by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director, Healthy Learning Paths
“My family suffered enormously due to this reluctance to raise a fuss. Why hadn’t a concerned uncle or aunt followed up on his or her suspicion that, despite appearances, something wasn’t quite right with Dr. Sam and the house on Highland Avenue? Why weren’t there ever any extended-family holiday gatherings at a house that seemed designed for them? How come the doc’s kids had such trouble looking you in the eye? Why didn’t someone break through the veneer of gentility and modesty to rescue us?” asked Frank Shorter in his new book, My Marathon, Reflections on a Gold Medal Life.
Within days of listening to Mr. Shorter speak about his personal marathon of abuse, three individuals shared their painful stories with me asking the same question, “Why didn’t anyone find a way to help?” From college sports such as the Penn State sexual abuse scandal to some religious organizations where clergy abused children for decades to inside the walls of their very own homes, too many children experience violence, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect in what is a disturbing epidemic in American culture.
Do you know someone who has been abused? Have you been a victim of abuse?
You are not alone.
In fact, some studies predict that 1 in 5 children will be sexually abused by the time they reach the age of 18. Similar studies predict that 50% of all children will experience either sexual abuse, other violent physical abuse, emotional trauma, or neglect by the age of 18. Research shows child abuse occurs across all education levels, all income levels, all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and all religions. So how do we solve the problem of child abuse?
Prevention is the key. But for prevention to work, we must first abandon denial and admit the problem. Giving ourselves permission to speak openly and honestly about child abuse without casting judgement or shame on the many victims opens the door to find a way to help children and help each other.
One of the most important steps is to talk among ourselves or with health care professionals about the pain we carry from our own experiences. Finding a safe and trusted environment to share these stories helps healing and gives others the strength to feel and process their pain and disappointment to reclaim emotional and physical health. While this may create anxiety, it can also be liberating as the walls of loneliness and guilt are replaced by bridges of friendship and understanding. Once we help ourselves, we will find the power to effectively work together to help children to prevent child abuse.
Thank you, Mr. Frank Shorter for courageously sharing your story and starting this conversation.