By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO
The notorious case of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of more than 150 women and girls he treated as a USA Gymnastics and Michigan State sports physician has brought the issue of sexual abuse once again to the forefront. As victim after victim testified and addressed him, it was clear that these women had been transformed. They were no longer victims but advocates determined to not only seek justice but to assure that such abuse stops.
Their pain and trauma is only too familiar to many of the children served by Hillsides. Like the victims of Nassar, their perpetrators were more likely than not to be someone familiar and with easy access. The physical violation is more painful because of the violated trust, which can leave a lasting impact emotionally. Revisiting such horrors further traumatizes the victims, however, like pulling off a bandage, the wound can finally be addressed and the healing process begins.
The greatest enablers of such abuse are silence and ignorance. Like Nassar, perpetrators often have a plausible reason for their actions to counter the questioning of their victims. Parents, guardians, and other responsible parties often accept such rationales, questioning rather the perception of the child. The first rule of thumb when a child reveals anything questionable is to take the revelation seriously. Any activity that leaves a child uneasy, let alone traumatized, must be acknowledged. Until an investigation can determine the facts, caution must rule and a child must be protected from further contact. Children should be taught to never second-guess their perception and feel comfortable to raise concerns and ask questions without fear. Silence, which only reinforces a feeling of shame, is the culprit regarding perpetuating abuse.
Important lessons can be learned in hindsight. One parent expressed that she should have taught her child what to reasonably expect in a physical examine to mitigate inappropriate actions in such a setting. Staying engaged, being informed, encouraging questions, showing sensitivity to reactions–all these help to create an environment supportive of a child and serve as a strong deterrent to abuse.
The other lesson learned is that systems need to stay focused on the children and assure their safety. In this case, we saw how the systems protected a perpetrator. The institutions bear some responsibility to ensure that all contact with children is safe. Bureaucracies driven by self-preservation can fail to protect those they purport to serve. The inability to protect children must be addressed; otherwise violence will be perpetuated.
The challenge is how to foster a safe environment without introducing unnecessary fears or suspicions into the impressionable lives of our children. Finding a balance is important, and the attention brought to this issue because of the Nassar case can serve to, once again, encourage us to not be complacent and instead be ever-vigilant.
by Natalia Hughes
In my years as a therapist, I’ve come to realize that relationships are very much like learning how to walk when you are an infant. Walking starts with the basics of sitting, rolling, and learning how to crawl. It then leads to pulling yourself up, walking with help, cruising and then standing and balancing on your own. Before you know it, you are taking your first step and, with practice, you will be walking like a pro.
Like learning to walk, relationships are a process. The ability to have a healthy, loving relationship takes time (baby steps!) and self-awareness. Failed relationships happen for many reasons, and the failure of a relationship is often a source of great psychological anguish.
Most of us have to consciously work to master the skills necessary to make a partnership flourish. It is important to identify patterns from failed relationships so that we can learn from them. With Valentine’s Day coming up and love in the air, I thought it was a good time to list five common patterns to avoid:
Like walking, building a strong relationship is a work in progress that is rich with discoveries and always filled with challenges. Being mindful and open will help you to avoid some of the bumps in the road, and disarm the behaviors that can undermine your relationship.
Natalia, who received a master’s degree in Marriage Family Therapy from the University of Phoenix, is a CalWORKs therapist intern with Hillsides in our Family Resource Centers, Pomona. CalWORKs is a state-wide program that provides employment services and other benefits to families in need.
Natalia is a firm believer that the more we strive to learn, the more we will grow individually and as a culture. Her greatest passion is to teach others to continue to grow on their self-journey of discovery. “I enjoy helping my clients find healthy perceptions of themselves, fortify their loving relationships, and apply self-growth in order to be balanced individuals,” she says.
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The story of 13 siblings, mostly children, being tortured and imprisoned by their parents, David and Louise Turpin, in Perris is horrific. For most of us, it is unimaginable how something like this could happen. What possibly could have contributed to such behavior on the part of the parents? What extraordinary isolation from family, friends, and community allowed these conditions to persist for years?
In this kind of situation, we often point to the failure of the child welfare system. The Turpin family somehow went unnoticed. Some might say that they were quirky and considered harmless. To the extent that there may have been reason to question the well-being of the family members, respect for individuality and beliefs deterred any questioning.
Typically, the ties with extended family would be an important source of connection that could have surfaced a concern, but it seems that even in this regard the Turpins were sufficiently distanced from extended family to raise any alarms. Isolated and governed by paranoia and delusions, this family descended into a pattern of behavior that endangered the well-being of its members significantly. It seems that if not for only the determination of one young girl to defy the odds, this heinous situation would still be continuing.
Once again, this kind of a story indicates how vulnerable children are and how completely dependent they are on the good judgement and selflessness of their parents. Absent that, children are at risk of being subjected to harmful circumstances that have long-lasting impact on their physical and emotional health.
How could this have been prevented? Given the vulnerability of children and the frailty of many families, a more embracing approach of the community may have made the difference in this situation. It is unacceptable for extended family members to absolve themselves of the responsibility to look out for the children of family members. It is unacceptable for school systems to abrogate their role of assuring appropriate educations even for children educated at home or through private schools. It is unacceptable for health care professionals to not see beyond the immediate need to understand the social factors that impact health.
The story of the Turpins is not just of a despotic father and mother who failed to protect their children. It is the failure of a community to claim responsibility for all its children, regardless of a family’s ability to support and nourish a child. Children no matter their biological ties belong to all of us. At any given time, families need to be supported by their extended family and community in order to best care for their children. For a parent to resist the support of family and community should be cause for us to examine what might be a more pressing issue.
Although the community was unengaged it is now called to be a refuge for these children who will begin the life-long process of healing from the great harm that has been done. It will require resolve and resources to undo the damage; how much less traumatic it would have been if those in the community had intervened earlier.
Let us take on a new attitude characterized by an embrace of all children and families and develop systems and resources that break down isolation and assure care to the most vulnerable.
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