Asking the Right Questions

Over the last year I have noticed discussion about whether or not parents should allow their children to attend sleepovers. Before I dive any further into this conversation I want each reader to know that there is no right or wrong answer. This is a decision that should be made within a family. Every family is different and every person is different. Choosing one option over the other does not make one family “better” or “worse” than the other. Until I started seeing these news articles on my social media feed, I had not really given much thought to sleepovers, to be honest. One particular article struck me as quite informative and helpful in thinking about what I may or may not want for my future family.

The article was written in the summer of 2015 and updated in September 2015 by Tonya GJ Prince and here is the link to the original post: http://www.wesurviveabuse.com/2015/07/how-good-parents-miss-child-sexual.html I hope you will read her post before continuing.

In the post she describes a time when she picked her son up from a birthday party and asked the “typical” questions parents ask- did you behave? Did you listen? Did you have fun? Do you want to come back again? As she began driving down the road, she felt like something was wrong. She reflected back on an abusive experience that occurred when she was a child. Her mother had asked her the “typical” questions in the presence of the abuser rather than in private.

The author then realizes that asking those questions at the door when you are picking up your child may not be the best time. Or if you do ask those questions at the door, follow up with them on the car ride home and ensure the child he/she has permission to change their earlier answers. If you read the blog, you will see what can happen when you simply rely on the answers to the typical questions at the door. She also offers some questions that I believe will generate better conversation about the child’s time at the sleepover or party.

“How did you spend your time?”

“What was your favorite part of the party?”

“What was the least favorite part?”

“Did you feel safe?”

“Was there anything else you wanted to share?”

As a child and teenager I spent many nights at my friends’ houses and family members’ houses and they were for the most part very positive experiences. I grew socially and became more independent by staying away from home. Even with all those fun, safe, and memorable times away from home, the reality is that abuse can still happen. I have seen both sides of the “sleepover coin.” My abuser assaulted my friend and I during what began as a game. My friend was hurt and my house was no longer “safe.” So I know it can happen even when you think it can’t or won’t.

 My hope is that this blog will continue to spark the conversation about empowering our children to identify when things are no longer safe and actions they can take to get to safety and educating parents on the right questions to ask after a child’s time away at any event or activity- not just sleepovers.  

Now that I’ve finished writing this post, I realize it isn’t that much about sleepovers, but more about ensuring our kids safety at all places.

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Disrupting Routines

In previous posts, I have described abusers as master manipulators and explained how they employ a variety of predatory actions to harm their victims. In this post, I am going to focus on how some abusers seek routine activities to gain access to a child repeatedly and how parents can be on the lookout for this occurrence. For the most part, in our culture, we thrive on routine- work, school, church, extra-curricular activities, date night, movie night, game night, etc. When in balance, routine is generally very healthy and promotes a sense of security. Unfortunately, abusers sometimes access this routine or create one of their own.

For many, August 16, 1999 is just another day. For some it may be a birthday or an anniversary or have a significant meaning. But who remembers it as the premiere of the game show “Who wants to be a Millionaire,” hosted by Regis Philbin? If you like game shows, you are probably thinking “oh yeah, I remember when he hosted that and it was popular.” Or, if you were really dedicated to the show, you may remember the first person winning the huge million dollar prize. It wasn’t until a few years ago that this date gained significance for me. I was trying to piece together a timeline of my life when it finally occurred to me that if I could figure out the premiere date of this show, I could learn when the more severe abuse began. Courtesy of google and some other websites, I learned the history of the show.

Prior to that August date, I do not recall having much one on one time with my abuser. At eight years old, when the previews started airing for “Who wants to be a Millionaire,” I became intrigued and couldn’t contain my excitement for it to air. My abuser likely took note in his mind every single time I voiced my anticipation to watch this show. He likely recognized this as an opportunity to create a new routine in which he would have multiple opportunities to act. And on August 16, 1999 when I was 8 ½ years old, my abuser enthusiastically invited me to his room to watch “Who wants to be a Millionaire.”

My abuser created a routine in which I was expected to “watch” this television show with him each time it aired, providing him with 30 minutes to an hour to abuse me. This “quality time” did not exist in any format prior to the airing of this show. Parents and caregivers, notice if anything like this takes place in your child’s life. If there is someone that spends little to no time with a child, then all of a sudden is playing video games with him or her every Saturday, or watching a television show every Friday evening, or practicing a sport with them every Tuesday, pay attention to any further signs of potential abuse. Or better yet, get involved in that routine as well! Learn to play video games every now and again, encourage watching the television show in a family room, attend as many practices and games as possible. Disrupt the routine every once in a while and notice any signs of disturbance at the disruption. The person creating the new routine does not have to be an adult either. It could be an older family member or neighbor.

This is not a tactic all abusers will use. And just because someone wants to play an active role in a child’s life, does not mean they are an abuser. This is just something to be aware of to hopefully prevent another child from being abused.

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When What You Remember Isn’t Enough


Throughout the court process, my case was always referred to as a “he said, she said” case because there was no physical evidence to corroborate my disclosure. Hearing those words always stung.

During some of the initial interviews, I was asked questions such as “when did the abuse begin?” A bulk of the investigation took place around my 14th birthday. When I was asked that question I struggled and began to feel like a failure because I could not remember the date my abuser hurt me the first time.

As a child, time does not consist of hours, days, weeks, or months. Time as a child equals memories, holidays, vacations, playing on weekends, birthday parties, and ball games. The summer flies by, the school year drags on, and Christmas and birthdays can’t come fast enough. A child generally will not recall that on x/xx/xxxx, her stepdad tried to french kiss her in the kitchen. But- what she can tell you is everything that surrounded that moment… where she stood in the kitchen, who was in the house at the time, what her abuser was wearing, what she did immediately afterwards, the fear and confusion she experienced, etc. Unfortunately, the court of law needs cold, hard facts to prosecute offenders.

Not only could I not recall the date the abuse began, but Ialso could not give investigators an estimated number of times it happened. Later in my healing journey I remember thinking, “if only I had carved a tally into the wall at the back of my closet every time my stepdad abused me.” It is really easy to get caught into a cycle of blaming yourself for not keeping the “data” of your abuse so that you can have a strong enough court case with evidence to get justice. The way I am able to overcome those negative thoughts is to remind myself that I was just a little girl trying to survive. I also reflect on the knowledge I have gained in college and graduate school about the way the brain grows and develops and the impacts of trauma on the brain. In a future post I will share more about that.

Being somewhat of a perfectionist, more left brained than right, and a fan of math, the inability to precisely answer the important questions left me with a burden of guilt. The “if-then” statements used to rattle my mind regularly. I continue to strive to find peace in “not knowing” the answers to the questions that weighed so heavily at one time.balls-1284418_960_720

In exciting news, North Carolina has passed a law that prohibits sex offenders from frequenting parks, libraries, arcades, recreation areas, pools, and amusement parks. These places are now safer places for our children. You can read all about the new law here. There is also a section that talks about the petitioning process for offenders and how one Assistant District Attorney may appear in court 10-20 times for these petitions.  

The Power in Truth

In my last post I discussed how abusers are master manipulators. Initially, abusers may use threats of violence or death to the victim or a loved one; however, they eventually incorporate attacks on the child’s belief system regarding “right” and “wrong.” They normalize the abusive behavior so the child no longer questions the acts the abuser imposes.

There were many nights when I feared that if “we” (no longer ‘he’) got caught, “I” (not him) would be in so much trouble. The script was no longer “little Kendall” and “mean abuser,” but now “bad Kendall” and “stepdad.” The impacts of this script change did not become evident until I started working through things in therapy. It was not until more recently that I realized how a completely separate incident cemented this view. This is what abusers strive to do- to make the victim believe they are to blame and they are no longer valued.

Once again, I cannot recall the year this particular incident occurred but it had to have been probably a year or longer after the ongoing abuse began. My younger siblings and I were swimming in a pool at a hotel. Just like I can take you back to the exact location on Hwy. 903 in Magnolia in my last post, I can also take you back to the exact hotel and could likely still draw a near perfect blueprint of the pool and sauna area. Initially, my siblings and I were bursting with excitement because we had the entire hotel pool all to ourselves. After a few minutes of swimming, I noticed through the clear door of the sauna that there was a man in there alone. This man moved to a separate bench in the sauna where it became evident that he only had a towel wrapped around his waist and he began to masturbate. My immediate thought was to protect my siblings by distracting them in the pool. However, I quickly began wrestling thoughts in my mind trying to determine whether I was supposed to go in there and do what my abuser made me do. It was like two conflicting identities were trying to operate at the same time “big sister” and “bad Kendall.” I just remember thinking, “maybe this is what I’m really supposed to do.” Thankfully, before a decision could be made, a family came into the pool area and the man in the sauna quickly left. However, that thought radiated through the years and turned into “maybe this is all I’m going to be worth.” I am forever grateful for the people that poured truth into me and helped me overcome the lie I believed.

A child should never, under any circumstance, feel obligated to sexually service a stranger in a sauna because he has exposed himself to her.

But that is what abuse and a manipulating abuser can do to a child’s mind. My heart aches for the children and adults that are currently facing this battle. I believe so strongly in speaking truth. Truth is the only thing that can combat an abuser’s lies. Simply talking once or twice about “safe touch,” “stranger danger,” and basic sexual abuse prevention education is not enough. These are conversations that need to be ongoing and adjusted each time to the child’s age. The abuser tells lies over and over to the point that in the mind of the victim, they become truth.

Children need to know, believe, and feel truths about their identity as a beloved child of God, worthy of respect, love, dignity, and deserving of safety.  And nothing can take those truths away.

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Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act of 2016

I am so glad to be able to share that the US Senate has passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act Reauthorization of 2016 by a vote of 89-0. This bill reauthorizes programs that help states meet national standards and locate offenders that are not properly registering or not updating their information as required by law. One piece of this bill that I find very important provides grants to states and localities to periodically verify the home addresses of registered sex offenders. It also provides, among other services, resources for the U.S. Marshals Service to locate and apprehend sex offenders who are non-compliant.

Today, I am thankful the Senate supports survivors and families that have been affected by the crimes of sex offenders. When the Senate voted 89-0 to reauthorize this act, they stood beside us.

For more information check out this link to the news article where I found a majority of the information to include in this post. Also, check out the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s post on the Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act of 2016.

 

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The skywriter once wrote “Believe” over New Orleans. We have to continue to believe.