Child Sexual Abuse: Breaking the Silence and Healing the Shame

I sat in the back of a predominantly African-American mosque nervously waiting to hear the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan speak for the first time. As anticipated, everything about his message stirred my spirit.

As I listened attentively to the minister discuss the things that would have to transpire for us to experience radical improvements in the quality of life for Black people, I mentally prepared to take stock in his plan. I was 94% sold on it until Farrakhan began speaking about the changes that needed to occur within the Black home. He was mid speech and I vividly remember being overcome with sheer confusion. My delirium quickly escalated to internal rage.

I was not a mother yet, but I remember feeling my body heat up when the minister said with sternness that we need to stop allowing little girls to sit on the laps of men, because there are men who are aroused by little children.

I instantly felt like he was attacking the great men in my life. I felt obligated to defend my father’s honor by expressing my clear disgust. I felt compelled to make it clear that I dismissed the idea that a father would turn to his child for the sake of sexual pleasure.

Apparently, the statement that made me so undeniably enraged resonated with the women and mothers of Minister Farrakhan’s congregation in an entirely different way. The response it evoked those in attendance was that of relief. It was as if they were glad that someone finally said the very thing that weighed so heavily on their hearts.

Ten years later I find myself wishing I could go back in time to stand in solidarity with those women. Now, I am more aware than ever just how dangerous it is to be a young child in a world full of sexual predators.

Without question, sexual abuse is a taboo topic of the masses. It causes deep-rooted mental and emotional anguish across all sectors of the population. While predatory sexual behavior knows no race, class, economic status, religion, or gender, the cultural conditioning that occurs within the African-American community creates the perfect breeding ground for intrafamilial sexual abuse.

Every girl—and in many cases, boy—child that is birthed into your family will be/has been molested by Grandpa, yet family members continue to make his plate at the BBQ and hail him as the patriarch of the family. When he is laid to rest, many will tell stories of how he was an “exceptional man of righteous character.”

Statistics suggest the average child molester offends 200-400 times before ever being caught. Having to personally reconcile with the guilt we feel knowing that our loved one is a predator keeps us paralyzed and in a state of denial. Meanwhile, the abuser is left to rape the children of the family for decades.

Second to the abuse itself, the manner in which we intervene post abuse can be equally as traumatizing for the victim. When a child musters up the courage to confide in someone they trust and that person does nothing, we are essentially telling that child they are not worthy of protection. When a person does not feel safe in their environment they will naturally develop intense anxiety. By forcing children to exist in the same environment as their offender, they will spend most of their life in fight or flight mode.

“I was 9 years old the first time a woman touched my penis. She was 16.”

“My uncle penetrated me from age 10 to 14.”

“At first, he just made me hold it. Eventually, he put it in my mouth.”

Startling statistics reveal that 1 in 6 boys have suffered from sexual abuse. While we can offer empathy for girls and women who are victimized, males have a much crueler experience. We place an emphasis on machismo behavior and this programming makes it significantly more challenge for them to process and cope with their sexual abuse.

The fear of ridicule and shame, coupled with a battle of attempting to understand their sexuality outside of the abuse, are all contributing factors to why young boys and men never share their secret. Instead, they carry the burden of abuse with them throughout their lifetime.

Sexual victimization during the victim’s formative years drastically increases the likelihood for abuse to occur in adulthood. Childhood sexual abuse disrupts healthy emotional growth of a child. It can shape a child’s understanding of love and sex in a way that causes them to associate intimate relationships with pain and cruelty. Additionally, the lack of psychological support surrounding abuse prevents a child from being able to redefine their understanding of sex and love, making them increasingly more susceptible to future abuse.

The way that we encourage healing for victims of child abuse is borderline sinister. A child is abused and we dismiss their emotions by encouraging them to forgive their abusers. We would rather teach a child to be sympathetic towards their abuser than to validate the horror they experienced. Stop teaching children that the best way to cope with abuse is to pretend it never happened. When we suffocate their voices by stepping over their experiences, we are encouraging a life that will consist of them having their feelings trampled over and their cries muffled. Instead, we must validate their anger and sadness and not push them to extend leniency and gentleness towards their abuser, simply because this helps you sleep well at night.

Our cultural emphasis on family secrecy, a long history of mistrust in the justice system and the fear of tainting our family name has all contributed to the silent code we have established pertaining to sexual abuse. This refusal to break the code of silence that blankets this issue has created a callus-ridden layer of hurt on top of a painful scar. The unspoken commitment to the denial of sexual abuse is the very reason intrafamilial sexual abuse is savagely destroying the innocence of our children. Until we are willing to shatter the code of silence, we will continue to reinforce the false truths about sexual abuse.

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