What is child sexual abuse?.
We define it as the intrusion of adult sexuality into the life of a child not mature enough to fully understand the event, and with no capacity to consent it due to difference in age or authority level.
We share the definition by Lic. María Cecilia López: Child sexual abuse is to involve a child in: a) sexual activities that cannot fully understand, to which he/she is not able to provide an informed consent, or to which he/she is immature or b) sexual activities that break the law or social restrictions.
Lopez, María Cecilia, “Abuso Sexual. Como prevenirlo, como detectarlo”, 1st edition, Buenos Aires. Paidós. 2010
¿Is there a way I could determine whether a child is suffering sexual abuse?
Due to the high frequency of occurrence of this crime, Lic.María Muller has coined a phrase: “if you see any change in the behaviour of a child, THINK FIRST on sexual abuse…”
How frequent does children´s sexual abuse occur?
Some reports of the European Union estimate that one out of five children suffer sexual abuse before the age of 18. Our experience confirms this statistics: there is no place we visit that after we share our testimonies, several survivors approach us with their own account of what happened to them.
To obtain more information, please see: “Abuso sexual en la infancia: guía para orientación y recursos disponibles en CABA y Provincia de Buenos Aires”. Authors: Bianco, Watcher, Chiapaparrone, Muller.
Why is it not better to forget a sexual abuse instead of keeping it alive in our minds?
We know, according to our own experience, that forgetting is not possible. Actually, most of us spent decades trying to forget, but it was not possible. We started to feel better when we could talk and tell our experiences in an empathetic environment.
Do you think that it is possible to forgive the abuser?
We do think that it is not possible to forgive, as a personal decision. If one of us wants to forgive the aggressor, we feel happy for him/her, but we still think that it is more important to acknowledge ourselves as victims of a crime and feel empathy for the child we have been, rather than to forgive the adults that hurt us.
Is happiness possible after having been abused?
Definitely! A quiet and peaceful life is possible if we are aware of the pain we have been carrying on our back from our childhood. What has hurt us the most are the silence, the shame, not having been understood nor protected; the recovery starts when we decide to talk and are listened, when we can see ourselves as victims of a crime and not guilty and responsible for what happened. As Borys Cyrulñik says: “an adversity is an injury that is engraved in our life, but it is not a destiny”.
What do I have to do if somebody tells me that he/she has been sexually abused?
Pay attention: for some reason that person chooses to confide in you a secret that perhaps is several years old; being a careful listener is a very healthy reaction.
Be aware of your own reaction when you listen the story (pain, grief, fear, shame, anger, rejection, etc.) but do not say anything swiftly. Do not be frightened, a child sexual abuse is a horrible experience and is absolutely normal to have confusing feelings and thoughts.
Do not try to provide answers to “solve” the problem.
Never say: “this is part of your past”, “forget it”, “why do you come to talk to me about this after so many tears”, “turn the page over”, “this is a very old story”, “are you sure about this”?.
Do believe that the story you are being told is true.
Let the person to cry and to freely express his/her feelings.
Sometimes, a hug, an attentive look, an attitude open to listen is enough.
Be aware that you are the witness of one of the most important step towards the cure of the person that chooses you to listen what he/she needs to say.
If unintentionally or taken by surprise, this situation has already occurred, and you could not behave with responsibility, there is always time to go back, and talk about what happened with the person that trusted on you. For those of us that have been abused, the most serious damage is silence. Your attitude to go back and talk again may be very important and liberating to your friend.
Which are the signs and symptoms of a sexual abuse?
There are many signs and symptoms of the survivors of children’s sexual abuse; physical and psychological indicators have been defined according to the victim´s age and development stage.
Lopez, María Cecilia “Abuso Sexual. Como prevenirlo, como detectarlo”. 1st edition, Buenos Aires. Paidós. 2010
Bianco, Watcher, Chiapaparrone, Muller “Abuso sexual en la infancia: guía para orientación y recursos disponibles en CABA y Provincia de Buenos Aires”. (http://www.feim.org.ar/pdf/publicaciones/GuiaASI2015.pdf)
Why is it so important the public visualisation of this crime?
Because we are absolutely convinced that is our duty as adults to offer our testimony of pain, fight and hope, with the intention to contribute to allow children to say what they are going trough and to the many victims and survivors adults that are still silenced and hidden. One of the major accomplices to this crime are silencing and concealment.
What is the “peers group”?
It is a space where we meet weekly to anonymously share, with empathy and solidarity, our experiences as adults, survivors of this crime, and as adults protectors of children currently suffering of it.
And we proof, week after week, with great joy and with our simple means of sharing experiences, how the feelings of solitude, isolation and shame start to vanish as consequence of this fantastic collective experience, easy to replicate.
Which are the main activities carried out by ADI (“Adultxs por los derechos de la infancia”)?
Besides our regular actions of visualization, we offer the community, every week, a peers meeting space, in which any adult that have suffered abuse being a child or that is protecting a currently abused child, can talk about his/her experience in an anonymous and empathetic environment.
How can I contact ADI?
You can send us a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone us : +54 911 6972 9541.
Our Facebook address is: adultxs por los derechos de la infancia
Why are we “peers groups” fanatics?
We frequently enjoy a nice surprise during the “peers group” meetings. In our case, we have in common having been sexually abused being children, and, currently, being protectors of children that are suffering from this crime or just committed and sensitive adults.
The fact is that when we meet another human being that went through the same traumatic experience, it is much easier to us to get rid of the heavy load of shame and silence we usually endure.
Once we can talk or simply listen carefully what other friends say, a miracle occurs: we can give a name to the multiple emotions that we have been going through for so many years.
Others give a name to what I feel. They do not judge me. This gives room to my emotions and validates them.
Through this experience I feel that I am understood, contained and lighter than before the meeting.
Now I know that there are other persons that went through the same than me.
And I realise that, like me, these friends also feel or have felt fear, shame, neglect, hate, loneliness and so many other things.
When I listen to a friend, I “feel” what he/she is telling me. In that moment, I get to know or relive moments of anguish, compassion, deep empathy towards this friend that is suffering so much. And he/she helps me to relive my own emotions: I feel pity and love, feelings that I never dared to feel for myself.
The group has a true healing effect, “giving a name” to what was hidden till then.
In the group I can talk and burst into tears for something that occurred to me when I was 4 years old, even if now I am 80, and nobody will say to me “this is over”, “chin up”, “again with this!”, you will never forgive?”, “when are you going to forget it?”. Each of us surely remembers that even professionals have recommended us that we should “turn the page over” and should forgive our abusers and their accomplices.
During our peers meetings, our friends know that we cannot forget, we carried for a long time the hate and contempt on ourselves because we were not allowed to hate and had contradictory feeling towards the adults responsible for the crime. We were forced to shut up and hide our feelings.
My friends do not judge my feelings because they live the same situations than I did.
It is an environment full of empathy and real compassion.
To talk gently about pain gives us peace.
We do not like to talk about curing. We prefer to talk about peace, empathy, compassion, solidarity, tenderness, justice.
We are aware that every day we know each other a bit more, and as a consequence, we learn to love and look at each other with tenderness. Our behaviours and reactions are not “weird” any more, we know that they are our reaction to painful emotions and that that pain started from a concrete fact: the adults that should have protected us hurt us, and most of the times, we could not find any other adult to ask for help and when we dared to do so, they did not believe us or they behaved as if our pain was not real.
For many years, we kept the secret of our pain as children; many of this pain provoked abnormal behaviours (such as: distrust, lack of self esteem, self aggression, anorexia, addictions) and many physiological symptoms (such as: phobia, panic crisis, irritable colon, insomnious). It´s time to release out feelings.
When I meet a friend (a peer) and allow myself to “give a name” to my emotions, I can, for the first time, become aware that there is no risk to feel and to talk about what I feel.
I can talk and feel, without any risk.