Abuse is ugly. Child Abuse is uglier still and Childhood Sexual Abuse is the ugliest of them all. The horror is not just in the image of a child being forced to experience something that they cannot make sense of but that it is, in almost every case, perpetrated by someone that was known to and trusted by the child. To destroy that trust and to replace it with such horror and pain is, to me, one of the worst forms of abuse one human being can inflict upon another.
For many years, the subject of sexually abusing a child has lived in the shadows of shame and guilt. People will speak of their child’s struggle with bullying or illness but refer to any sexual abuse simply as ‘trauma’. Child victims of Sexual Abuse are already deep in their own shame and when the adults around them do not validate their experience, it adds significantly to the damage.
In many (if not most) cases of Childhood Sexual Abuse, the emotional damage done by not being able to deal with it appropriately, lasts significantly longer than the physical damage.
Once traumatized by Childhood Sexual Abuse the victim carries the shame and trauma through the rest of their childhood and on into their adult life. No survivor escapes the pain of carrying the burden of their terrible ‘secret’ and the catastrophic impact it has on their ability to have healthy and loving relationships.
Survivors are statistically more likely to experience issues with depression, addiction and even to suffer fatal diseases.
The trauma that a survivor carries is an emotional time bomb just waiting to explode into their life when triggered. For many survivors, this occurs without warning and can drive them to deep depression, anxiety and, in some cases, to suicide. Some people experience dark memories flooding into their consciousness – memories that they did not even realize they had hidden away as a child in order to survive
the horrific things that were happening to them.
Our society’s inability to face the realities of this awful form of abuse, forces the victim to carry the weight of shame and not the abuser. The victim is a helpless child and yet many value what others might think (our family would be shamed if people found out that our child has been abused sexually) over making sure that the child is cared for and helped through the critical early stages of trauma.
It is this deeply-rooted stigma that makes it so difficult for an adult survivor of earlier Childhood Sexual Abuse to seek help and when they do, to be able to talk of their experience. And yet, being able to bring the abuse into the open and tell their story is exactly what is needed in order to begin the process of recovery and to remove the power of the abuser that they have carried for almost all of their lives. The ‘secret’ cannot survive once it is brought into the open.
The recent public focus on Childhood Sexual Abuse in high-profile cases involving well-known people has helped to make people aware of how prevalent this is in our society. Campaigns encouraging people to identify themselves as victims of early Sexual Abuse have been making headline news around the world. Hopefully, this attention will help remove the stigma and allow people to address Childhood
Sexual Abuse promptly and make it unacceptable in all cases.
Good though this publicity is for bringing the subject to the forefront, it does little for the survivor. Indeed, the very publicity which is so important can itself be a trigger to someone who has buried their ‘secret’ and would do anything not to have to face it.
The best hope for a survivor is to be able to associate with people who understand the crippling agony of ‘the secret’ and who they know will not judge them as somehow ‘to blame’ or as ‘a bad person’ for being abused. As one survivor stands up and tells their story, others will realize that they are not actually alone and that there is hope. This book, then, is one such story.
Using past journals and letters, Janet Bentley has laid down the story of the abuse she suffered as a child, the impact it had on her as she went through adulthood and the journey she has chosen to take toward recovery and becoming the person she was intended to be.
At times, the book may be uncomfortable for some readers and potentially triggering to others. It is important, however, that Janet details the horrors of the abuse, in order to be able to describe why it had such a lasting impact. This is a book about hope of recovery. It is a beacon of light to other survivors who still suffer the effects of the trauma of their own childhood experiences.
A lot of the material in the book comes from Janet’s writings earlier in her life and it is both interesting and painful to read of the emotional turmoil that she experienced.
Janet’s writing changes as the story progresses. In the description of her childhood, she is relating events as she saw them as a child, when there was no opportunity to make sense of what happened. Moving on to adulthood and motherhood, Janet refers to her writings of early adulthood when the trauma really affected her ability to cope and the reader gets a strong sense of how debilitating depression can be. The writing of the final part of the book – when Janet starts her journey of recovery – describes deeply troubling emotions but is underpinned by a growing understanding and Janet’s constant belief that she can get past the grip of her childhood and lead a healthy and happy life.
Even without the stigma that follows Childhood Sexual Abuse, for a survivor to put words to their worst memories and to let the world see what they have spent their whole life hiding, takes a lot of courage and fortitude.
The book contains details that are as Janet remembers them (or as she described in writings at the time). Janet tells her story as she remembers it. She does not embellish or invent.
Most of all, though, this book gives voice to a survivor. By sharing her story, Janet is reaching to other victims of earlier Sexual Abuse and telling them that they are not alone, that others carry similar ‘secrets’ and that there is hope for recovery from the trauma.
If just one person reads this and finds the courage to start to face their own trauma then not only does it bring value to this book but, for Janet, the abuse will have been given a purpose greater than anything the abusers could do.
Janet Bentley was raised in Southern California. She currently lives in Arizona where she founded the non-profits Courageous Survivors and Show Up For Children. Janet is a member of RAINN’s (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) Speakers’ Bureau, a facilitator of Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children training, and a co-author of the international best-seller, We Choose To Thrive. She also started and facilitates a support group for survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Janet loves living in the beauty of the desert.