Thursday, April 21, 2011

Despair as not willing to be oneself

I have since the middle of the 1980s, worked with people who have experienced sexual abuse. Some have been offenders, some relatives, but most have been people who have suffered sexual abuse from others. The abusers have often been the child's own parents, uncle and aunts, and grandparents. Being a victim is a label no one likes to have. Such a label can be very stigmatizing. This is something many victims of sexual abuse have experienced. It is also something offenders and the families of both offenders and victims have experienced. Nothing seems to be so stigmatizing in the community as sexual abuse. To hear about grown ups who commit sexual abuse against young children evokes strong emotions such as anger, hatred, disgust, and revenge. Media has in recent years had many reports about such episodes. This grim reality has come so close that we must deal with it. We who are working on a humanist basis to help other people, need to have research-based knowledge to help both victims, families and perpetrators.

Østfold University College has an advanced education in Combating the sexual abuse of children, which I have the responsibility for, but which had never been established without the efforts of Mary-Ann Oshaug founder and leader of the Incest Centre in Vestfold. This advanced education gives students the opportunity to specialize in one of the most complex fields we face today. One of the many subject the students learn about is how to talk with children that one fears may have been exposed to sexual abuse. The child might seem to hide a secret, has changed its way of being, shows a sexual behavior one finds abnormal for the age of the child, or shows small signs that might point towards sexual abuse. This is particularly a challenge for the police responsible for investigating and collecting evidence in such cases and Child Welfare services who are responsible for ensuring that all children in the community receive the help and protection they need. When this advanced education opened last year the Norwegian Minister of Justice, Knut Storberget, held a welcome speech in which he emphasized the importance of such education and the need for more research knowledge in this field. Mary-Ann Oshaug held after this an opening lecture on "how to live a normal life, while being subjected to sexual abuse." It was difficult to hear how many of the victims of sexual abuse try to hide their identity as a victim by living normal lives without telling anyone of their abuse. They fear the consequences of showing oneself as sexually abused and therefore do not will to be oneself. Even small children hide their experiences of abuse. Despair of being oneself as a victim, is so strong that one tries to be something other than what one is (a victim) and lives as if one has not experienced sexual abuse. Some can do this throughout life, others feel that despair becomes so strong that something inside finally "breaks" and one has to seek help.

It can be difficult for us to understand how grown up men and women can sexually abuse young children. But for us who are in a helping profession, we must attempt to penetrate into what may be impossible to talk about. I spoke recently with a young man who telephoned me and said he was sexually attracted to small girls. He believed this was an orientation he had in the same way as others were fond of  adults. He had never committed a sexual crime against children and realized that he could never live out his love towards children. He would not and could not be himself as a person who fell in love with small girls. He went to psychologist in order to be able to live with this orientation, but often had suicidal thoughts. He said that it was impossible for him to will to be himself as long as there was so much hatred toward people with his orientation in society. He wanted to tell friends and family about his sexual orientation, but knew he would not get any understanding from them. He also wanted to go to the media, and talk about who he really was. But he was afraid of the stigma that would lead to. He was in despair over not willing to be oneself. He had to live the rest of his life as something other than what he really was.

Kierkegaard says we live in a time of despar where we in despair will to be ourselves and at the same time in despair are not willing to be ourselves. How then do we find our way out of this despair? There is just one way Kierkegaard says in the book Sickness unto Death, and it is to go through it. There is no point going over it, under it, around it or deny it. Despair must be confronted inorder to be able to take onesself back. This requires the will and courage to change from the persom in despair and the helper must create a framework characterized by recognition and respect.

With a hope for more regocnition and respect between people, I wish all my blog readers a Happy Easter.

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