A NEW YEAR, A NEW CHANCE TO
HELP END CHILD ABUSE AND INTIMATE PARTNER ABUSE
Publisher: Beverly Engel
As a survivor of childhood abuse or what is
called a “secondary survivor” (a family member, partner, or friend of a
survivor) you probably become distressed and discouraged each time you hear
about another major case of childhood abuse, child abduction, child murder
or about another woman being raped or battered. You may at times even begin
to feel hopeless, like there is nothing you or anyone else can do about the
fact that things continue to get worse when it comes to women and children
being neglected, exploited and abused, and how little things seem to be
changing when it comes to making them safer.
But as you are setting your New Year’s goals,
please include the goal of doing everything you can to break the cycle of
abuse. Even though it may seem like only a drop in the ocean, every little
bit does indeed help. For example, if you help break the cycle of abuse in
your own family by not passing on to your children what was done to you, you
are not only helping your own children but their children and their
children’s children. Just as the abuse or neglect that you experienced was
likely the culmination of years and years of abuse or neglect passed down in
your family, the absence of abuse or neglect will be passed down for
generations to follow.
We also know that abused family members go
outside the home to victimize others. Children who are emotionally,
physically or sexually abused at home often become bullies at school. Those
who are sexually abused at home often repeat the abuse with children in the
neighborhood or childhood friends. In fact, one sexually molested child can
victimize an entire neighborhood of children. Children who witness domestic
violence are far more prone to intimate partner abuse as teens, either by
being a victim themselves or by becoming a batterer.
So any action you can take to break the cycle of
abuse in your own family can have a tremendous impact on others. How do you
break the cycle in your family? Here are some suggestions:
- Go to therapy or a support group in order to heal the wounds of your
own childhood. The more healing you experience, the less likely it will
be that you will abuse your own children or get involved with abusive
partners. Healing your own trauma will also better equip you to protect
your own children from abuse from others (both inside and outside the
family). It has been shown over and over again, for example, that
mothers who were sexually abused in childhood but who did not seek
counseling, tend to be blind to their own children’s abuse. This is
especially true of those who are still in denial about their own abuse
because if they were to acknowledge their child’s abuse they would be
forced to acknowledge their own.
- Talk about your own abuse to others. Childhood abuse, especially
childhood sexual abuse, continues to flourish because of the
secretiveness surrounding it. It is as if we have all conspired to
believing that if we don’t talk about it it will go away. But the
opposite is true. The less we talk about it, the more we allow it to
happen. By telling your story (at appropriate times and places) you are
reminding people that childhood abuse is real, it is a huge problem, and
it needs to be stopped. You are also putting a face on the issue and
thus making it more real to people. Don’t contribute to the silence and
secrecy. Instead, contribute to bringing childhood abuse out in the open
where we can all have to face the reality of it.
- If your children have witnessed you being abused, either physically
or emotionally, talk to them about it. Don’t assume they don’t know
about it just because they aren’t physically present when the abuse is
occurring. Let them know it is not okay and that they should not repeat
either the abuser’s behavior or your behavior as a victim. Let them know
that you are working on ending the relationship (and then do so).
- Educate your children about childhood abuse, especially childhood
sexual abuse. Don’t worry about taking away your children’s
innocence—that’s probably already been done by the media. Children are
exposed to violence of every kind, including sexual violence, from the
time they are old enough to watch TV or listen to popular music. Don’t
be so worried about protecting them from the harsh world that you don’t
arm them with information that will save them from being abused.
- Teach your children about sex—even if you think they are too young.
As it is with violence, children are exposed to sex at a very early
age—by TV, movies, music and their peers. Become the sexual authority in
your child’s life. Help your children feel comfortable asking you
questions about sex.
- If you are not comfortable talking about sex with your kids, get
comfortable. Read books about teaching your children about sex, or talk
to a counselor about it.
- Teach your sons to respect females. Teach them to not take advantage
of their superior physical strength and to protect and defend girls and
women from those who try. Teach them how harmful it is to denigrate
girls by calling them “hos” and “bitches” like they do in rap music and
to never have sex with a girl unless she gives her explicit consent.
This means that if a girl has had too much to drink, she is not capable
of giving consent. If a girl is passed out at a party, she certainly is
not able to give consent. If they see a girl being exploited at a party
by other guys, teach your sons to tell the other guys to leave her alone
and make sure that she gets a safe ride home.
- Teach your daughters to respect themselves enough to take care of
themselves—to be assertive when someone attempts to control them, to
defend themselves when someone tries to hurt them, and to tell others if
either one of these strategies don’t work. Teach them that they do not
have to dress like prostitutes to get males attention and that this is
the wrong attention anyway. Teach them that their self-worth shouldn’t
just come from how they look, how much they weigh, how popular they are
or how many boys pay attention to them.
- Learn the red flags that signal that a man (or women) may be
abusive. By learning the warning signs you can avoid bringing an abuser
into your own life or the lives of your children.
- Become a powerful role model for your daughters—role models who
marry good, healthy men. By marrying good, healthy men you can provide
your daughters with loving fathers who treat them with respect and thus
send the message that they deserve to be treated well by men.
- Provide your sons with healthy fathers who show them by example how
to honor and respect women.
- Reach out to support other women who have been abused either
emotionally, physically, or sexually. Listen to their stories and offer
emotional and financial support. Instead of judging women who stay in
abusive relationships make the effort to support them in gaining the
strength to leave.
- Make your voice heard. Speak out against violence against women, men
and children. Everyone’s voice is important—every voice can add to the
cacophony of voices that eventually create a shout that is heard around
We all have the power to help decrease the level of violence in our
community and in the world. If we begin with the premise that violence
begins at home we can see that small starts, small actions can indeed create
I’ll continue on this subject in the weeks to come. I look forward to your
The Nice Girl Syndrome will soon be out in paperback. Look for it at your local bookstore or order it from
Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.com. I appreciate your support.
Please see Upcoming Events
- Check out my "blog" on the Psychology Today website. My blog is entitled "The Compassion Chronicles." Check out my recent blogs by going to
I hope you enjoyed this issue of Working Together to Create an Abuse-Free Future.
To find out more about Beverly Engel, go to
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