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Innocence Robbed

When I was 8 years old, I was busy playing Little League baseball and winning merit badges at Boy Scout meetings.

When John was 8 he was being abused sexually by a monster who wore the clothes of a priest that he had come to love and trust.

Sexual abuse of a powerless child is a perversion so abominable that it cannot even be conceived of unless you are the victim and then it is something that determines your life’s path and never completely goes away.

J.B. is an adult now and he asked that his real name not be used. He has lived through years of sexual abuse and as an adult, has suffered, often silently, so that no one knows his secret or can offer compassion and support. Instead, J.B. has remained imprisoned by his past always hiding his past.

Interest about sexual abuse of children in past years has largely focused on abusive priests or Scout leaders but publicity has ebbed and flowed depending on the latest lawsuit. The pain, however, never ebbs. The wounds, invisible to the world, never heal.

We shield ourselves from the unimaginable until it is real and then the world becomes a dark place of self-abuse, guilt, anger, despair, drug abuse and too often, suicide.

The abused children grow into adults who feel ashamed and somehow to blame for the abuse, that they have been permanently scarred and could have and should have done something to avoid the assault. They may be tormented by painful nightmares about shrouded abusers and that make the young victim feel despicable and complicit.

Sexual abuse is a defining moment in the lives of the victims that they cannot share and that impacts on the rest of their lives.

They may try to lessen the pain in a variety of unhealthy ways. They may take to self-mutilation by repeatedly cutting themselves with their stash of hidden razor blades to experience the sharpness of the moment and dull the constant emotional pain of the abuse and remove an overarching feeling of being helpless about life. But the cutting only leads to a cycle of recrimination and punishment and overwhelming guilt and shame, with relief only from more cutting.

Or the victims may grow up to sexually abuse to their own children. They may turn to addictive drugs to numb the memories and the guilt. Or they may develop self-destructive habits like eating disorders.

Or these innocent victims may bear the worst pain of all, the fear to have children and subject them to the possibility of a life like their own.

Adults groom their innocent children, winning their confidence and friendship. It may start with a picnic or a movie or some other show of benign friendship.

The sexual abuse starts slowly and may develop almost imperceptibly over a period of weeks or months. It may start with backrubs or tussling hair. Then it turns to talk about sex or with touching or viewing pornography, until it grows into full-on abuse. And the victim is a child who has no understanding of what is happening, just a dull feeling that it is terribly wrong and that there is no way out.

It should be a time of exploration, learning, growth. It should be a time for making friends and playing baseball.

Instead the child’s youthful innocence is ripped away. The naïve, unsuspecting child is forced into a world of dark and painful submission and total confusion and a feeling that the world, previously welcoming and free, is utterly out of his control.

And yet, it continues, too often with the knowledge and tacit consent of others who shield the abuser and pretend not to know. These enablers pretend to be blind but they make it possible for the abuse to continue and grow like a malignancy that slowly drains the lifeblood of its victims.

Women who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse often have a wide array of symptoms but the underlying causes are not recognized by the physician and patient. The obstetrician–gynecologist should typically screen for childhood sexual abuse to offer the proper treatment.

Depression, anxiety, and anger are the most commonly reported emotional responses to childhood sexual abuse. Gynecologic problems, including chronic pelvic pain, dyspareunia, vaginismus, nonspecific vaginitis, and gastrointestinal disorders are common diagnoses among survivors. Survivors may be less likely to have regular Pap tests and may seek little or no prenatal care.

Laurenskids.org reported that there are more than 42 million survivors of sexual abuse in America. It is estimated that 12 to 40 percent of children in the United States experience some form of childhood sexual abuse.

They include:

  • One in three girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • One in five boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • One in five children are solicited sexually while on the Internet before the age of 18.
  • An estimated 30 percent of sexual abuse is never reported.
  • An estimate 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way.
  • About 20 percent of the victims of sexual abuse are under age eight.
  • A full 95 percent of sexual abuse is preventable through education.

· And 38 percent of the sexual abusers of boys are female.

For a better explanation of child sexual abuse that I could ever offer, I suggest reading “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara, a book that is at once harrowing and heart rending.

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer