Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
My 10 year old daughter was raped by her uncle. The police are after him but I am worried about my daughter. She has been withdrawn and acting out. She has a counselor coming to the house but her behavior is always worse afterward. They are making her talk about it. Now they want to put her on medications. She is only ten! I don’t want her to be screwed up for the rest of her life. What can I do?
The main thing that has to be gotten across to your daughter is that she is not broken. Sexual abuse does not mean she has to be messed up forever. I have worked with people from other cultures where it is the acceptable norm for men to sleep with their daughters as a sort of rite of passage. As crazy as this sounds no one became traumatized until they moved to America and DCYF took the dads away and put the children in PTSD groups. Suddenly all these kids developed post traumatic stress syndrome. Before, it wasn’t a secret or shameful, just what everyone did. The kids didn’t see themselves as different or broken until entering our culture.
Your ten year old doesn’t have the language or experience to be able to process this experience. It would help a great deal if she had some education based on anatomy, sex, development, and also some information on love and relationships. Delving into talking about abuse without this background information won’t help, but it could hurt- she just doesn’t have the tools to handle the experience. I highly recommend that she read A Very Touching Book by Jan Hindman. For older kids , The Courage to Heal, by Ellen Bass, is effective, and has a work book to bring the lessons home.
Kids also process experiences by how people around them react. If everyone else is freaking out, kids will freak out. Some neutral person has to be able to work with her. Your behavior as a parent can’t be governed by guilt or you could reinforce very destructive behaviors in your child.
Physically, she is the same person she always was. Mentally, she is at risk for getting lost. For many kids in her situation, successful healing comes from educating and helping others who have been bullied and or abused. As she gets older she should get involved in volunteer organizations and public speaking about it. As Stephen King says, “Secrets eat you from the inside out.” Your daughter’s experience can’t be seen as a secret or a source of guilt or shame. It has to become a source of strength.
The danger of medication is that there is a risk it will suppress her feelings and make it unnecessary to develop the skills to process the experience. This would be a potential time bomb. Studies only show that medications are most helpful in the first three days after a traumatic experience occurs. Memories of the experience are not as cemented at that point. The higher the emotion the larger the imprinting of memory, so decreasing the initial emotions can decrease the imprint. Unfortunately, many doctors start medication, then leave the kids on it for the rest of their lives. They also sometimes start medications months out, which isn’t necessarily useful at all.
She is not broken,
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: I taught self defense to women for many years. It used to be that the advice about rape was “don’t struggle, it’s not worth your life.” But years of research have thrown that old adage out the window. Women who have been raped will tell you- life, as they knew it, is over forever after the violation. It is better to fight as if your life is at stake, because, figuratively speaking, it is.
This doesn’t mean that someone who has been raped will never recover. What it means is that that something inside is changed forever by this experience. A woman who is treated badly after a rape, or made to feel as if it was her fault, or that she is “dirty” because of it, will be emotionally crippled for life. Support and reinforcement of self is the most important thing that you can give any rape victim.
If the counseling is making your daughter worse, I would find out why. Is the therapist experienced with kids her age, or do they ordinarily work with older women? It’s important that your daughter see someone who knows how to work with her age group. I would also suggest a female therapist rather than a male.
As to medication? If you want to see your ten year old daughter become dependent on drugs for life, this is a great way to do it. She is NEVER going to want to feel those emotions again. If she doesn’t deal with them now, it will just get harder as she gets older. Most likely, she will bury the emotions and have one broken relationship after another that falls apart because her subconscious fear will undermine the boundaries of normal sex and her reactions to men.
Granny’s recommendation is that whatever else your daughter does, she ought to study self defense. It is one of the few things that is going to make her feel safe again. I am not talking about some six week course that shows her how to knee men in the groin. I am talking about thorough training that gives her both self confidence and the discipline to have self-control. One of the dangers I see in quick self defense courses is that many women who seek them out have a personal vendetta and are just waiting for an excuse to hurt some man. I can’t think of a better way to end up in jail, or dead.
Your daughter needs to feel normal. Don’t treat her like a freak or force her into counseling that upsets her. But don’t ever be fooled- unless she finds a way to confront this head on, it is something that will always be following her from behind.