Sexual Abuse in the News
The issue of child sexual abuse made a lot of headlines recently when it was revealed that Josh Duggar, whose family starred in the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting”, had sexually abused five young girls when he was a teenager, including four of his sisters. Josh reportedly told his parents about his actions and was subsequently sent away to get treatment, but the information was not reported to the proper authorities until several years later. When information like this comes out, the media will often focus on the issue for a short time, only to have it soon replaced by the next big story. However for survivors of sexual abuse the trauma and the need for healing continue long after the stories have left the news.
Recent studies reveal that 1 in 5 girls is a survivor of sexual abuse, along with 1 in 20 boys. This data comes from cases that are reported, so it is likely that the numbers are higher when accounting for abuse incidents that do not get reported, as was the case with the Duggar family. Unfortunately, most sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone who is close to a child such as a friend or family member, not by a stranger. Perpetrators of sexual abuse will often use threats, shame, and normalization of the abuse to scare survivors in to silence. Survivors of sexual abuse may experience low self-esteem, a distorted understanding of sex and relationships, difficulty trusting others, as well as mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Some survivors of abuse have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as nightmares, flashbacks, avoiding situations that remind them of their abuser, and being easily startled. Survivors also may be vulnerable to further abuse , including commercial sexual exploitation , especially when they have had the experience of being blamed for the abuse or of not being believed, as this can lead to a belief that this type of abuse is normal or that they deserve to have their bodies violated in this way. Many survivors find that if they have the opportunity to talk with a counselor or therapist about their experiences this can help them heal from the abuse and understand how the abuse has affected them.
In the case of Josh Duggar it is not just the abusive actions themselves that are of concern, but also the fact that they were kept secret for so long. Treating child sexual abuse as a “family secret” only reinforces the idea that survivors should be ashamed about what has happened to them. Often the abuser uses shame as a tactic for encouraging survivors not to talk about the abuse or to make them think that it is their fault. It is important to know that sexual abuse is NEVER the victim’s fault. If you or someone you know has been touched in a way that made you feel uncomfortable, or if you are worried that this is happening to someone you care about, please tell a trusted adult who can help you address the problem in a way that feels safe to you. This could be a parent, teacher, doctor, counselor, police officer, clergy member, or other adult you feel comfortable talking to. You can also get confidential help by calling the RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) Hotline at 800-656-HOPE.