SAFE International is a mobile self-defense company that teaches thousands of high school students how to recognize, avoid, or deal with violence every year. Sadly, and far too often, students will seek one of our instructors out after class and share stories of abuse they have experienced. This is no small feat based on much of what I will discuss here. And we know from statistics that the majority of the time the abuse is being perpetrated by someone they know whether that be a family member, acquaintance or an authority figure.
“Approximately three million cases of child abuse and neglect, involving almost 5.5 million children are reported each year. The majority of cases reported to Child Protective Services involve neglect, followed by physical and sexual abuse.” https://healthychildren.org/
Based on how frequent child abuse is, we know that the few who come forward to us are just the iceberg’s tip. Think about that? By the time these “kids” have reached their teens, many suffer abuse for many years. Many victimized since they were born. This is why the majority still do not come forward because the victimization is not a one-time incident, but rather a 24/7 nightmare that lasts a lifetime for many.
Abusers often begin their abuse at a very early age when the victim has virtually no chance of avoiding it unless someone else in their lives might see it and stop it. Often that one person who may be witnessing the abuse is also being abused, or they are participating in the violation out of fear for themselves. They may also be a willing partner in the violence. Or they may rely on the abuser for financial support, a home, or some other means of support, so they often overlook the abuse even with the guilt they have and knowledge that they are allowing the horror to continue.
The abuse may be physical such as sexual abuse and include verbal and mental. But the harm is almost always preceded by a process called “grooming” from a very early age. The abuser uses tactics designed to maintain the silence of the victim so they can continue their disgusting acts for years. Those tactics may involve manipulation, use of threats, or buying of gifts, offering compliments, or guilt, which keeps the victim confused and unsure of what they are feeling. They encourage their victim to “keep their little secret,” and it works because kids frequently want to please their abuser. They often love their abuser and do not wish to disappoint them because they are KIDS! And being kids, they have no other history or life experience to tell them what is right and what is wrong, which adds to the confusion. Or they may be too scared to speak up due to the threats of physical retaliation. They are groomed to believe that what they are experiencing is what they deserve and is healthy. And because the one abusing them is often their parent or guardian, they have no other role models or examples to show or teach them right from wrong. This use of authority by the so-called protector or loved one almost makes it impossible to avoid or get out. The victimizer will sometimes keep their victims isolated from others in fear of being caught, or sometimes they are so bold and confident; they have no fear of being “told on.”
What are the solutions for these kids at such a young age when they do not have the mental capability or knowledge on how to deal with it? I might sound very negative, but unless someone else in their daily lives like a teacher, neighbour or other family members can see the signs of abuse and are willing to speak up about it, I see little chance of escaping the abuse. I am not aware of a child who consciously knew what was happening was wrong, and they reported it. When they become older, there is more chance of this, but I think it would be rare for a child to do this as a child. I have no stats on that but stating my opinion.
Most often, the ones who are supposed to be teaching what is right and wrong are committing the WRONG!! How messed up is that for a child to deal with year after year until they reach a point beyond them being able to deal with it on their own. And if they continue to keep it to themselves is when we see suicide, PTSD, withdrawal from society, plus a whole host of other mental issues.
This is one of those topics that often require people outside of the immediate circle to pay attention to signs that a child is being abused. And if they notice any of the following signs, they should take some action by contacting those educated on dealing with abuse. The risk of being wrong and embarrassing oneself by reporting potential violence is a barrier many face, but the risk is worth it, in my opinion, if the signs are there. And even more important as parents that you pay attention to your child’s behaviour and understand a child will most often be apprehensive at first to speak up about abuse unless you create an environment that they feel safe to share. Some of the signs of damage are, but not limited to.
Anxiety – particularly if it increases when you mention someone in particular or see them near that person.
Withdrawal or Lack of Interest in Kids Activities
Trouble Sleeping or Nightmares
One of the frustrations we face as self-defense instructors is that we know in any class we teach, a few are going through this abuse, and there is nothing we can do other than encourage them to come forward to speak to us, a teacher or someone they trust.
In closing, give kids a safe environment, to be honest, and open without judgement. Listen to them and watch for the signs of abuse!
Managing Director, SAFE International