Childhood Sexual Abuse In The Black Community

Childhood Sexual Abuse In The Black Community

Last week I was speaking with a young Black girl who had just turned 13 and was arrested for hitting her mother. This young girl was very, very angry. You could see it in her body language, in her terse answers to my questions, the scowl on her face and her overall negative attitude.

I asked her why she was so angry. She responded, “I don’t know”.  She seemed angry at the world. She had been suspended twice from school for fighting, but this was the first time she had ever been arrested. I was afraid it wouldn’t be the last if she didn’t learn how to address her anger.

I continued with my assessment and when I got to the questions about sexual abuse, she told me impassively that she had been raped at the age of seven by her mother’s then boyfriend.

Bingo. I knew that at least in part, her anger was tied to that traumatic experience. She went on to tell me that the boyfriend was now in prison and that she felt like she was left unprotected by her absent biological father and her neglectful mother.

I was shocked and angered when she told me that after the rape, she only received two weeks of counseling. Two weeks of counseling does nothing for almost any issue, let alone something as tragic as childhood sexual abuse.

I am almost positive that she was offered more than two weeks of counseling, or at the least referred for more counseling and her mother didn’t follow through. I can’t be certain, but from my experience it’s often the parents who just want to “move passed” the situation and downplay it’s potential affects on their child.

I asked this young girl if she thought the sexual abuse she experienced affected her in any way. She replied, “no”. Of course at 13 she is too young to understand the subconscious affects of sexual abuse. She’s too young to understand that all that anger she has inside of her that is already disrupting her life can most likely be attributed to her past.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to deal with a host of mental health problems including anger issues, depression, eating disorders, guilt, shame, anxiety, relationship problems, dissociation patterns, repression and self-blame.

This young girl is just one of the 61% of Black girls who have experienced sexual abuse  at the hands of men they know and should be able to trust according to a study done by Black Woman’s Blue Print .

Robin Stone, author of No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal From Sexual Abuse (2004) says that one out of four Black girls will be sexually abused by the age of 18.

Most of the sexual abuse comes from within the family and friends circle. Many go unreported. For every every Black woman who reports a rape, at least 15 do not according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2009).

22-29% of child sexual abuse victims are boys, many who often don’t report it due to fear, shame and confusion. Untreated, these boys often go on to have a plethora of behavior problems, many of which lead to future problems in school, run-ins with the law and relationship problems.

There are many, many reasons sexual abuse in families happen in secrecy including families wanting to keep it a secret (out of shame. to protect the victim and/or perpetrator) and sadly because of the historical stereotypes of Black women being seductive or sexually aggressive, even at young ages. It makes it hard for society to see them as innocent victims in many cases.

Talking to professional Black women I know personally, I was shocked to find out that many of them had experienced childhood sexual abuse at the hands of uncles, older cousins or other males they knew. Most did not tell anyone as a child.

This trend to not talk about childhood sexual abuse period has to change, especially in the Black community where it appears that our collectivist culture, fear of stereotypes and history itself, makes us reluctant to discuss and address sexual abuse with the intensity that it deserves.

There is so much to talk about when it comes to childhood sexual abuse, especially in the Black community. If you want to know more you can start by reading an older post I wrote about childhood sexual abuse and if you’re interested in learning more about sexual abuse in the Black community I wholeheartedly recommend Robin Stones book, No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal From Sexual Abuse.

Families need to talk about and not be afraid to address childhood sexual abuse. As Corey Booker said on a totally different subject, but it rings true here as well, “Your silence and amnesia is complicity.” .

 

 

Family Secrets: Childhood Sexual Abuse

30f6cf470f2d828e104d054e6a86f77bSpeaking with a young woman today, I heard a story I have heard far too many times.

This woman had been sexually abused as a child by a relative, but didn’t say anything out of fear and embarrassment. This relative went on to molest other children in the family until someone finally spoke out.

I’ve spoken to many individuals in the past who were molested by a family member and didn’t say anything not only out of fear and shame, but also because they thought that as long as the molester was perpetrating on them, he would leave their younger brothers, sisters or cousins alone.

In essence, they figured they would suffer through the abuse so that others wouldn’t have to.

The sad part is, in all of these cases, the molester went on to molest other children in the family anyway. In one case, there were three sisters all getting molested by the same uncle and neither knew about the other. All three reported that they didn’t say anything because they thought they were protecting the other sister from the abuse, not knowing that the other sisters were doing the exact same thing.

It was only when this uncle, after years of abusing these sisters, abused another member of the family that he got caught and is now serving time in prison.  By then at least four family members had been abused over the period of several years.

The Threat From Within

We teach our children to be cautious of strangers. We believe that the greatest threat to our child comes from outside of our homes and inner-circles.

1 in 4 women, and 1 in 6 men report being sexually abused as a child. Over 90% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows, loves and trusts. Family members, family friends, teachers, religious leaders and coaches are some of the biggest offenders.

There are many families who have this type of  secret, and some will even tell their children, “Stay away from uncle Bob” because they know they have a perpetrator in their family who for one reason or another is still around.

I even worked with one family who hid their family member’s pedophilic activity, partially out of embarrassment and partially out of  a family’s natural response to try to protect each other. This family member went on to molest at least three children before being sent to prison.

Why Do Children Keep Abuse A Secret

As adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse will tell you, there are many reasons why children will endure sexual abuse for years, some for a lifetime, without telling soul.

For one, children aim to please. They want to make someone they love and trust happy and are often willing to do whatever the person tells them to do.

Abusers also often coach their victims not to tell anyone. Sometimes this is done with threats of violence towards them or other members in their family. Other times it is done with the threat that the child themselves will get in trouble if they tell.

Shame, embarrassment and confusion along with countless other feelings and thoughts can keep a child from telling anyone about the abuse.

Most survivors of childhood abuse I’ve spoken to waited until they were were in their late teens or adulthood before they felt ready to share what they experienced as a child. Many reported that they were afraid that no one would believe them.

How To Help Your Child Break The Silence

We have to teach children the difference between a secret and a surprise. That may sound too simple, but as a start, it is very powerful.

  • Teach them that a surprise is supposed to be about something fun, such as a birthday gift or special party for a friend.
  • Teach them that secrets are something kids shouldn’t keep to themselves, especially secrets that involve touches of private body parts or anything that makes the child feel uncomfortable.
  • Encourage your child not to keep secrets from you.
  • Tell them that touches to private body parts should never be a secret.
  • Let them know that if someone tells them to keep a secret, especially someone older than them (including older/bigger kids), they should tell you or another trusted adult immediately.
  • If a friend tells them a secret, let your child know they should share it with you (the other child could be asking for help).
  • Let them know that it’s never their fault if someone touches a private body part and they will never get in trouble if they tell.

Abuse of all kind (i.e.,  physical, sexual, emotional and neglect) flourishes under the veil of silence. It’s beyond time that we break that silence.