A wealth of information about sexual abuse of children and adolescents is available from any of the Resource sites listed in that section of this website, especially that of the National Children's Advocacy Center.
In this section, I will address child sexual abuse primarily as it relates to the characters in Wait Until I'm Dead!
First of all, it is essential to understand that sexual abuse happens to one in every four girls and one in every six boys. The numbers are huge, the problem is endemic to society as a whole, and is not concentrated more or less in one class, race, religion, region, etc., than in any other. The fact that this novel deals with abuse to a female is not, in any way, meant to devalue boys or to minimize the impact of abuse on them.
It is also essential to understand that the abuse is never the child's fault. Never. If a child's behavior becomes sexualized as a result of abuse, it is because the adult has taught the child that those actions please adults and that her real value as a human being exists to please adults sexually. This is blatantly wrong, of course, but it often lies at the core of a child victim's poor sense of self-esteem as well as feelings of guilt and shame.
Neither is sexual abuse "caused" by an adult's alcoholism or drug addiction. Nor does it mean that kids who get molested will grow up to molest. It will not turn a child victim gay. These, among many others, are myths perpetuated by people who wish to make excuses for their own behavior, or lay blame for their own activities elsewhere.
Not all sexual offenders physically hurt children in the process of molesting them. However, because the abuse is such a violation of trust and betrayal by someone the child knows and loves, the emotional/psychological damage can be deep and long-lasting. It is not unusual for children to be told that the abuse is a secret they must keep - or else! Threats invoke fear, and children are often both afraid to tell and are protective of their abuser.
There are only rare circumstances under which it is acceptable for an adult to tell a child to keep a secret - whether it is about abuse or anything else. Sexual abuse thrives in secrecy. The offender relies upon it in order to continue abusing. Children need all the protection from adults they can get, and telling a child to keep information about anything that might be necessary for another parent or caretaker to know, simply puts them at too much potential risk, for they will have no way to understand where to draw the line about telling or not telling. Secrets are quite different from surprises. What the child made for Mom's birthday is one thing. What Uncle Joe is doing to her body is quite another.
The mother in this novel does not hear and does not believe DJ's report of attempted rape by her neighbor. Her inadequacies are, in fact, profound. However, much of this is done in service of this particular story, and should not be construed to mean that all mothers therefore know abuse is happening, do nothing about it when disclosure happens, and/or are incapable of taking action to protect their children. In fact, most mothers do not know their children are being sexually abused, and new research is telling us that those who do suspect that something is "just not right" take steps to find out what is wrong.
You may have noticed in the book that DJ does not blame her mother for her abuse. She lays that squarely at the feet of her father and uncles where it belongs. She is angry with her mother, yes, but primarily for her inadequacies and inaction - and is at times able to see even these as the result of her mother's background and society's expectations. Mothers are often blamed for not protecting and not knowing - sometimes vilified more strongly than the adult who actually molested the child. Children themselves frequently find it safer to vent their outrage at what happened to them on a mother who may be seen as weak and powerless - but only because it is safer to be angry at this adult for NOT doing something than it is to have righteous anger at the more powerful, controlling, and feared adult who did shameful things.
And finally, it is essential that we understand that sexual abuse need not damage a person for life. It is survivable. Ask any adult survivor. Every child survivor is a potential adult survivor who can heal and thrive and grow into life of safety and joy. DJ's road was a hard one, but one which led to her having a full and rich life. Given the statistics quoted at the beginning of this piece, we can estimate that there are millions of happy, healthy, and wise individuals in this world who were traumatized by abuse sometime in their childhood. Therapy works!
It is well beyond time for all of this to stop. If you are an adult who has molested a child, or who is contemplating doing so, or if you know of someone who is doing so, please stop and contact Stop It Now! right away for non-judgmental assistance.
If you are being molested, or know of a child who is being physically abused or neglected, emotionally abused, or sexually abused, please call your local Child Protective Services right away. Telling an adult to stop abusing a child, or threatening them with exposure if they do not stop, simply does not work. Remember, also, that a child's abuser might be an older child. We know that the best possible outcomes for children happen when they grow up with loving, protective, and supportive caregivers. When abuse occurs, however, we know that those who do best are able to tell someone they believe will help them. When the child is heard and believed, the abuse is stopped, the child is protected, the system responds appropriately, and treatment is received, true healing can begin immediately. This is why prevention and early intervention is vital. Children should not have to carry the weight of this abuse into their adulthood.
It is our responsibility as adults to ensure that every child, and every child survivor, has the opportunity to find their joy. It is our responsibility to keep kids safe from all forms of abuse, and to end this epidemic of violence against children. We must work to create a world where children can be seen and heard and believed. A world where they can grow up safe, strong, and free! How can you get involved? Visit the Resource page. There are many national organizations, most with local chapters, depending upon good folks like you to help make this a safer world for children.