When Someone is Ready to Talk, How Can You Listen?
It's not really true.
It's not really true that no one wants to talk about child sexual abuse. Yes, it is true that many who have been abused are hesitant to talk, but the real problem is that most people don't know how to listen to the abused.
Every time we go out into the community, whether it's to a farm market, a business gathering, or a social event, someone will approach us with their story of abuse. Every time. Over and over we hear heartbreaking stories of what people have gone through, many of whom have never told anyone, except us.
Why is it so hard to disclose abuse?
For a child the reasons can be complicated and stifling:
The child may feel that they permitted the abuse and should have been able to stop it.
The abuser may offer gifts or threaten the child, telling them if they say "no" or tell someone a loved one will be harmed.
The child may be afraid they will suffer negative consequences, such as being blamed for "seducing" the perpetrator or being accused of lying.
The child might feel strong loyalty to their family and be terrified that if the abuse was discovered their family would be negatively impacted.
The child is conflicted by his or her feelings toward the abuser. The child may like the perpetrator, but simply want him to stop what he is doing.
So the child says nothing.
Even as time passes and the child grows to adulthood it is still incredibly difficult to talk about the abuse. Many adults feel as if it’s just too late to discuss what happened. Others find that confronting the reality of the abuse and recognizing the different ways it has impacted their lives is just too painful, so they continue to bury it. Many still feel as if they are somehow to blame and continue to hide what happened to them. Yet, a surprising number of people want to share their experiences, find a compassionate ear, and help others going through similar experiences.
What can you do if someone wants to talk to you about their abuse? We know it can be very difficult to hear that someone you care about suffered, or is suffering, sexual abuse. Your reaction can have a huge impact on the survivor, and it isn’t always easy to know what to say. We have some suggestions for you:
Tell the survivor that they are not to blame.
Tell the survivor that you believe them. They need your support.
Tell them that you will help them and they are not alone. Help them find providers for therapy and any other needed services.
Offer to help them find medical care if it’s appropriate, even if the abuse happened a while ago.
Respect the survivor’s privacy and do not share what you have learned with others unless you have asked first. If a minor has disclosed sexual abuse you will need to report it, but you should ask the survivor if they’d like to be involved in that process with you.
Reassure the survivor that you do not feel or think any differently of them because of the abuse.
If an adult is telling you about past abuse, recognize that the experience has had an effect on their life. Show that you are empathetic to this.
Telling someone about abuse takes a lot of courage. If someone you know, at any age, is brave enough to speak about their abuse, have the courage to listen, and if it’s appropriate, have the courage to act.
We are excited to have received a $12,500 grant from The Community Foundation for The National Capital Region's Children and Family Legacy Fund. These funds will help The Tree House CAC continue its work to reduce trauma and promote healing for child victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. We thank them very much!
Staff Spotlight Fourth in a Series
Sara Kulow-Malavé, LCSW-C
Ms. Kulow-Malavé has eleven years of experience working in child protective services for Montgomery County, MD, most recently as the forensic interviewer for The Tree House. She also supervises visitation between children and non-custodial parents part time. Earlier in her career, Ms. Kulow-Malavé was a social worker in nursing homes, and as of today, she has completed more than 80 hours of forensic training and has testified in numerous court cases as an expert on risk assessment and children’s safety. Ms. Kulow-Malavé earned her undergraduate degree in Social Work from McDaniel College and her graduate degree in the same field from The University of Maryland Baltimore. She came to The Tree House in 2013, where she conducts compassionate forensic interviews of suspected child victims and their non-offending family members.
When asked why she decided to work at The Tree House she replied,
"Who wouldn't want to work in a tree house! I always wanted one as a kid!
I decided to apply to work here because my favorite part of being a social worker in child welfare, where I worked for 10 years prior to coming here, was interviewing children. The child's point of view in a family can be overlooked, yet it is often the most honest one. When the opportunity arose to apply for the Forensic Interview position I jumped on it! I love being part of an organization created to offer children (some of our most vulnerable members of society) who have been abused and neglected a safe and neutral space to talk about what has happened to them and begin to heal."
Blizzards of Support in January!
Sheena Saydam encouraged people to #shovelforcharity, Medimmune's Medical Communications Group made calming items for the children, Montgomery County's Alumnae Chapter of Kappa Delta held a wine tasting fundraiser, The Seneca Valley High School Key Club collected books for us, and ESAC, Inc. painted an amazing work of art for our wall. What a great month! To follow these happenings and more, "like" us onFacebook.
What's going on with The Tree House Tour de Cookie?
But the event doesn't happen by itself. We are a small team with a big job. If you would like to volunteer to help with the event, send an email to email@example.com and we'll contact you. Right now we primarily need help getting the word out about The Tree House Tour de Cookie via social media, handing out event cards, and putting up event posters. But we have plenty of other jobs to do too!
For all the latest Tree House Tour de Cookie news follow our Facebook Event page and invite all your friends.
If you plan to ride, be sure to register early. Ridership is being capped at 750 and we can only guarantee t-shirts to those that register before April 10, 2016.
Help us spread the word about The Tree House. Forward this newsletter to a few friends!
Support The Tree House
You can help us provide mental health, medical, victim advocacy and other services to abused and neglected children in Montgomery County. All it takes is a small donation.