Believe Your Kids

Everyday at my job I listen to kids talk about what may very well be the worst moments of their lives. It is a moving experience to watch the bravery they show by disclosing such personal, traumatic details to someone they’ve just met a few moments ago. It is an honor to get to meet these amazing young people and to offer them help in their healing journey. Especially when there are so many cases where myself and my coworkers are the only ones who believe them.

Most people assume that hearing these gruesome stories of physical and sexual abuse must be the hardest part of my job. That’s definitely what I thought when I first got hired. However, since then I’ve learned that there are even more difficult things to confront. Even more sickening than the abuse for me, is learning that the child’s own parent does not believe them, does not support them, chooses their abuser over them. This is a much more serious and impactful betrayal. I simply cannot stomach these “parents.”

Just recently a case went to court for sentencing. The perpetrator took a plea and our therapist went with the child to the sentencing. She came back to the office afterward to report that the mother went to support the abuser. The grandmother of the child even spoke on his behalf, actually cried, said she loved him and that she knew he was a good man. In the months leading up to this trial, the mother basically abandoned her child. She pressured her to recant her discloser of the abuse, belittled her, threatened her. Even after the boyfriend confessed, plead guilty, and was sentenced, the mother stayed by his side.

After the sentencing, the mother posted a huge pile of garbage on Facebook accusing the detective and CPS worker of lying on the stand and blaming her daughter for her own abuse. She drug her daughter, as well as the father who stood by her, through the mud for everyone to see. She implied that the daughter deserved it because she was sexually active at 14, accused the father of being addicted to meth, said her own daughter was dirty and diseased and a liar.

As if it wasn’t bad enough what this girl had to suffer through for five years of her childhood, now she must face the abandonment and betrayal of her own mother as well. What makes it even worse is what I know from the research I’ve read about child abuse. Most of us assume that these types of experiences leave scars no matter what. We agonize at the thought that these children may be forever changed and damaged from what has happened to them. However, the research shows that there is still hope for these wonderful kids. More impactful than the events themselves, is the response the child gets when they finally disclose. Children that are believed and supported by others in their family and community find resilience and strength in the face of adversity. They heal and become stronger for it. Unfortunately, children that are dismissed, ignored, not believed, punished, blamed, etc. are more likely to suffer negative mental health consequences from their abuse.

This makes perfect sense to me, and I always tell the decent parents this information. I offer them this knowledge as encouragement and to acknowledge the significant contribution they have already made to their child’s wellbeing by simply being there for them. To be taken advantage of and hurt by a friend, relative, or other known person is bad enough, but then to have that wound torn even deeper by the rejection of you own mother, father, or caregiver, the very person you look to for love and protection, is unthinkable. To be set adrift in an unsafe world with no safety net, no loving hand to guide you, that is the most harmful thing you can do to a child.

No matter how many times I see this happen (and it happens quite a lot) I never cease to be amazed. Who could be so cruel, so heartless, so callous toward their own flesh and blood child? Apparently a lot of people. I’m writing this post today to bring awareness to this disgusting phenomenon. If a child ever discloses something like this to you, BELIEVE THEM. Understandably a lot of people don’t know what to do if their child or another child in their life tells them something atrocious like this has happened. The only thing that you need to do is listen, make sure they are safe, then report it to the proper authorities. Don’t ask questions, don’t dismiss the child, just thank them for trusting you enough to tell you. Because it is such a beautiful gift to be a child’s confidant. Please don’t be another person that harms this child by denying their experience. Know that by simply being there for the child and believing them, you have given them something to hold onto, you are already helping them heal.

And to the parents out there that betray their own children, you have no right to call yourself a parent. You are a monster just as much as the person who abused them is. You don’t deserve to be any part of any child’s life. If it were up to me, you would face charges as well. You have done unspeakable, irreparable damage to an innocent child and I hope you suffer every day for that. I hope you are eaten alive by the shame of what you have done.

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Hiding Behind Religion

A few months ago, there was a child that came to my office to be interviewed. She was going to an extremely small private school, like 25 kids total in K-12 small. Like most private schools, this school was centered around a religious group. While she came to disclose sexual abuse, the female PRINCIPLE had grabbed her breasts insisting that she must be stuffing her bra, the other things she told me were just as disturbing, if not more so. This school was simply not a school by any stretch of the word. These kids were not being taught anything besides that everyone in public school was a Satanist and going to hell. This “school” was essentially a little cult. The worst part was that even though CPS reported our concerns to the state board of education, nothing has or will come of it. The school will not be investigated or shut down. The offending principle will not even be removed or prosecuted.

Ever since I met that poor, sweet girl that day, I’ve been thinking about that school. Thinking about it looming on a hillside in my very own town, brainwashing children, robbing them of an education. It makes me sick, but there is nothing that I can do. Even more disturbing, I know that this child’s story is not at all an isolated incident. How many other small private schools like this exist in the country? More than I’d like to know, I’m sure. But not only schools are using this religious excuse to shield them from the consequences they’d otherwise have to face for their atrocious actions.

The past few nights I’ve been watching Cults and Extreme Beliefs on Hulu. Even though I had heard about what goes on inside most of these organizations already, each episode exposed even more horrors I wasn’t aware of. From what I can tell, every single religious organization uses this status to get away with abusing children. Despite the majority of the country as well as local and federal authorities understanding the abuse taking place, nothing is being done about it.

I theorize that this is solely due to the government feeling hesitant to attack any religious sect. They fear negative publicity and the legal battleground that freedom of religion has created. The United States was founded on the idea that our citizens are free to practice any religion that they like. It seems obvious that it would only be a matter of time before people with nefarious motives would take advantage of that. What I once thought was an unfortunate side effect of isolated religious communities is now seeming more and more like the whole point behind them. The focus is child abuse, the method just happens to be through religion. Religion is an afterthought, cleverly used as a shroud to conceal these monsters from the law.

Not only am I becoming more and more informed about the way religion shields sexual predators, we see every day in the news how religion is also used as an excuse to endanger public health. Long before Covid-19 made it’s debut, churches were using their beliefs as a reason to not vaccinate their children. This has led to viruses once thought to have been totally eradicated in the developed world, to raise their ugly heads once again. Children are dying. They are being raped and beaten and brainwashed. All in the name of religious freedom.

At what point will the world start to realize that a parent’s rights cannot and should not overshadow the rights of their children? “Your personal liberty to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.” This has always been one of my favorite quotes. Yet it has never seemed to apply when it comes to children. Despite avowing to “protect our children,” in the eyes of the government, children still seem to be considered property. You’re allowed to hit them, you’re allowed to rob them of an education, and if you’re “religious” enough, you’re also allowed to rape them.

I understand the historical events that have created this fear of targeting different religions, but that fear cannot be allowed to result in religious organizations and leaders acting with impunity. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t believe procreation is a “right.” Especially when you do not have the physical, mental, or emotional competence to raise and protect that child. How can it be your right to create a life of suffering for another who is helpless and at your mercy? I suppose I should be happy about how much progress we have made toward installing protections for children within the law. I realize in the past things were much worse. However, I cannot find any peace when I know that the progress we have made is not nearly enough, that children are still being subjected to unimaginable abuse each and every day.

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Empathy for All

I consider myself incredibly lucky to work in such an interesting field. Psychology has always fascinated me, but actually working with kids and families in my community has broadened my horizons even more than I could have imagined back when I was still in school. Given that I’ve struggled with social anxiety for the majority of my life, it seems strange to me that I would have such a good time working is social services. However, I’ve learned to be more fascinated than fearful of people. Even so, I also believe that I am on the autistic spectrum which I feel gives me an interesting perspective on interpersonal matters. I have always been able to set aside my emotions around a subject or situation fairly easily and act based on logic and facts rather than my feelings.

I’ve learned throughout my life though, that this analytical character of mine can often be seen as cold and calculating by those around me. Many times I have offered up an opinion about something that seems perfectly logical to me, but has been terribly shocking and offensive to others. For instance, a recent conversation I’ve had with a friend at work sticks out to me. We were discussing the idea of legalizing all drugs and illicit substances. We both agreed that at face value, this seems like a shocking and unethical idea. I think most people have a gut reaction to this proposal that causes them to condemn it right away. However, I have read the research on this idea from countries where similar policies have been implemented. It came as a surprise to me, but legalizing these substances actually has the opposite effect than you would expect. Rather than more people abusing drugs and overdosing, there are less instances of this behavior. This is because people are more easily able to reach out for help. There is less of a stigma surrounding drug abuse. People that use are also able to do so more safely than they are when it’s illegal, which results in less instances of overdose and infection.

After discovering this data, I was fully on board with legalizing all drugs. Even though my emotional reaction to the idea remained unchanged. It still felt like a bad idea, but I was confident in the science enough to overlook my personal biases. However, when I shared this information with my coworker, he refused to change his position on the matter. I asked him, “So you’re still against it even if it results in less drug abuse?” This seemed so interesting to me. That even highly intelligent people will often side with their emotions rather than the facts.

A similar discussion came up the other day at a meeting with people we work with on cases of child abuse. We began discussing the idea of virtual child pornography or child sex dolls. Of course the idea is repulsive. Everyone’s initial reaction is of disgust and condemnation. Yet, I remain convinced that if there is data that shows these things lessen the likelihood that actual children will be abused, then I think they should be allowed. I’m not aware that there is any such data. It could very well be the exact opposite. But even in this hypothetical situation, no one else would agree that this should ever be legal. Even if it stops children from being abused. Once again, I was left feeling amazed at the irrationality of these smart individuals.

I am careful to watch what I say, lest I upset anyone, but a lot of the time, I don’t find it as easy to condemn the alleged perpetrators as I feel I should. Obviously child abuse of any kind is inexcusable and all measures must be taken to protect children from these offenders. However, this doesn’t make me incapable of still feeling sorry for everyone involved. After all, a lot of pedophiles were once the innocent victims. This obviously doesn’t justify their crimes, but it does somewhat explain them. We are unable to just cast these people out of society. The fact remains that putting them in prison for ten years doesn’t solve the problem. They are very likely to go on offending as soon as they are released. The science has shown that as upsetting as it is, pedophilia is a sexual orientation. It is something that cannot be changed. These people must learn how to control these urges and understand that although they cannot control their thoughts, they are able to control their actions. If they are considered monsters by society for their thoughts alone, why wouldn’t they give in to their urges? There needs to be an effort to rehabilitate these people, not just punish them.

Often we will interview a child because they have been abusing other children. We won’t ask them about what they’ve done, rather we try to ascertain whether or not something has happened to them that is causing them to act out this abuse on others. I think it’s very interesting that when a child hurts another child, we still feel empathy and compassion for both of them. It makes me wonder at what point we draw the line. When does a troubled child become an unforgivable adult? Does the limit of our compassion end at eighteen? Why do we make that distinction?

I find it hard to make sense of this divide, even though I do feel it viscerally within myself. It is much easier to vilify an adult than a child for the same crime. At the same time it seems illogical to arbitrarily make a decision that someone isn’t culpable at 16 but they are at 18. How exactly were they expected to “fix themselves” now that they are legally an adult? This atmosphere of shame and condemnation only makes it harder for the “undesirables” in society to seek help. Apparently in the U.S. you may be reported to the authorities for even mentioning you feel sexually attracted to minors to your therapist, even if you’ve never acted on those urges.

At the end of the day, despite our feelings on these difficult matters, we need to act and make decisions in a way that results in the best outcomes for society as a whole. Sometimes it may end up to be something that at face value seems counterintuitive. But we’ve got to learn to look past our emotional impulses and trust the data. I certainly don’t know all the answers to these very challenging questions. I just hope that we can be objective and open as we continue to search for those answers.

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

Grateful for the Chance to Give

It has been nearly a year now that I have been working as a Child and Family Advocate at a local Child Advocacy Center. Before I began this job, I had no idea that this place even existed or what a Child Advocacy Center was at all. I’ve come to learn that they are incredible things, especially mine. Here we help children who have been physically or sexually abused or neglected and their families. We facilitate forensic interviews, which are basically just recorded disclosures by the children of what they’ve been through.

I know a lot of people shudder at the idea of hearing these often heartbreaking stories from the mouths of the children themselves. However, it’s easy for me to focus instead of the wonderful opportunity I have been given to be a part of these kids’ lives and to help make sure they are protected from now on. To be honest, I really admire the kids that I meet every day. They are so incredibly resilient, strong, and loving despite it all.

I know I have made posts in the past about not having children in order to save the environment. And I still stand by that position and never plan on having any of my own for many reasons. But I’m so grateful that this job has allowed me to have children in my life. Until now I never really had the chance to be around them. To be honest, my social anxiety was even worse whenever I was. I didn’t know how to act or what to say to them. Now I have so much fun getting to know all the kids that I meet and seeing how unique they all are.

I am also extremely grateful for the few people I work alongside at this small non-profit. They are truly some of the most wonderful people I have met and I deeply admire them. They are smart, empathetic, passionate, skilled, and witty as hell. I greatly enjoy having them in my life now. I hope that I am able to continue to contribute and improve and stay here with them for a long time. I may have blindly stumbled into social work, but I am happy to be discovering how rewarding and fulfilling it can be.