Abuse in Community Institutions and Organizations:
EFFECTS OF CHILD ABUSE IN STITUTIONS AND ORGANIZATIONS: FAMILIAR AND UNIQUE THEMES
Our original interest in this area was sparked by carefully listening to the themes presented by survivors of institutional abuse. They described familiar themes such as loss of trust, shame and humiliation, fear or disrespect of authority, attempts to avoid any reminders of the abuse, and vicarious trauma stemming from disruption to their family and personal relationships. Whereas such recognized hallmarks of abuse were typically present for victims abused within an institution, the manifestation of these common consequences of sexual victimization were markedly altered. Beyond these familiar themes, survivors also described unique trauma-related symptoms specifically associated with the institution where the abuse had occurred. These themes usually related to the fundamental purpose of the institution, with its particular role being highlighted as an integral aspect to the legacy of the abuse. For example, individuals abused by teachers often expressed fear or disinterest in learning, sending their own children to school, or entering any academic setting. In effect, survivors are not only confronted with coping with the devastating impact of the abuse, but with betrayal by the valued social institution and loss or impairment of its role in their lives as well. The following paragraphs illustrate these major themes and how they differ for victims of abuse in institutions and organizations.
LOSS OF TRUST/FEAR OF INTIMACY
SHAME, GUILT, AND HUMILIATION
In addition, children abused in non-familial settings misattribute such acts to their personal faults or weaknesses, thereby increasing their feelings of shame and humiliation. In other cases they may receive special attention and benefits from the abuser, leading to an inaccurate self-image and further humiliation. Moreover, children who attempt to discuss the events with others (either to disclose or to question its appropriateness) may find themselves at odds with their family or important community institutions, which may seek to protect the accused in an effort to protect the role of the setting. One survivor describes this process as “losing acceptance from society in general. You are very much an outcast.”
FEAR/DISRESPECT FOR AUTHORITY
As well, families of victims and survivors of institutional abuse often suffer various consequences, which they may fail to acknowledge. Parents may feel a mixture of guilt, shame, and humiliation regarding their actions or inactions, perhaps blaming themselves for failing to recognize the abuse. Moreover, post-abuse events following disclosure or discovery cause a great deal of tension in the family as each family member tries to cope not only with the child’s difficulties but also with their own reactions. In some circumstances current (e.g., parents and siblings) or future family members (e.g., spouses and offspring) may be the direct recipients of abusive behaviour by the prior victim as a result of having been abused in childhood. Even in the absence of such behaviour, adult survivors are often eyed with fear and recrimination because of others’ beliefs that they may turn to abusing others, a life sentence that many survivors feel imprisons them and further blocks attempts at closeness and trust. Finally, current and future family members may suffer vicarious symptoms connected to the abuse itself, such as their own loss of faith, distrust of organizations, or feelings of betrayal, guilt, or anger.
As a summary, the following table outlines many of the issues, feelings and difficulties identified by survivors of abuse in institutions and organizations. Although the table does not reflect all of the possible harmful outcomes, it provides a summary of the scope and magnitude of their trauma.
i. Davis, J. L., Petretic-Jackson, P. A., & Ting, L. (2001). Intimacy dysfunction and trauma symptomatology: Long-term correlates of different types of child abuse. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 14, 63-79.
ii. Suderman, M. & Jaffe, P. (1997). Children and youth who witness violence: New directions in intervention and prevention. In D. Wolfe, R. J. McMahon, and R. DeV. Peters (Eds.) Child abuse: New directions in prevention and treatment across the lifespan. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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