Why believing victims of sexual abuse is important

Believing  Sexual Abuse Victims  Promotes Healing 

In a February 19,  2014  article  from the Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20140219-dont-revictimize-sexually-abused-children.ece?nclick_check=1, writers Madeline McClure and April Wilson  present an excellent  discussion of  why  child victims of  sexual abuse are often  re-victimized when they disclose their abuse.

From  my own  experience as a  trial lawyer exclusively representing survivors of sexual abuse and sexual  assault  in civil cases for the past twenty years,  I know  it takes exceptional  courage for  victims of sexual abuse to come forward and  tell anyone, let alone civil authorities, about being  or having been abused. Unfortunately, when they do,  victims of sex crimes are often confronted with  public scorn;   “Why did  you  wait so long to come forward?”  “Get over it.” “These cases are nothing more than false allegations.”

No wonder, then, victims of  sexual assault,  especially child victims, are  reluctant to tell.  Perhaps more importantly, they  fear retaliation from their abusers. Or,   if  a  perpetrator is  a family member or another person in a position of trust, such as a coach, teacher,  counselor, or religious figure( priest, youth minister), this fear,  intensified by guilt and shame, can be so be so psychologically overwhelming that childhood sexual abuse may not—perhaps even cannot—  be revealed until well into adulthood.

When adults  accuse a  child of  lying about sexual abuse, the victim   is “re-victimized”.  The initial abuse is woefully compounded.   For example, in many of the clergy sexual  abuse cases I have handled,  if a child has told  a parent: “Father X touched me…” ,  the devout parent’s  response is oftentime: “Don’t  you lie about wonderful Father X.”  “You will go to Hell.”  This threat was sometimes  driven home  by a slap across the face or a thorough beating.

Child abuse is epidemic  in this country. As the writers discuss, in 2012 alone ,  child welfare agencies reported  over 62,000 children were sexually  abused in the United States.  Research indicates that 30-40 percent of girls and 13 percent of boys were sexually violated in childhood.  Further,  90 percent or more of all claims of sexual abuse have been   confirmed true.

We  must acknowledge  this stark reality and come to comprehend  the truly life-altering damages that victims suffer. Whether victims outcries are timely or delayed,  we  must  empower them  to disclose these  life-altering criminal acts  and assure them  not to  fear  retaliation and re-victimization.




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