By Jennifer McGregor*
In recent years, the Vatican released its records of sexual abuse punishment, revealing an alarming 3,400 cases since 2004. Of course, these are only the offenders who were caught. The actual number of abusers and victims remains unknown, often leading the victims to depression, addiction, and suicidal thoughts.
Children who suffer from any form of abuse have a much greater risk for addiction, and with such startling revelations brought to light in recent months, it’s a good idea for every family to be aware of helpful steps to take to minimize the negative consequences if abuse has occurred in any situation. If you suspect a child has been abused or know a child who has been victimized by a clergy member or any trusted adult, here are a few ways to help the child cope and reduce the risk of suicide.
Overcoming something as traumatic as sexual abuse, particularly by a trusted individual like clergy members, is not something easily done. Victims of abuse need counseling with a trained professional, preferably one with experience with this brand of abuse. It will take extensive knowledge of the human mind, trauma, and how it affects a person as they age to mitigate the negative effects of the abuse.
Common results of childhood trauma are mistrust of adults, increased risk of addiction and suicide, PTSD, and depression. A good treatment program has the potential to eliminate many of these consequences.
Monitor Addictive Substance Use
If you know a child or an adult who has been sexually abused by a clergy member – or abused in any circumstance by a trusted adult, recently or in the past, it is important to observe their use of substances like alcohol, nicotine, prescription drugs, or illicit drugs. The risk of a childhood abuse victim becoming an addict is much higher than their peers, meaning at the first sign of overuse, help is needed. What’s more, these risks exist even decades after abuse has occurred, with some victims turning to drugs or alcohol later in life.
Offer Healthy Outlets
The reason addiction and suicide are so common in childhood abuse victims is the need to escape from the trauma. Victims use substances or more drastic measures to forget about the abuse they suffered and rid themselves of the effects of that abuse. With this in mind, it is important to provide healthy outlets for beneficial forms of escapism and healing.
Some good options include yoga, meditation, and gardening. Yoga combines the benefits of exercise (endorphins, physical wellbeing) with the mental benefits of a meditative practice (silencing the mind). Meditation offers similar benefits with more focus on relaxation and serenity.
Gardening has been shown to be extremely beneficial in many ways. By tending to plants, people feel useful and excited when their plants flourish.
Preventing suicide in abuse victims can be a complex task. It should not be taken on by loved ones alone but rather should be undertaken with the assistance of a therapist. The love and support of family can mean the world but even the most supportive family cannot always undo the emotional damage that has been done. Let the counselor work on the mental side while you and your other loved ones focus on positive outlets and prevention of addiction.
has wanted to be a doctor since she was little. Now, as a pre-med student, she’s well on her way to achieving that dream. She helped create PublicHealthLibrary.org with a friend as part of a class project. With it, she hopes to provide access to trustworthy health and medical resources. When Jennifer isn’t working on the site, you can usually find her hitting the books in the campus library or spending some downtime with her dog at the local park.