The Lamplighter Movement
Talking to your children
I receive many phone calls and emails asking for my help regarding child sexual abuse. Some of them are heartbreaking and I wonder how the person telling me the story can survive their anguish. Then I remember my own. And yet some of the stories I hear are so much worse than what I went through. Everything is relative. One person may have suffered severe child sexual abuse at the hands of their father but had a loving mother who was not aware of what they were going through. That person may have an excellent chance of recovering. Another, whose abuse was less severe but had both an abusive mother and abusive father may have a harder time. I usually recommend joining a support group, working a 12 step program or the REPAIR program, or both. I try to put into perspective all of the information they are sharing with me so that I can give them my optimum level of wisdom.
The stories that rip holes in my heart are those of children being currently abused by a parent who has been awarded custody. I hear far too many of these stories. As I listen I keep thinking to myself, there must be something they are not telling me. How is it possible that a judge would do this? It illustrates the many failings in our judicial system. Some of these failings may never be fixed or removed. Our judicial system has become so large and so complex and for the most part taken over by liberal policies that, when looked upon with common sense, the first thing you realize is missing is common sense.
What can I tell these parents, these grandparents that will ease their anguish? I especially hear from grandparents who are sitting on the sidelines watching what goes on, knowing there is nothing they can do. Sometimes they are allowed visitation rights or the parent that has the children allows them to go for the weekend with their grandparents. These children, sometimes at ages as young as three or four, talk about sexual acts and sexual parts to their bodies to their grandparents as if they were everyday words. And they don’t use the clinical terminology, they use abusive slang. Children of a young age, who come from healthy parenting, do not know these words and they especially do not know the sexual acts. Can you imagine the horror you would feel if you had your grandchildren for the weekend and heard them describing things and using words you know they could not have known unless they were being sexually abused?
When I get contacted for help with such stories the first thing I do is listen. Then I tell them about a booklet produced by the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center in Renton, WA. It is a gem of a book entitled, he told me not to tell – A parents’ guide to talking to children about sexual assault. It is the best book I’ve ever read on this subject. If you call the King County Center at 425.226.5062 they will mail you free of charge a copy of this booklet. That is a beginning. I believe it is vital that a child know that their body belongs to them, no matter what their age. They, and they alone, have the right to decide who gets to touch it and what parts, if any, they are allowed to touch. Most children, instinctively, know when something is being done to them that is not okay. They may not be able to tell you how they know this but they do know that shame creeps into their heart and their mind. They may not even be able to tell you what shame means. All they know is that something “yucky” has happened to them. Shame is a feeling of humiliation that stems from guilt. Here is an excerpt from my book REPAIR For Children:
“Hurting children feel shame, that hot rush to our body that makes us feel bad. Shame is embarrassing and we really want to hide it. We feel like we’ve done something bad or wrong. Shame hurts but with time and help, we can stop feeling shame and not hurt so much. We may be children in pain but we can take care of our own hurt – we can do something to help ourselves to feel better.”
My next recommendation is that they get a copy of REPAIR For Kids (information on how to get one can be found on my website www.thelamplighters.org) and whenever they have the children with them begin working the program with them. Let them know that if anyone touches or attempts to touch any part of their body that they don’t want touched they can call 911 or they can call the police. Anyone touching them inappropriately is doing something against the law and that person can go to jail for doing it.
Keep in mind that children develop a sense of loyalty to their parent, especially the one who has custody of them. If they are being sexually abused, while they may feel shame and emotional torment as a result of this, loyalty for that parent is so heavily braided with the shame that they are unable to separate them. In addition, if they are being instructed by that parent not to tell anyone, their confusion runs rampant. There is only so much sorting out of what is happening in their lives they are able to do.
Regardless, children should be allowed to tell the truth without someone shushing them or telling them they are making something up. Keep in mind that children who are sexually abused suffer great insecurity and have no sense of worth. To counteract what may be happening in their life be sure to praise them, to give them warmth and affection, to help them repair that damaged inner self that they have acquired through no fault of their own. Build up their confidence and their self-esteem. Most of all, give them love, acceptance and understanding.
The rest must be left up to their Higher Power and the Judicial System that is not as wise as we’d like it to be.
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