“Why Should We Care?”
On August 30th at 10 p.m. EST on the TLC network, I will be one of the childhood sexual abuse survivors sharing my journey of healing and the impact of being a survivor on a one-hour commercial-free documentary called “Breaking The Silence”. This documentary will have survivors and experts on childhood sexual abuse. My wife Karla is also featured.
My goal is to share important information and show my fellow survivors that we can do incredible things in our lives, be happy, and not let our pasts control us.
I hope you will watch and learn more about “why should we care” about childhood sexual abuse.
Regular moodyspeaks.com readers know that I attended the Advanced Leadership Initiative program at Harvard University a few months ago. The program requires that each participant come up with a personal project that has some type of positive social impact.
My classmates and I broke into small study groups to review each other’s projects. We were to ask questions to challenge each other to think deeply about each project.
I came up with a two-phase project to help childhood sexual abuse survivors. And rather than starting a foundation, I decided to use my photography and my thoughts on moodyspeaks.com to raise money, and then to give it away.
Phase 1 is designing t-shirts with inspirational sayings I developed from writing moodyspeaks.com.
Phase 2 is developing a website that will provide resources to support prevention of childhood sexual abuse and to assist survivors in their journey toward healing. The site will market inspirational apparel by moodyspeaks and a new book I am writing on my journey of healing to be published in early 2016. It will also include short videos of other childhood sexual abuse survivors sharing their healing process.
A portion of the proceeds from all sales will go to organizations that help prevent childhood sexual abuse and assist survivors in their journey toward healing.
As I explained my project to the small group, a classmate asked me this question: “Why should we care”?” It stopped me in my tracks.
I never thought about why anyone – other than a childhood sexual abuse survivor, or a parent or loved one of a survivor – should care.
That question has stuck with me. How do I help get the message across that EVERYONE should care?
I asked some experts in organizations, including Darkness to Light, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), Male Survivor, and the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy. I also asked individual experts Lou Bivona and Dr. Sharon Watkins-Cooper. Here is public health information they gave me and statistics they cited:
● Child sexual abuse is likely the most pervasive and prevalent health problem children face, with the most serious array of consequences. It affects every part of our society. It’s widespread, especially when compared to other serious childhood health conditions.
● As an example, one of every 433 children is diagnosed with diabetes. One of every 68 is diagnosed with autism. But more than 1 of every 10 children will be sexually abused before the age of 18. And only 10 percent of victims ever disclose their abuse.
● Most sexual abuse of children occurs in a residence, typically that of the victim or perpetrator.
● Behavioral problems, including physical aggression and non-compliance, occur frequently among sexually abused children and adolescents. They are also at significantly greater risk for later post-traumatic stress and other anxiety symptoms depression and suicide attempts.
● Abused girls are more likely to turn to self-destructive behavior such as promiscuity and substance abuse, which leads to teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. They are also more vulnerable to being commercially sexually exploited.
● Abused boys are more likely to turn to aggressive or criminal behavior leading to incarceration. Male sexual abuse survivors have twice the HIV infection rate of non-abused males. In a study of HIV-infected 12 to 20 year olds, 41 percent reported a sexual abuse history.
● Documented short- and long-term struggles for children who are sexually abused include depression, substance abuse, poor school performance and falling grades, inappropriate sexual behaviors, eating disorders, and poor interpersonal relationships. If untreated at licensed professional organizations, these problems can lead to far more detrimental behaviors during adolescence and adulthood.
• Adult survivors of child sexual abuse are at greater risk of a wide range of conditions that are non-life threatening and are potentially psychosomatic in nature. These include fibromyalgia, severe premenstrual syndrome, chronic headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and a wide range of reproductive and sexual health complaints, including excessive bleeding, amenorrhea, pain during intercourse and menstrual irregularity.
• Adults with a history of child sexual abuse are 30 percent more likely than their non-abused peers to have a serious medical condition such as diabetes, cancer, heart problems, stroke or hypertension.
• Childhood sexual abuse costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year, and causing devastating harm to thousands of victims, making it difficult for them to lead productive lives. The Centers for Disease Control estimates the lifetime burden of an incident of nonfatal child abuse to be $210,012 per victim (in 2010 dollars). This includes immediate costs, as well as loss of productivity and increased healthcare costs in adulthood. Compare this to the lifetime costs of stroke ($159,846) and Type 2 diabetes ($181,000 to $253,000).
Now I will tell you from a survivor’s viewpoint why we should care.
When I was sexually abused as a child, my innocence was stolen. It created a fear of trusting people and low self-esteem. I developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and panic attacks. It took me decades to accept it was OK for me to be loved. I will live with the damage my entire life.
There is no magic pill or counseling that can erase the memories. It takes hard work everyday to keep moving forward with a smile. Fortunately, I have been blessed with proper counseling and a loving environment to give me the strength and courage to not let my childhood past control my past and future.
I am not a health care professional. I’m just a survivor who believes that with proper counseling, love in our lives, a personal desire to put the work in to heal, and faith, we can give hope to the hopeless and a voice to those that can’t speak.
Childhood sexual abuse is clearly a community problem. It requires the active involvement of the entire community to prevent it and respond to it.
Thanks for reading and thanks for caring.