Child abuse victims need healing therapy

by Fr. Shay Cullen

| Photo by LBJ Foundation via Wikimedia Commons

The heart of the Christian faith is that goodness and truth will overcome evil and victims of abuse and injustice, survive on the hope that they will conquer spiritual death, and rise again to new spiritual and emotional life. The hope and dream of every victim of sexual abuse, rape and violence are that they would be protected, cared for, healed,and find justice. The duty, mission, and commitment of every faithful Christian are to see that they do.

Very few people or facilities in this world are capable or willing to help children or adult victims/survivors heal from the pain, trauma, fear, depression, and alienation they suffer from having been raped, battered, and molested. The sexual abuse of children and women is mainly met with apathy and indifference by the majority in society that allows and enables child sexual abuse to grow with impunity. According to Unicef, an estimated 60,000 children are sexually abused annually by traffickers. One to five girls and boys are sexually abused. Another study says that 1.2 million children suffer some form of abuse online annually in the Philippines.

There is systematic denial and cover-up of child sexual abuse in families, society, and the Church. The revelations from Canada, the United States, the Philippines, and many other countries are sufficient to substantiate this contention.

Without a significant change in attitude and a commitment by duty bearers, government officials, bishops and priests, and civil society to deal with this horrific crime by enabling children to report abuse and establishing therapeutic healing centers with free supportive professional healing, there is little chance of helping and saving survivor/victims of rape and abuse from a life of misery and unhappiness and life-long suffering.

What does childhood sexual abuse do to children but destroys their life, robs their childhood, and subjects them to live in fear, with buried pain, hurting every day, filled with suppressed anger, hatred, desires for revenge, and retaliation against abusers, society, enablers, and parents? The cry of many children is, “Mama, why did you not believe me, why did you let him do it to me?”

Aggression, vindictiveness, and tyrannical acts in some violent people are likely the result of childhood abuse. Most child victims/survivors live with the pain and suppressed memories, but others cannot, and they grow up in anger, with hatred even, nursing buried desires to take revenge on abusers, on families, on schoolmates, or on society in general who reject them and vent it through acts of violence. Any verbal or emotional rejection can trigger violent acts from some untreated victims. Many may become child abusers themselves.

There are thousands of clinics and hospitals to treat the wounds and sickness of the body but not the soul. Change must come; healing centers for the wounds to the psyche, the emotions, and the inner person of a child are equally necessary.

“What does childhood sexual abuse do to children but destroys their life, robs their childhood, and subjects them to live in fear, with buried pain, hurting every day, filled with suppressed anger, hatred, desires for revenge, and retaliation against abusers, society, enablers, and parents? “

The children need support and encouragement to disclose and reveal any physical or sexual trauma they suffer in their home or outside. The school teachers, guidance counselors,, and child-minders must be trained to be alert and sensitive to read and interpret the unusual behavior of some troubled children. The professionals must be trained to respond with understanding and kindness and listen with concern. They must be trusted, skilled to encourage a child to tell “secrets” and report abuse. The trusted person should be a teacher, a supportive parent, a neighbor, a classmate, or a relative. When they learn of any suspected abuse, they are mandated by law to report it at once to the municipal social worker and see that the social worker responds appropriately and the child is taken into protective care away from the suspected abuser.

There is always danger to the child from an abusive parent, relative, or official. This is especially true if the abuser is a person in the ascendancy, has the authority, or is in a position of influence, like a government official or cleric. They may choose not to believe the child and even threaten the child to report the abuse. They will try to stop the information from becoming public and protect the institution, not the child.

The social worker’s challenge is finding a protective center to refer a child for protection and help. There are very few in the Philippines. President Marcos said he will ensure sufficient funding for only 70 government residential centers throughout the country for abused women and children. The nation, with a population of 110 million, needs many more, and they should provide professional therapeutic healing and empowerment programs more than temporary shelter.

The Preda Foundation has one of the most successful therapeutic communities where the children are welcomed into a friendly, supportive atmosphere of affirmation, and acceptance, where they know they are protected, trusted, and believed. The Preda Therapeutic community is providing all their needs free of charge. The feeling of being safe and protected from the abuser is the start of the healing and empowerment of the child. An average of 90 children are cared for at the Preda home during any 12 months by a professional staff of all female therapists, facilitators, and social workers. It is an alternative caring family with many therapeutic healing activities for the children treated according to their age, from four years old to 17.

“The Preda Therapeutic community is providing all their needs free of charge. The feeling of being safe and protected from the abuser is the start of the healing and empowerment of the child. “

The most effective is the Emotional Release Therapy, where the child has the chance to recall the abuse in a sound-proofed, padded therapy room assisted by a therapist and there release her (or his) pent-up buried anger, pain, and hurt by crying, shouting and punching the cushions as if hitting her (his) abuser. Over several months, the stress and anger are gone, and the self-confidence and empowerment of the child or youth are apparent. An almost full recovery is achieved with educational classes, recreation and play therapy, group dynamics, life testimony, dignity-building, and values formation.

The child then wants justice and is ready to file a formal complaint with the prosecutor if she(he) has not already done so. The empowered children are clear, consistent, and constant in their testimony even when subjected to strict cross-examination. They win an average of 16 convictions of their abusers every year. Most convicted abusers receive a mandatory life sentence from strict but very precise, fair, and committed female judges. What is needed is many more such centers to protect and heal and empower the abused child victims and give them a new happier restart in life.

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