Child Abuse increases with declining economy, holiday season
It is estimated that 80 percent of all addresses have at least one sex offender within one mile and there are 266 registered sex offenders in Midland County, according to the Midland County Sheriff’s Office, and 200 in the city of Midland, according to the Midland Police Department. Search Midland’s Sex Offender registry here: http://www.sheriffalerts.com/cap_main.php?office=54759
Midland, TX – The holidays, coupled with a declining economy, brings stress to all, but it also brings a more disturbing trend: a rise in child abuse. Local agencies that provide counseling and crisis services to abuse victims say that both physical and sexual abuse cases are on the rise, but suspected child sexual abuse cases remain in the majority.
“(Child abuse) is a huge problem here and it has been for years,” said Kristi Edwards, Clinical/Operations director and counselor for Centers for Children and Families. “When times are really bad, people’s stress levels go up, their frustration goes through the roof. Kids are kids no matter what, they don’t understand that dad’s job or mom’s job is cutting hours or employees.”
Not only does an increase occur during downturns, but the advent of the holidays regardless of the economy is unfortunately a reliable predictor of spikes in child abuse, said Elisha McPeek, program director and lead forensic interviewer at the Midland Rape Crisis and Children’s Advocacy Center.
“The boom starts to bust, things become tight, families become stressed, and physical and sexual abuse tends to go up,” McPeek said. “When Christmas comes, kids are out of school, these things go up as well.”
Child sexual abuse is suspected to be vastly underreported for the most part. So far this year, MRCCAC has performed forensic interviews with 504 children for alleged physical and sexual abuse, observing homicides and other court cases.
Of that number, 319 have been suspected sexual abuse cases. In 2014, there were 542 children interviewed total, with 352 for suspected sexual abuse.
“Child sexual abuse exists in Midland as much as people don’t want to admit it does,” said Paula Cox, MRCCAC education director. “We’re not any different from the rest of the country. Horrible things happen in this area, too.”
Cox hasn’t seen noticeable progress when it comes to lowering child sexual abuse rates here over the past few years.
“It’s a bigger issue absolutely than people realize,” McPeek said. “And if kiddos are not receiving support and therapy and intervention it will cause issues for them later in life.”
Permian Basin Community Centers psychiatrist Mark Luley said a large number of the patients he sees in the Bridges Behavioral Health Clinic are coming in with mental health issues related to childhood sexual abuse.
“In our clinics we see a lot of PTSD,” Luley said. “There’s a huge trend here. If you suffer from PTSD or depression as a child, you’re more likely to use alcohol. My clinic certainly has a lot of alcohol dependence, a lot of cocaine dependence, and what’s really concerning is the synthetic canniboids. Generally a lot of (the PTSD and substance abuse) is related to childhood sexual abuse and mental abuse during childhood.”
Texas law defines sexual abuse of a child “any sexual conduct harmful to a child’s mental, emotional or physical welfare as well as failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent sexual conduct with a child. A person who compels or encourages a child to engage in sexual conduct commits abuse, and it is against the law to make or possess child pornography or to display such material to a child.”
No matter the severity of the abuse, the consequences on the victim’s mental and physical well-being can be detrimental. The fact that 98 percent of sexual abuse perpetrators are family friends, relatives or otherwise known and trusted by the child, only adds to the devastation that the abuse can inflict and the effort made to keep it secret.
“Childhood sexual abuse can be an underlying issue in many later problems in adulthood,” wrote Bridges Behavioral Health Clinician Amber Hoelscher in an email. “I have seen it manifested through depression, anxiety and addiction, just to name a few. Many adults may not make the connection that the abuse from their past is still bothering them in their current daily lives.”
Centers for Family and Children serves clients age 3 and up. Of their clientele, more than 50 percent report some kind of sexual abuse, and 25 percent will report some type of childhood sexual abuse, Edwards said.
“Whenever you’ve had severe childhood sexual trauma, just like PTSD in veterans, it colors everything you do,” Edwards said.
However, many adults don’t see the issues they’re struggling with as PTSD, identifying it as depression, anxiety or an inability to sleep due to nightmares, Hoelscher said. But the symptoms often manifest in full-blown PTSD or varying degrees of a stress disorder.
“The people we work with say they can’t go anywhere without knowing where the exits are,” Edwards said. “It affects your relationships, your ability to pay attention. A lot of people will say they’re afraid they’ll lose their job because sometimes when they’re in the middle of something they’ll have some kind of anxiety and they don’t want to tell people why –that it’s because they were raped or molested as a child.”
With any kind of abuse, victims often report feeling shame. But with sexual abuse, that level of shame has a different tone.
“That’s happening before you even know what sex is about,” Edwards said. “Somebody that’s touching you, either hurting you or saying you love me so trust me, or don’t tell or I’ll hurt you or your family. That messes you up. But there’s also pleasure associated with sexual stimulation. So that can also cause the shame. Yes, it did feel good, or yes, I had an orgasm. But you know it’s wrong because it was with a brother or an uncle or dad or a trusted baby sitter or whatever. Almost everybody who’s experienced some type of sexual abuse says it’s difficult to be emotionally connected with other people.”
Victims of sexual abuse are often “groomed” to not tell, or to feel that the abuse is their fault. This can keep a child from making an outcry, and thus, reporting by outsiders becomes essential.
“Whether you’re a parent, teacher, coach, youth pastor, it’s really about getting to know your kids and allowing them to talk to you,” Cox said. “If they once were very happy child, an extrovert, and then all of a sudden they go into their shell, or they don’t want to go to school or go home or have unexplained bruises or injuries. All of these signs don’t necessarily mean they’re being abused, but something’s going on, so whether or not it’s abuse, it’s something you need to have a conversation about.”
If there’s any suspicion at all, it’s worth it to report it, Cox said.
“A lot of people say, what if I’m wrong? What if nothing is going on? OK, but what if there is? That’s what you need to focus on. Not whether the kid or the mom is gonna be mad at you because I would much rather deal with somebody hating me than to know I didn’t do something when a child is being abused.”
One in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before their 18th birthday, according to Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas. Conversations about what inappropriate touching is has to happen earlier, Edwards and Hoelscher said.
“The schools teach stranger danger, good touch bad touch, etc., but some of those classes don’t start until you’re in junior high,” Edwards said. “We’ve gotta start younger. I’m gonna say 2 and 3 is probably an age in which we need to start giving voice to these kids. They start knowing what their private parts are, so we start saying we don’t show those in public, we don’t touch those in public. So to me a natural extension of that is, no one else looks at those, no one else touches those.”
The healing process from sexual abuse can be long and difficult, but there is a way to find peace in a healthy way, local professionals said. Truly healing from sexual abuse often requires the help of a professional.
“We build on successive experiences,” Edwards said. “If your early childhood is successive experiences of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, that’s all you’ve got in your head and every memory that’s connected to takes you back to something like that. There’s no foundation of safety and control.”
Many who have experienced childhood abuse fall into reckless and dangerous behavior when they get older, such as self-harming behaviors, substance abuse and sexual promiscuity.
“It can be that they think they don’t deserve any better,” Edwards said. “Who’s gonna ever want me? Is this ever gonna be an act of love for me because it’s never been an act of love? It’s always been an act of ‘they’re more powerful than I am, I’m helpless.’ It makes you feel powerless, dirty, ruined, shamed. It affects you in your job, your relationship with your children, your friends, the way you feel about yourself. It affects your spirituality because people say how could God love me?”
A foundation of self-love, security and trust takes time to build.
“A large percentage of the population we see has a hard time coming to grips with some of the things that have happened to them before, and I think they try to block off those thoughts, and, as a result, don’t seek treatment,” Luley said. “A large percentage of our population (in Bridges Behavioral) has childhood PTSD and they’ve never received treatment for the things they encountered when they were young, be it mental, physical, or sexual abuse. And those are things that really require treatment.”
Have you experienced childhood sexual, physical or emotional trauma? Have you found a way to heal? If you’d like to share your story, please email reporter Erin Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Centers for Children and Families
Location: 1004 N. Big Spring St., Ste 325
Midland Rape Crisis and Children’s Advocacy Center
Services: Forensic interviews and crisis intervention services, free counseling for victims of all ages and their families, and group therapy.
Location: 1700 N. Big Spring St.
Contact: 432.682.7273 answered 24 hours a day
Permian Basin Community Centers
Services: Mental health services, intellectual and development disability services, substance abuse/chemical dependency, early childhood intervention, HIV services, Veteran’s services.
Location 401 E. Illinois Ave.