By Laura Castle
So many myths, both sad and dangerous surround the topic of child abuse. As a survivor, I would like to discuss some of them and the harm they can do.
Myth 1. Battered children almost always become abusive parents, or end up in prison for violent crimes. In truth, a small number of us are in prison and some of us do become violent, abusive parents. But, nowhere near as many as the folklore would have us believe.
Excessive withdrawal and timidity is considered by counselors who work with survivors to be a much more common result of severe child abuse, especially among female survivors. And, many of us make a deliberate choice to end the cycle of child abuse through either non-parenthood or by learning to be the best parents we can be.
Myth 2 (This is the reverse of myth 1). Physical discipline is good for a child. It builds character. In the South, where I live, the Biblical words, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” are used to excuse cruelty by far too many parents.
In truth, it is much more likely to cause depression, chronic anxiety, social withdrawal, and, in a small number of cases, extreme hostility.
Myth 3. Child abuse always looks the same. It is always easy to tell when a child is being mistreated.
In truth, there are many kinds of child abuse. The major categories are physical, sexual, emotional, and neglectful. Physical abuse is often easy to identify as belt-beatings, punching, kicking, and biting can leave marks. But the marks are sometimes hidden and some parents know how to beat up a child without leaving visible marks. Neglect can also be easy to identify in a child who comes to school dirty in the same clothes as yesterday and brings no lunch. Emotional and sexual child abuse can be harder to recognize. We may have no way to know that a small, vulnerable human being is being told he or she is no good or stupid, or that a child is being exploited sexually.
Myth 4 Battered children deserve it. They are beaten because they did something wrong and it must have been really bad to result in such severe punishment.
In truth, the punishment is often completely out of proportion to the misdeed in physically abusive homes. Truly bad behavior may be ignored, while an innocent mistake results in a severe beating. Whenever a child is told a beating took place because “she is a bad girl” or “he is a bad boy”, a second crime is committed against that child. No child deserves a beating for any reason ever. Yes, children are difficlut to raise and that is why they need loving, intelligent care.
Myth 5. Child abuse victims need to get over it and stop feeling sorry for ourselves.
In truth, many of us are trying very hard to get beyond the pain and hurt with varying degrees of success. Many of us have been able to tap into a place of strength and confidence with the knowledge that we can face just about anything. And those of use who were lucky enough to receive kindness from other adults as our parents brutalized us, may grow up believing that the human race is basically good and we want to add to that goodness with our lives. But it can be a slow process and for many of us the healing will take a lifetime.
Myth 6 It is none of my business if someone mistreats a child. This is by far the most dangerous myth about child abuse. It absolutely is your business if you suspect that a child is being harmed physically, sexually, emotionallly, or neglectfully and I urge you to take action. When you call your state’s abuse hotline or the local police to report suspected child abuse anonymity is guaranteed. Please do not be afraid if there is something you need to report.
In closing, I send a heartfelt thanks to all of you who took the time to read this. It is very hard to read about child abuse and I am thankful that you did not turn away, but stayed and read my words. Thank you!
Laura Castle is a survivor of profound childhood violence and an advocate for children and adult survivors of abuse.