by Teresia Smith
In 2023, we still live in a country where according to RAINN, one in nine girls and one in twenty boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn eighteen.
Did you really read that? We live in a country where one in nine girls and one in twenty boys will be used as sexual objects by people who are older and more powerful than they are. Let the magnitude of those numbers sink in. Do we just forget this knowledge and move on to something new? No. We need to continue to have the conversation that may save someone from a lifetime of pain.
Most of these children are sexually assaulted by people they know and trust. Some are abused by older children. A large number are abused by members of their own family. Many are abused by trusted adults who are involved in their daily lives.
As a culture, we don’t like to acknowledge these unpleasant realities. We pretend things like this don’t happen to people like “us.” It doesn’t happen in our town. But they do. It happens in Jackson County, and it’s not that rare. Many times it just goes unreported.
Childhood sexual abuse impacts people of all races, ethnicities, socio-economic statuses, religious affiliations, sexual orientations—any type of demographic you can imagine. Childhood sexual abuse is an “everybody” issue. We cannot pretend we don’t know.
Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett speaks of the long, dark shadow that childhood abuse can cast over a life, affecting one’s emotional state and how they relate to others. Many times, survivors of childhood sexual abuse often spend years suffering without realizing that many of the issues they are facing may be connected to the sexual abuse they experienced in childhood. Because our culture still tends to shy away from talking about childhood sexual abuse, it is not easy for survivors to make the connection between their behaviors and their abuse. We tend to look at a victim and wonder how they could have made such poor choices instead of asking what happened in their life that has led them down that path.
Very often, some event in a survivor’s adult life triggers memories of childhood sexual abuse. Memories they may have squelched for so long they thought they were forgotten. This awareness can be sudden and crushing and can push them to a crisis level. Triggering events for adult survivors can include things like a divorce or break up of an intimate-partner relationship or experiencing abuse in their older years. Sometimes the death of their perpetrator may give them courage to come forward. Even the birth of a child or even a grandchild can be a time of fear as they realize that child’s vulnerability.
All of these experiences can be extremely re-traumatizing to adult survivors. As a result, triggering those earliest memories that may have been “filed away” until their mind could consciously deal with them. These realizations lead survivors to seek help. Yet, many times they have no idea where to turn. As a society, we have not been vocal enough on the issue of childhood sexual abuse and it has left the victims without supports.
Victims need education on how their lives have been impacted by sexual assault in childhood. They need support in their healing process and a safe place to share their story without fear of judgement. We offer support for adult survivors of childhood sexual assault where we offer compassionate listening, crisis counseling, referrals and support groups.
If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault or domestic violence, you have a resource right here in Jackson County. Crisis Services of North Alabama Jackson County office does not charge for services. You may reach our office at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.