In any given year, there are 3 million reports of child abuse in the United States alone. Many of these reports are made after these children reached maturity, and their confessions are no less sobering. 28.3% of adults report having experienced physical abuse during their childhood, and 20.7% of adults reported sexual abuse during their childhood. Based on the statistics, that translates 849,000 cases of physical child abuse and 621,000 cases of sexual child abuse. To put that in perspective, the University of Central Florida, the school with the largest undergraduate of on-campus enrollment, has 56,972 students. Imagine entire college campuses, in every dorm, in every classroom, in every lecture hall, with 2 floors of seats, packed by students who have gone through something unspeakable.
This is the state of child abuse in America.
Why don’t we talk about it?
Children are often victims of abuse. Childhood trauma and its well-studied effects on interpersonal issues. After child abuse shakes the foundations of their world, people with childhood trauma generally have trouble trusting others and battling their own emotions.
It is commonly known to psychologists that interpersonal trauma, or trauma inflicted with a target and intention, are more psychologically damaging than those cast without. In short, the accidental death of a loved one is a non-interpersonal trauma, while getting raped by a family member as a child is an interpersonal trauma. Both are terrible, but one is more likely to cause difficulties in regulation, changes in attention and consciousness, a manifestation of mental strain into physical problems, disruptions in self-identity, and harmful behaviors.
In addition to the above list of symptoms, one of the most noticeable impacts of childhood abuse is the way it affects how people perceive the world around them. Those who’ve experienced childhood abuse often have a hard time making and maintaining personal relationships. There’s little information about the specific nature of these interpersonal difficulties, but those who’ve experienced child abuse often feel vulnerable, ashamed, guilty, hopeless, and worthless.
In a recent case study by Dr. Kimberly and her team, a patient with an abusive background was evaluated for depressive symptom with the BDI-II and interpersonal ability with the IIP-32. Both tests consisted of inventory questions that sorted patients on a scale of severity. For example, the scale of someone with minimal to none depressive symptoms scored from 0-13. The patient scored 30 on her BDI-II and 57 on her IIP-32. Her score showed definite signs of severe depression and above average problems with interpersonal aspects of her life. She had expressed that her father’s abusive aggression and her mother’s lack of intervention has left her with feelings of shame, anger, and she did not know how to let go. This bled into her personal life, as she felt the need to be in control and was unable to express herself.
As part of the study, the patient underwent Short Term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, otherwise known as STPP, for 20 weeks. STPP is designed to focus on undermining feelings and thoughts that disrupt one’s ability to communication, work, and maintain relationships. Post-therapy, the patient has shown drastic improvements in her depressive symptoms and interpersonal problems, with a score of 2 on her BDI-II and an 8 on her IIP-32. A year later, her score remained relatively low, with a score of 8 on her BDI-II and a 13 on her IIP-32.
Children abuse and therapy are one of those problems that people just don’t talk about.
Sometimes, it’s exactly what we don’t talk about that is the problem.
What we refuse to talk about, refuse to make a part of our reality, are an undeniable part of someone else’s.
You can help, there is a list of organizations that support and advocate those who experienced child abuse.
If you’d like to learn more about resources for you or someone in your life that has gone through childhood abuse, the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a page dedicated to research and common questions for your understanding.
If you need someone to listen, here is a guide to help find the right therapist for you.
Barkham, M., & Hardy, G. E. (n.d.). The IIP-32: A short version of the inventory of interpersonal problems. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.2044-8260.1996.tb01159.x
Beck depression inventory-II (BDI-II). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.commondataelements.ninds.nih.gov/doc/noc/beck_depression_inventory_noc_link.pdf
Lindsay, S. (n.d.). The 37 biggest colleges in the united states. Retrieved from https://blog.prepscholar.com/the-biggest-colleges-in-the-united-states
Short-Term dynamic psychotherapy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pubs/videos/4310903
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Van Nieuwenhove, K. (n.d.). Interpersonal features in complex trauma etiology, consequences, and treatment: A literature review. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma. Retrieved from Taylor and Francis Online database.
Van Nieuwenhove, K., Truijens, F., Meganck, R., Cornelis, S., & Desmet, M. (n.d.). Working through childhood trauma-related interpersonal patterns in psychodynamic treatment: An evidence-based case study. Retrieved from PsycARTICLES database.
What is Child Abuse? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.childhelp.org/child-abuse/