the inalienable rights of children

- To hold adults accountable for abusing them or allowing abuse to continue;

- To enjoy the same legal and constitutional rights adults enjoy;

- To have a guardian advocate oversee the work of the system for them exclusively;

- To have legal matters pertaining to their protection heard by a judge other than the one hearing their parents' divorce case;

- To have their case heard by a judge trained and experienced in the full effects of child abuse and child development;

- To hold an accused parent responsible for proving visitation would be good for them, rather than hold the protecting parent responsible for proving it might cause harm;

- To see their convicted abusers punished under the full extent of the law rather than have sentences mitigated because the victim was a child or family member; and

- To be examined by doctors and experts who have extensive experience and training in child-abuse issues.

Copyright 2002 Rights.

I was sixteen and already fractured when Aldo crept into my room one night. A paradigm of paternal concern, he gingerly closed the door behind himself and waited patiently on my seventeenth-century Persian carpet.

His shower-damp hair dripped onto the shoulders of his thick white bathrobe and his eyes leaked meaning. I had some instinct that all was not well with my world (pitching and tossing as it was through unsettled seas), and was not as surprised as I could or should have been when he eased his rump onto my mattress, assuring me that he fully understood my sadness and how I must miss my murdered dadda and how upsetting my hormonal changes must be, little treasure that I was ...

- from The Pure Weight of the Heart, by Antonella Gambotto

recognizing the damage

By Ellen Fein and Laura Davis

People have said to me, "Why are you dragging this up now?" Why? WHY? Because it has controlled every facet of my life. It has damaged me in every possible way. It has destroyed everything in my life that has been of value. It has prevented me from living a comfortable emotional life. It's prevented me from being able to love clearly. It took my children away from me.

I haven't been able to succeed in the world. If I had a comfortable childhood, I could be anything today. I know that everything I don't deal with now is one more burden I have to carry for the rest of my life. I don't care if it happened 500 years ago! It's influenced me all that time, and it does matter. It matters very much.

- Jennierose Lavender, 47-year-old survivor

The long-term effects of child sexual abuse can be so pervasive that it's sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly how the abuse affected you. It permeates everything: your sense of self, your intimate relationships, your sexuality, your parenting, your work life, even your sanity. Everywhere you look, you see its effects. As one survivor explained:

It's like those pictures I remember from "Highlights for Children" magazine. The bicycle was hidden in a tree, a banana was growing from someone's ear, and all the people were upside-down. The caption underneath said, "What's wrong with this picture?"

But so many things were disturbed and out of place, it was often easier to say, "What's right with this picture?" Many survivors have been too busy surviving to notice the ways they were hurt by the abuse. But you cannot heal until you acknowledge the areas that need healing.

Because sexual abuse is just one of many factors that influenced your development, it isn't always possible to isolate its effects from the other influences on your life. Is your selfesteem low because you were an AfricanAmerican child raised in a racist society? Because you grew up in a culture that devalues women? Because your mother was an alcoholic? Or because you were molested when you were nine? It's the interplay of hundreds of factors that make you who you are today.

The way the abuse was handled when you were a child has a lot to do with its subsequent impact. If a child's disclosure is met with compassion and effective intervention, the healing begins immediately. But if no one noticed or responded to your pain, or if you were blamed, not believed, or suffered further trauma, the damage was compounded. And the ways you coped with the abuse may have created further problems.

Not all survivors are affected in the same way. You may do well in one area of your life, but not in another. You may be competent at work and in parenting but have trouble with intimacy. Some women have a constant nagging feeling that something is wrong. For others, the damage is so blatant that they feel they've wasted their lives:

As far as I'm concerned, my whole life was stolen from me. I didn't get to be who I could have been. I didn't get the education I should have gotten when I was young. I married too early. I hid behind my husband. I didn't make contact with other people. I haven't had a rich life. It's not ever too late, but I didn't start working on this until I was 38, and not everything can be retrieved. And that makes me very angry.

The effects of child sexual abuse can be devastating, but they do riot have to be permanent. As you read this chapter, you may find yourself nodding your head -- "Uh-huh, me too" -- recognizing, perhaps for the first time, the ways in which the abuse affects your life. Look at the following lists and ask yourself how you've been affected. Such recognition will probably be painful, but it is, in fact, part of the healing process.

When we ask, "Where are you now?" we describe the range of effects that survivors of child sexual abuse experience; this is to help you look honestly at the impact of abuse on your life today. The lists are not a diagnostic tool and are not intended to serve as a way to determine whether or not you've been sexually abused.

Some of the effects of child sexual abuse are quite specific -- such as intrusive images of the abuse while making love. Others are more general -- such as low self-esteem or difficulty in expressing feelings -- and can be caused by circumstances or events other than child sexual abuse. It is important to be aware that physical and emotional abuse can also lead to many of the symptoms listed here.

If you recognize your own problems in the following lists but ate unsure whether you were sexually abused, don't feel you need to label yourself as a survivor before you're ready. Take care of yourself. Get support. Work on healing from the experiences you're sure of. And trust that over time your history will become more clear.

self-esteem + personal power

When you were abused, your boundaries, your right to say no, your sense of control in the world, were violated. You were powerless. The abuse humiliated you, gave you the message that you were of little value. Nothing you did could stop it.

If you told someone about what was happening to you, they probably ignored you, said you made it up, or told you to forget it. They may have blamed you. Your reality was denied or twisted and you felt crazy. Rather than see the abuser or your parents as bad, you came to believe that you did not deserve to be taken care of, that you in fact deserved abuse. You felt isolated and alone.

2002 Ellen Bass

Buy The Courage to Heal : A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse!


feel better

A favorite Dolphin Research Center program, allowing people to enter the dolphins environment and participate in a playful, structured swim session with the dolphins. Participation in educational workshops completes the experience. The program costs $135 per person and requires advance reservations. Minimum age is 5 years old. Children ages 5 - 12 must have an adult in the water with them for the swim. Understanding of spoken English is required.

Reservations can be made the month before you wish to swim. Call the reservation line in Florida on (305) 289-0002. For a reservation schedule and more information about the program, click here.

Absolutely no reservations will be accepted by mail, fax or electronic mail.

Copyright 2002 Dolphin Research Center.


Pain in the present is experienced as hurt. Pain in the past is remembered as anger. Pain in the future is perceived as anxiety. Unexpressed anger, redirected against yourself and held within, is called guilt. The depletion of energy that occurs when anger is redirected inward creates depression ...

The emotions that frighten us are the complex ones, because they overwhelm the natural release mechanism. You cannot simply release guilt or depression. They are secondary formations that arose once you forgot how to release hurt ...

Music is metabolized in the same way as narcotics in that it creates the release of endogenous narcotics in the body. Exhilarating music creates natural anti-depressants in the body.

Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, by Deepak Chopra

Depression and anger
Feeling suicidal?
Illness: a new perspective
The biochemistry of hope
Find your own North Star

Sexual abuse questionnaire
Message board for sexual abuse survivors - NOW!
Forum for survivors of child sexual abuse and sexual assault - NOW!
Abuse Survivors message boards and email list - NOW!
Excellent resources for sexual abuse survivors
Climbing out of the Spiral
Barbados - a rape and sexual abuse site inspired by Tori Amos
Alice Miller's message boards on emotional suffering - NOW!
Free guided audio online relaxation exercises