brooks, 2012). Nevertheless, some may term their experience as an event that propelled them to their life’s work. Both experiences were negative, but one perspective was that their life was so changed or damaged that they were unable to recover. Whereas, the other used their life experience as an event that set a course for them to thrive.

In their study of differential symptomatology, Briere and Runtz (1990) indicated that survivors of physical abuse showed difficulties in conduct and aggression. Whereas sexual abuse survivors tended to have maladaptive sexual behaviors, and survivors of psychological abuse had problems with self-image (Fox, 1996). Researchers have found that survivors of childhood abuse more often have trouble with physical illness, anger, and depression (Larsen, Sandberg, Harper, & Bean, 2011; Springer, Sheridan, Kuo, & Carnes, 2007). Barrett’s (2006) study, which focused on the impact of stress on black women, found that they were more susceptibility to conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse (Donovan & Williams, 2002).

The fact that the negative effects of abuse are most widely known implores the question of why some individuals do not report. The concern would be that of being labeled a victim which in turn brings on feelings of guilt, shame, and doubt of themselves. The fear of others viewing them as helpless, weak, a possible future perpetrator, or doomed for a disappointing future with poor relationships or mental health issues. One researcher conveyed that children who reported the abuse had more behavioral difficulties including sexualized behaviors and the inability to socialize competently (Hebert, Tremblay, Parent, Daignault, & Piche, 2006). However, these problems still exist when the child has experienced abuse and did not report. The problem with this scenario is that no one knows why the individual has changed or is experiencing the issues that they are. The family tends to fight against them verses getting them the assistance that they need.

The Hope

To look at the other side of abuse, there has not been enough research completed concerning survivors who have broken the cycle of abuse. Egeland (1993) reported that those who thrived either had supportive relationships or psychotherapy. Egeland also found that those that went into care after the abuse or adults that had a supportive marital relationship was also beneficial (Cooper, 2005).

The hope is to eliminate the negative stigma on the part of the victim whom has been affected by childhood abuse. The desire is to see pass the hurt to help the victim understand that they can survive and thrive. The expectations are that practitioners, researchers, and reporter of abuse view the victims as survivors from the very beginning. More research needs to be done concerning how the survivors overcome, the positive growth made by survivors and how they thrive especially if they receive assistance or talk about the abuse with someone they trust (Cooper, 2005; Gilgun, 1991). Additional, if the focus of abuse is changed, maybe there will be an increase in the disclosure rates and survivors can get the help that they need before problems arise verses when all else has failed.

How You Can Help

  • If you see something wrong, ask questions.
  • Be a listening ear for them to open up to.
  • If disclosure is made to you, report it. DHR report line is confidential and the individual does not have to know who reported the concern.
  • Be a good support system by saying positive things and giving them encouragement.
  • Help them deal with the cycle of anger, rage, fear, hurt, etc.
  • Help them find healing, understanding, forgiveness, and peace.
  • Help them to advocate for themselves, fight to thrive, and possible be a light that show others the way to get help.

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