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Friday, May 9, 2014

Victims of Abuse: How You Should React and How to Help Your Children

Photo by David Castillo Dominici

I should have recognized the symptoms, but I didn’t. A child flinched when she heard someone raise his voice. She began to shake and looked scared. I had no idea at the time that the child wasn’t only timid, that this drawing back was a symptom of ugly things she had seen and heard.

But then, I saw it again. Another child recoiled and refused to be touched. It wasn’t only once. It happened repeatedly over a long time frame. I could tell there was a reason for this child’s actions, so I tried to find out what was happening, but the child clammed up.

I’ve had the privilege over the years to work with teen girls and women of all ages. Unfortunately, many of them have been abused. Sometimes it happened in their childhood, sometimes it was a boyfriend, and sometimes even a husband or partner. There was emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. And there was a huge need for healing.

What should a person do if he/she is being abused?

First, let’s define the term. Abuse means “to treat with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.” Synonyms include: “mistreat” and “misuse.”

We are talking about serious wrongs.

If you are the victim of abuse, please heed this advice: 
  1. Tell someone. As soon as abuse happens, tell a trusted friend. If you are a young person, look for an adult you can tell—someone outside the family. You might talk to your pastor, your pastor’s wife, or another person you know you can trust. You need to have emotional support.
  2. If it is physical or sexual abuse, file a report with the authorities. If the police are aware of what has happened to you, they can better protect you. If they have no record of your experience, you have no legal leg to stand on. The authorities can help you in many ways. They can take DNA and other evidence immediately after an attack on you. They can issue a restraining order. They can, in the case of repeated abuse, provide you with a safe house. If you feel you need protection, ask for protection.
  3. Remove yourself from your attacker. Even if your abuser is your partner or husband, do not let yourself be beaten over and over again. There is nothing wrong with leaving the house temporarily, so that the abuser has a wake-up call. That might be all you need to do, ever. (Still, report the incident to the authorities.) If you have children, their safety is paramount. Remove yourself and your children from any danger.
  4. Get spiritual help. You need prayer as well as healing in your mind and spirit. Go to your pastor, your pastor’s wife, or a trusted person in your church. Make sure you are getting biblical counseling. This is very important!
  5. If a crime has been committed against you (any kind of physical abuse), do not hesitate to prosecute the offender, even if he/she is a family member. This is a crime. It is more personal than other crimes, but it is a crime, nonetheless. 

If the abuse is against your child:
  • If the child has been raped, take the child immediately to a hospital or police station and report the crime. Take the child exactly as he is. Do not change clothes, and take along any clothing that has been removed, if that is the case. DNA testing can be done at either facility, and it will be kept confidential. There are experienced female officers to help with little children.
  • If the child has been physically beaten, take the child to the hospital and explain any marks on his body. Police personnel may need to take photographs. Remember that sometimes the injuries are internal and not immediately visible. It is wise to let a doctor examine the child.

Here are some signs you must not ignore. They might mean something, or they might not. But, they need to be checked out.

If your child:
  • Shows fear towards a specific person, watch the child with him/her any time they are together. See if the fear is always present. If so, ask the child without putting words in his mouth. You could say, “What do you think about (name)?” Then listen well. (Some children are afraid of people without cause. Check it out, but don’t assume anything.)
  • Reports improper touching, look into it. Do not assume he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Find out.

You can best protect your child from predators by:
  1. Being with him. It is so simple, really. If the small child is with you or his father and with his siblings, he will (usually) be safe. If a child goes to a party, you can go, too. If the child has a babysitter, make sure that person is someone you trust 100%. Do not let your child go off with a teen or adult, just the two of them alone. Don’t let little boys go into public restrooms alone. If a child is practicing sports, be there to watch.
  2. Teach children which parts of their bodies are private. Teach them to tell you or their father if anyone touches them on purpose. (Let them know that doctors may need to touch them.)
  3. Help your older children know what to do if they are with friends and something uncomfortable happens. Tell your children to call you (and make sure they have a cell phone on them) or come home immediately. They should not remain in any situation where they feel uncomfortable.
  4. Have their friends come to your house instead of your children hanging out at others’ homes.
  5. Know what your children are doing online. Smartphones make this harder than ever, but you can still talk to your children. Talk to older children about the dangers of trusting anyone that you (the parents) don’t know. Tell them about stalkers, bullies, and the dangers of sexting (embarrassment and real dangers). Be open and real with your children, and be aware of what is going on in the world.
  6. Teach responsibility by giving your older children reasonable curfews. Know with whom and where they are, always.

Most of the time, an abuser is someone close to the victim, adult or child. He may be a family member, a teacher, someone who works in school, a coach, or a family friend. The best way to prevent abuse is to be aware. Don’t let others have easy access to your children one-on-one. The only exception should be for babysitting and then only with someone you know very well.

You cannot protect your child (or yourself, for that matter) 100% of the time. Horrible things do happen, even when parents have been wise and cautious. But you can go a long way towards protecting your child.

Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD (Psalm 127:3).

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