Guest Article by: Freelance journalist Derek Robertson, Ottawa, Ontario
With over 80,000 reported cases a year of sexual abuse in the United States alone, and with it estimated to be at least that number of unreported cases, it's become clear child sexual abuse has come to be commonly regarded as a great cause of mental health problems at varying ages from child to adult life across North America.
Since Canada has not as yet to been able to complete a clearly defined statistical analysis of the problem, it's assumed that the numbers are relatively the same per capital.
From the studies that have been done up to this point, it seems to support this statistical assumption.
Since there is little or no way of verifying, via studies and reporting, the amount of sexual abuse in Mexico, it's believed because of the social and economic conditions, the abuse rate is even higher there; comparable to that in third-world countries.
There is a two-tiered epidemic going on. First, there are the so-called 'baby-boomers' who grew up in a generation where there was a 'hush hush' rule about even saying the words sexual abuse, let alone accusing someone of it. So it never became socially acceptable even to report one of the most horrendous experiences a human being can endure and continue to suffer from, untreated, for the duration of their life.
It was right at the beginning of the baby boomers era (1945 - 1964) when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948, they declared in Article five: 'No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.' It took that generation more than 30 years to begin talking about just how inhuman their perpetrators were throughout the 1940’s to the ‘70’s, and even before that.
Now, we’re faced with the second phase of the psychological remnants of the multiple decades of abuse, passing it on to the next generations. All of those thousands of new cases every year being added to the pile aren’t necessarily past victims of sexual abuse. In fact, only a small percentage (approx. 5%) of past victims become perpetrators. Past victims generally feel empathetic towards victims of abuse.
So, as the 30- and 50-year-olds run to psychiatrists/therapists to repair the damaged past, we’re left running around trying to figure out what to do with the newest victims of sexual assault/abuse. Fooling ourselves into safety by posting offender registries with thousands of names and addresses doesn’t make the problem go away. And simply relying on telling our children to don’t speak to strangers, since only about 3% of sexual abusers are someone they don’t know, won’t work either.
The real work needs to come from first understanding where the epidemic has come from, and then offering the help and treatment at the right timing. There are already several specialists who treat both the victims and the offenders. All of the professionals agree, there needs to be more reporting. More children and adults talking about and reporting sexual abuse. There needs to be a lot more education that is open and honest beginning from the time a child reaches any type of educational system.
This social epidemic that creeps into every neighborhood, and every social class needs to be slowed down at the very least. It’s a leading cause in the Americas of depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD, and many other psychological disorders which causes our society billions of dollars in medical and mental health care every year. Never mind the costs incurred in the justice system dealing with the offenders.
The really disturbing problem is that one single victim who has grown up with that secret that has tortured her or him for 20 years of self abuse, alcoholism/drug abuse, self-mutilation, thoughts of suicide and or attempts, the sleepless nights and nightmares, wondering if they’ll ever survive, yet waking up every day wishing they hadn’t.
What about the child who is destined to this? Who’s going to stop their pain?
It creeps up on you like your worst nightmare. The perpetrator makes Freddy Kruger look like Mother Theresa. It not only lives in your dreams, but it wakes up with you in the morning and follows you around all through the day.
"Even when I was five, he used to walk up behind me while I was doing the dishes and started fondling me. Sometimes he would make me go down into the basement to finish molesting me," said Sandra MacKenzie.
MacKenzie, a 42-year-old mother, endured being sexually abused from age five until she was about fourteen years old. She is a native of Ottawa, Ontario who lives alone with her son.
The perpetrator was her stepfather who also molested her and her three sisters. "He started out abusing my oldest sister and worked his way down to me. I was the more submissive one, so he seemed to have attached to me the most," said MacKenzie.
Ron Villeneuve was also abused. "It started with him rubbing my penis, and ended up with him performing oral sex on me," says Villeneuve.
Villeneuve, a 48-year-old father, was continuously molested by his neighborhood priest for almost three years while he lived at CFB Uplands air-force base. The abuse started after he joined the church as an altar boy, and started confiding with the priest. While they were demolishing the church last year, Villeneuve managed to preserve one brick from the demolished remains.
"After the abuse started, it was like life came to a grinding halt. I remember giving up on everything from God, school and even my family," said Villeneuve.
It has only been over the last decade the issue has come to the surface. With high-profile sexual abuse cases like the Mount Cashel orphanage, the Alfred Training School and NHL hockey star Sheldon Kennedy, it is only recently the general public is realizing the kind of sickness that hovers over their own backyards.
The majority of sexual abuse survivors end up asking for help between the ages of 23 to 35, which is usually provoked by an overwhelming sense of panic and paranoia. Although it's not always evident, the symptoms are the result of the sexual abuse, and eventually it's decided that might be the underlying problem. Survivors have other common symptoms such as social withdrawal, doubting of sexuality, irrational fears and low self esteem. They also find they have a lot of problems in their jobs and relationships.
"The effects of sexual abuse are minimized by some people. They sometimes dismiss it as something in the past, and it has no effect on the present," said Stephen Arbuckle, a psychiatric social worker at the Royal Ottawa Hospital, who specializes in male sexual abuse. "The effects have an impact on a survivor's everyday life. The core issue around sexual abuse is shame."
Rachel Maillet, a sexual abuse counsellor at the Catholic Family Services says, "There's always a lot of guilt with sexual abuse. They tend to blame themselves. That's one of the key ways the perpetrators keep their victims quiet, by making them feel like it's their fault. It's even worse for men, because men are brought up believing it's not manly to be victimized."
Villeneuve says, "I remember him telling me you're not suppose to tell anyone, and he always enforced that. I always felt it was my fault. That I was doing something wrong ... or that I might be judged by the people who would find out."
"After my son was born, I started having a lot of anxiety attacks," said MacKenzie. "My intimacy with my husband suffered a lot. I really didn't like being touched or hugged. I was having a lot of reoccurring nightmares because of the abuse."
"It has happened to people in all walks of life. They are not alone. They find that out once they begin talking about it," said Arbuckle. "It's a mourning process. First, you have to accept it happened, and then you have to mourn the fact you can't change what happened. And then you can get on with rebuilding your life."
NOTE: Information pages on this site were based on material from the Canadian Red Cross RespectED Training Program. Written permission was obtained to use their copyrighted material on this site.
From Victim to Victory
How I got over the devastating effects of child abuse and moved on with my life
Do you want to be notified of future healing workshops by Darlene Barriere?