The hard truth about adoption is that it makes us as adoptees more vulnerable to abuse. At the outset, those of us who are adoptees have had an adverse childhood experience (ACE) right off the bat with the “loss of a parent” question, and if you have one ACE, there is an 87 percent chance that you will end up having two or more.
So what’s the big deal, you might ask? The big deal is that the toxic stress caused by ACEs damages the function and structure of kids’ developing brains, and negatively impacts short-term and long-term health. The good news is that the brain and body are resilient, and with the right tools, we can help our kids get back on a path to healing.
Physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, physical and emotional neglect, and witnessing abuse are all ACEs, and it’s important to looks for signs of them not only to stop them from happening, but to quickly get kids on a path to healing if they do occur. While signs of physical abuse may be seen on the body (bruises, casts, burns, etc.), signs of sexual abuse are rarely transparent.
Behavioral issues, or changes in behavior, are really the most common signs that something is amiss and you may want to pay a little more attention. Are you seeing outbursts of anger in your child? Maybe eating habits have changed, they are harming themselves (cutting, burning), being secretive, not wanting to be around a certain person, or even acting out inappropriately in a sexual way.
Responding is delicate, and should be handled very carefully. Many kids, when asked, will deny anything is going on because of the guilt and shame that it carries. It’s best to leave it to the professionals. Try the National Sexual Assault Hotline, your local child advocacy center, or your state’s child protective services organization to develop a game plan on how to respond effectively. And although it might be tempting, don’t just pepper your child with questions–it will only serve to shut them down.
Once you develop your plan to determine whether abuse has, in fact, occurred, make sure you are simply there to listen and to be empathetic with your child. Believe your child and comfort them. They will need to know that you are there for them no matter what, that you are not someone who will betray their trust like their abuser did. Keep in mind that 90 percent of those who sexually abuse a child are someone that the child knows, loves, or trusts. It’s not the stranger hiding in the bushes.
The next step in the process is creating a path to healing for your child. It is going to take therapy, and it is going to take time and effort. Damage has been done, but it is not irreversible. And the sooner in the process it is dealt with, the better. Take it from me. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, and it took me eighteen years before I felt secure enough to disclose it and seek help. My healing process has been many years in the making, and I essentially lost a lot of good years. Perhaps if my loved ones understood the signs and dynamics of abuse, they would have seen my changes in behavior, my shutting down, and other signs that could have gotten me to a place where I could begin to heal as a child. Unfortunately, that was not the case for me, and I hope that sharing my knowledge and experience can help others avoid a similar fate in their own situations.