Saturday, May 23, 2015

When a Child Harms a Child

*This post contains information relating to childhood sexual assault. If this will be a triggering subject for you I apologize up front and want to give you a heads up so you can just skip the post. 

No one wants to talk about childhood sexual abuse. It is an ugly reality through and through. We flip through articles and blog posts on the matter, reading to silently agree or disagree, to feel a sense of community in trauma if it has effected our lives or the life of someone we love, to figure out how we can bank the information in case we ever need it. No one wants to need the information. No one wants to have a child that is harmed in this way. It is heartbreaking to see your child devastated in such an intimate way by another person. It is particularly brutal if the one harming your child is also a child. What if the child doing the harm is your son or daughter also? Parents have an instinct to protect their own children, but which child do you protect?

Suddenly, child abuse has an active role in your family's life and it is up to you as the parent to know how to find help for your child, how to help your child find healing, and how to best handle the situation. Where do you turn for help?

As parents, we must nurture an open line of communication with our children. Talking about sex with our children is awkward. Talking about puberty is awkward. Talking about strangers or loved ones as potential threats is also awkward. We must open that door over and over, no matter how uncomfortable or how far back our children's eyes roll, because if the time comes that they really need to tell us that they have been hurt they must know we are there to go through it with them.

For clarity's sake, we will first talk about what child sexual assault looks like, how we go about helping our children, and what our church can do to help families through this sort of trauma.

What does child sexual abuse look like? Here are some examples: (taken from RAIIN. This link also has a concise list of the warning signs/behaviors to be aware of in case your child doesn't come to you initially for help.)

-Obscene electronic communication (text, email, calls, etc.)
-Forced masturbation
-Any kind of sexual contact (oral, anal, vaginal)
-Forcing the viewing of pornography
-Sex trafficking
-Any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child's mental, emotional, or physical welfare

So, what do we do if our child tells us that they have been fondled or molested or assaulted?

1. Believe them.
2. Listen to their timeline of events.
3. Don't wait. Get help immediately. (Anonymous National Child Abuse Hotline: 800.4.A.CHILD)

When you are dealing with a situation where a child is harming another child, it is important for ALL children involved to get the appropriate help. Reporting sexual abuse can be key in ensuring that the offending child can receive vital intervention services as early as possible. If you are facing a scenario where your child has harmed another one of your children, you are caring for all of your children equally when you seek help for all the children involved. It is a difficult thing to face, but it is important that we acknowledge the harm done and do our best to keep it from happening again. In order to do this, we must:

-Get help for the children that were harmed
-Get help for the children that were doing the harming

How can the Catholic Church be of assistance?

As I have noted in a previous post, studies show that religious people tend to turn to their church for help in these situations. It is imperative that the Catholic Church has the abilities to guide her laity to the best practices for addressing childhood sexual abuse. Our church has taken great strides towards ensuring the clergy abuse scandals are a thing of the past and in learning how to appropriately deal with childhood sexual abuse. Perhaps most importantly, our Church and those in positions of authority (laity and clergy alike) must know that childhood sexual abuse is not about what the victim did or didn't do. It is not merely a matter of sinning, temptation, and forgiveness. It is a serious trauma that must be addresses directly and with the help of professionals that specialize in counseling for victims or perpetrators. The best way to heal all of those involved, is to get professional help for all of the individuals involved.