November 5, 2007
Children feel three main emotions when they are abused:
1. Fear that they will be hurt or humiliated or blamed.
2. Anger that they are like prey, helpless and powerless.
3. Shame because they are sure it’s their fault. When anything goes wrong, kids blame themselves.
One out of every three girls will have been sexually abused before the age of 18 in the US; worldwide, the figures are even higher. The fact that it happened at this school, whose founder, Oprah Winfrey, stands for the welfare of girls and women around the world and whose very purpose in opening the school was to provide a protective and caring environment for girls, shows just how pervasive this problem is.
What I’ve learned from working with thousands of abuse victims is that abuse destroys children’s basic sense of place and safety in the world, especially when it’s inflicted by our own family or caregivers. If not treated, it tends to show up later as illness and addiction. The key is treatment to remove the fear, anger, and shame that come with abuse. There are therapies that address this problem and can undo the damage—the sooner the better. It will be crucial to involve the parents so that the children don’t feel they have a terrible secret they have to keep.