There are things we see over and over again in our work. They’re bad, but we get used to them. You got so frustrated that you beat your kid with a chancla? Yawn. You don’t have an involved dad? Um, who does?! Obviously, jerks, I’m being facetious. These things are never ok, or no big deal. You just grow somewhat accustomed to them. If we were shocked every time something like this happened, ninety percent of social workers would be dead of a heart attack within their first year on the job.
There’s one thing that comes up, time and time again, though, that’s different.
Sometimes, it’s the reason a family is referred to us. This isn’t ideal, as there are agencies that deal specifically with sexual abuse and are really better suited to this work. But there aren’t that many of them, there are long waiting lists, so you get what you get.
Yes, that is how seeking help works if you don’t have money. But I digress.
Very often, it’s not in the referral. Rather, it comes up later. It’s not the main issue. That would be truancy, or the kid having an attitude, or getting into fights, or excessive corporal punishment. The abuse comes out later.
When it comes up, we’re supposed to address it. So I do. Part of this involves asking the kid how they’d like to handle it. Would you like to try sexual abuse counseling? Do you want to talk about it?
A surprising amount of the time, they do. Kids often know what they need, and if they’ve been wanting counseling, they’re relieved to have it offered. Sometimes they don’t want it, though, and I respect this.
Apparently, this is very bad.
Not long ago, a family was referred to me, and on their laundry list of issues was that their teenage daughter had been molested by a family friend. She was very upfront with me. Ever since this incident came to light, it was all anyone had talked about. This child had to talk about it to a guidance counselor, to her parents, to an ACS worker, to the police, to a sexual abuse investigator. She was done talking about it.
Her parents accepted this. They went out of their way to make sure she wasn’t withdrawing from the family, as they knew this was what she turned to, and let her know she could talk about it if she wanted to. But the court insisted she seek counseling. Actually, she was told, “If this child doesn’t get sexual abuse counseling, all of the kids will be removed.”
Or, as she heard it, “If this happens again, keep it to yourself, because it’s going to lead to all of these problems.”
(For the record, she went to the sexual abuse counseling agency, where it was recommended that the family keep doing what they were doing and bring her back for counseling in the future, when she was ready. In other words, in your face, Your Honor.)
Sometimes, when a child is sexually abused, we forget that they’re still a person. They become Sexual Abuse Victim #23489542. Everything is about the abuse.
I’ve gotten numerous referrals for girls who are being “promiscuous” or “acting out sexually.” Victims of sexual abuse most certainly do this. But there’s no technical definition for “promiscuous,” and I can’t always tell the difference between “acting out sexually” and “having sex.” Most troubling, we never get that concern for a boy.
Actually, we got it once. The boy in question was gay. Apparently, if you’re having sex with boys, it’s to be pathologized.
It reminds me of how some people justify “abortion is bad.” They have a friend who had an abortion and has been a total wreck ever since, she just never got over it. You know who else had an abortion? One in three women. They’re not all a disaster beyond repair.
I realize I left myself open for some “heh heh, is that why women are such bitches, amirite bros?” Stop now, you’re better than that.
We notice the squeaky wheels, is the point. But plenty of kids are ok. Overall, kids are resilient. We’re not supposed to say that, because supposedly this denies that sexual abuse is awful and inexcusable. It is awful, it is inexcusable. I have a hard time coming up with reasons why people who even think this might maybe be an ok thing to do shouldn’t, at the very least, be sent to a remote island to live out the rest of their days. (There aren’t that many remote islands, they might figure out how to make a boat…)
But acknowledging that children are resilient is much better than going on and on about how victims’ lives are destroyed. You sound like a real asshole when you do that.
Some kids are ready for counseling. Some aren’t. They might be later. Forcing a kid into it is terrible and can be retraumatizing. Sometimes, a parent or other caring adult believing, supporting, and appropriately protecting a child, assuring them that nothing was their fault, can be sufficient.
Sexual abuse, more than almost anything we face in our work, brings up our own issues. It horrifies and disgusts us, and it makes us feel protective, and it makes parents feel guilty. We need to be sure that we’re addressing what’s best for the child, not what makes us feel better.