We often hear about situations of sexual abuse, but not often do we hear the victim speak out on his/her own behalf. Angela Stanton was only five-years-old when she was molested by a trusted family member. Her cry for help was ignored and her life began unwinding into a road that she never thought she would take. Children are prone to sexual abuse because they are more vulnerable than those who are older. Any event of sexual molestation can lead to psychological trauma, especially if not treated early on. The crime involving Stanton was a form of incest called intrafamilial child sexual abuse. According to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, 15% - 25% of women in America were once sexually abused when they were children.
“I was told to keep quiet, which in return made me feel unimportant,” explains Stanton, “I had low self esteem and I began demanding attention in any form available...which in return put me on a path of self-destruction.”
Without proper therapy nor attention from relatives, Stanton was unable to steer herself into the right direction. Especially at a young age, Stanton had no clear perspective on how to respond to an event as traumatic as the one she had experienced.
She was among many children who felt, as Stanton puts it, “rejected and overlooked.”
Children who have been abused, as Stanton was, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Laura JJ Dessauer, a certified art therapist with a doctorate degree in counseling psychology, explains that “PTSD responses include triggers of smells, tastes, textures, places, or other sensory or physical experiences that may cause the child to re-experience the trauma. A child may become regressive in his/her behaviors and take on younger developmental behaviors such as sleeping with the lights on. Their endocrine system, which regulates the body, may be taxed to continual stress and [hyper]-arousal. Children may develop physical illnesses, such as ulcers, in response to sexual abuse.”
Dr. Laura JJ Dessauer continues, “As they mature, they may struggle with wanting to feel loved. [They will learn] how to be receptive to affection and [desire to express] their sexuality. They maybe overtly sexual [in] an attempt to assert control and power or to feel validated and loved, or they may withdraw from expressing their sexuality and may feel threatened or vulnerable in close relationships.”
“They may seek out ways to feel in control of their feelings or body, such as using eating restrictions or self-injurious behaviors (cutting/substance use) as a way to manage their feelings. They may also sublimate their feelings and become overambitious in sports or in school and later in life use work as a means of control and power (and perhaps as a means of avoiding feelings).”
There is obviously a different case for each victim as responses may vary.
While Stanton led herself to not only unhealthy behavior, her actions have also drove her to expulsion from school and even jail sentences.
“I was labeled a troubled child by society and the black sheep of my family. My reputation traveled before me so by the time I arrived to wherever, I would have already been tried and convicted.”
According to Childstats.gov, 2% of all children ages 0-3 have been sexually abused while 17% of children ages 16-17 have been victimized. Though these percentages may seem like a drop in the bucket, their pain and suffering produces undesirable results. Most of these victims are subjected to years of juvenile behavior that leads them to jail time and even worse penalties.
From the Childhelp.org web site, it is said that 31% percent of women in prison in the United States were abused as children and about 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children - essentially a cycle that is difficult to break without the right guidance.
“Nobody really ever gave me a fair shot,” explains Stanton. Without encouragement from her immediate family, Stanton was unable to fully apply herself to where she needed to. Education did not play a huge factor in her life. “My disruptive behavior always warranted a suspension or [expulsion] from school.”
Zooey also spoke with M. Bennet Broner (Ph.D) and she stated,”If nothing is done or the child is blamed for the incident, there is a loss of a major form of security (children, especially while young, perceive their parents positively, no matter how dysfunctional they are). The effects on children can vary from minor to very severe.”
She continued, “A severe outcome is the repetition of abuse. About 50% of those who are abused repeat the behavior with others. One could argue that this was learned behavior and that they were repeating what happened to them. My opinion is that it is misplaced anger at their abusers which is expressed by victimizing others [or themselves].”
Stanton took it out on herself.
Without someone to fully stabilize Stanton’s livelihood, she felt condemned and underestimated. “I never had a stable environment. My mother moved two or three times a year just to keep me in a school.”
The torment that Stanton experienced, year on out, led Stanton to finally seek help.
“As an adult now, I feel withdrawn, I have trust issues, and I am over protective when it comes to my children.”
She realized that changes needed to be made when she was faced with further misery. While in still serving her jail sentence, Stanton was handcuffed to a bed by the police, when she was giving birth to her daughter. To heighten Stanton’s pain, “then [her] mother and grandmother died all within the first six months of [her] incarceration.”
“These events made me re-evaluate my life and try to figure out what went wrong. No person, when asked as a child ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ says, ‘I want to go to prison.’ It was important for me to get to the root of the problem in order to fix [myself] as a person.”
Stanton founded ‘Don’t Ask, Just Tell’ (DAJT) - Stop the Silence, a non-profit organization dedicated to “promote awareness about sexual abuse on women and children and provide a variety of services to abuse victims.”
The mission: Don’t Ask, Just Tell - Stop the Silence is committed to providing life-changing instructions for at-risk youths, in an environment designed to comfort, encourage, and enlighten.