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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

And What Of The Survivors?

by capper

(I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but the subject matter is very important and complicated. I tried to be as concise as possible without sacrificing content.)

It seems that one cannot open the paper, watch the news, or visit the blogosphere without reading about someone being sexually abused or assaulted. Normal reaction to these stories are anger, outrage and a call for action. This is even more so when the victim is a child. People focus their anger on exposing sexual offenders, making sure that the offender is incarcerated for longer and longer sentences, and banning offenders from their community.

People will try to tackle the problem in the best way they can, which is usually to focus on only a small part of it. Some will worry about the stranger, when, as Nick Schweitzer accurately points out, is only a small fraction of the problem. The greater danger comes from the predators that are family members, or friends of the family. Predators will also try to maneuver their way into positions of authority, such as teachers, counselors, priests, law enforcement officers, or other roles as trusted authority figures. This leads to people being distracted to arguing whether a teacher as predator or a priest as predator is worse. That is like arguing whether it is better to get burned to death, or to drown. Either way the damage is done, and I'm sure that the victim would have chosen "None of the above."

But no matter what the person's reaction is, what steps they take, or where they choose to put the focus of their anger and outrage, they balk when it comes to the most important part of the situation: Taking care of the victim.

I have already pointed out that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Appropriately enough, it is also Child Abuse Prevention Month. The numbers of people, and of children, who are affected by sexual assault is simply staggering. The affects on individuals who are victimized is even worse. It can and usually does affect them the rest of their lives, at least to some degree.

I have mentioned before that I have worked in the foster care system and in various psychiatric hospitals and group homes. I have worked with dozens if not hundreds of survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault. I will not share their stories here, out of respect to the survivors, as well as confidentiality laws. Let it suffice to say that sometimes I still am disturbed by their stories, to the point that I can become weepy, or it affects my sleep. I cannot imagine the hell they are going through, on a daily basis. For a small taste of what a survivor of sexual assault/abuse is going through, please read this piece from Linda Flashinski, who works with young girls, often the survivors of sexual abuse, at Southern Oaks Girls School

What gets to me is that even with all the politicians, the community activists, radio squawkers, and bloggers who go on and on about their outrage, and wanting to extract society's revenge on the perpetrators, they almost always balk when it comes to helping the victim get the help he or she needs to deal with their trauma.

Most often, the victim is poor, and would need public aid to support the costs related to what could be easily years and years of therapy. Even if the survivor has access to private insurance, mental health coverage is often woefully inadequate. Any attempt to correct that situation is often subject to obstacles and attempts to block it.

Without the necessary therapy and support services, the survivor is likely to develop other issues, such as alcohol and drug dependence, thoughts of suicide, promiscuous behaviors (and the resultant pregnancies), eating disorders, criminal behaviors, and other similar activities that end up costing society more than the original therapy would have.

For more information on the symptomology of sexual abuse and assault, as well as how to interact with survivors of sexual assault, this site from Cool Nurse is one of the most comprehensive and quick reads that I have found. For more information regarding how sexual abuse/assaults affect boys, I would recommend this site by Ball State University. Here is another good site for how to prevent your child from becoming victimized, and how to help them if they should come in harm's way.

ADDENDUM: Besides children and the developmentally delayed often being targets for predators, the mentally ill are often targeted. Again, the cost to society can be huge, in more ways than one, as this news story out of Sparta, WI, shows us.

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