Column/The long-term impact of abuse

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 19, 2007

This week, a young girl who was the victim of an attempted abduction in Dallas County appeared on the the Maury Povich Show.

She obviously is a very brave 10-year-old.

The alleged incident occurred in late August of this year when she was at her school bus stop. She noticed a man drive by, then turn around and come back. When he got out of his vehicle, she ran for home, just as her mother had taught her to do.

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The little girl was not harmed and the man who allegedly attempted to abduct her has been arrested.

During the suspect’s preliminary hearing, an officer testified the man said he wanted to “date” the girl. When asked what he meant by “date,” the suspect said he wanted to have sex with her.

As adults, we believe we understand the ramifications of what could have happened. Fortunately, the worse-case scenario did not unfold and the girl is safe.

Unfortunately, it often does happen and the effects can last a lifetime.

It’s important to note here that despite the incident that took place in Selma, most sex crimes against children are perpetrated by someone the child knows –

about 60 percent of the time, according to statistics.

Long-term effects range from post traumatic stress disorder to depression and thoughts of suicide.

Those who have been victims of sexual abuse often have a poor body image and low self-esteem and can adopt unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol or drug abuse, self mutilation or eating disorders.

Promiscuity, inability to concentrate, guilt, self-blame, self-doubt and running away can all be effects of abuse.

Many victims of abuse turn their hurt inward and injure themselves.

In others, it turns to anger and rage. Our prisons are full of men and women who were the victims of child sexual abuse. They lashed out at others.

According to experts, if a parent suspects their child is the victim of abuse they should remain calm. Reassure the child that what happened is not his or her fault.

Get a medical examination and psychological consultation immediately.

The most important thing is know that children can recover from sexual abuse. The sooner they get help, the better. The support of a caring, available parent is particularly important in the recovery.

Often in an effort to minimize the abuse, parents actually do more harm than good.

I know adults who continue to struggle with the effects of abuse that happened 30 years ago. They have been dependent on drugs and alcohol. Have been suicidal. And, though now in treatment and doing better, continue to take medications to help them cope with nightmares and painful memories.

These adults have one thing about their abuse in common – no one believed them when they first told what had happened to them.

Every child needs to know someone is there for them – on their side.

tammy leytham is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.