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November 9, 2020

Small Betrayals: Myths and Truths About Child Abuse

In the book “More of Myself,” award-winning artist Alisha Keys, discussed a pattern that befalls both children and adults. The pattern can be found in families, institutions and relationships with abusive authority figures.  

The pattern is rooted in the understanding that people are influenced by culture, tradition, and community. These influences impact a person in a myriad of subconscious ways.  So small are the influences, that over time, a person slowly changes their core thoughts and beliefs.

As Ms. Keyes notes, "...the tiny incremental changes or small betrayals can happen over time and go unnoticed in the life of the child and evolving adult...."

In my work as an attorney, I have observed the incremental changes that survivors of sexual, physical and emotional abuse are forced to make for the benefit of abusive authority figures. Additionally, I have noticed that survivors slowly made these incremental changes because of the cultural myths surrounding abuse.

Myths About Child Abuse

The biggest myth about sexual and emotional violence is that survivors should immediately report the abuse. Other myths include:

  • that the offender and survivor are unknown to each other;
  • the abuse is an identifiable events with a beginning and ending;  
  • true abuse is evidenced by outward tangible wounds;.

Published studies and the numerous survivor accounts dispel these myths and reveal tactics used by perpetrators.

Truths About Child Abuse

  • Perpetrators are often trusted family friends, coaches or even youth leaders;
  • Abusive authority figures rely on an illusion of power to attract the trust of the survivor, their family and friends;  
  • Abusers use shame, denial and humiliation to deflect blame for their misdeeds;
  • Abusers believe they have been victimized and will use public and private communications to manufacture lies.

Youth Sports

Inappropriate coaching practices that incrementally cross the line, leave child athletes locked in helplessness. That helplessness extends to the parents or guardian of the athlete.  Parents can be conflicted about speaking out when they first notice their child being ill-treated. Parents are often led to believe that some level of ill-treatment is normal in competitive youth sports.

An abusive coach-athlete relationship causes injuries and harm to the child. The abuse can be in the form of verbal attacks, ridicule, name calling, physical contact, and/or isolation.

The psychological trauma, may show up in the child's life with such symptoms as; sleep disruptions, depression, crying, vomiting, eating disorder, severe anxiety and/or self harm.

In "More Myself," Ms. Keyes further states that:

"We shift ourselves not in sweeping pivots, but in movements so tiny they are hardly perceptive even in our own view, years can pass before we finally discover that after handing over our power, piece by small piece, we no longer look like ourselves… "

How Do Small Betrays Happen?

Melissa,(not a real name) had natural athletic talent.  At nine years old, hours in the pool still left Melissa smiling and enjoying the praises of her coach. Eventually, Melissa's training intensified but without adequate rest and recovery.  

The coach's admiration turned to frustration, screams and taunts about Melissa's failing abilities.  Melissa's smiles turned to crying in the locker room.  What was once an effortless morning routine of waking and going to the pool; turned into bouts of dread, anxiety and fear of the coach's public ridicule.

The abuse of Melissa began slow, small and incremental.

The Law

The law recognizes that abuse to survivors can happen over time.  While the law provides remedies after the abuse; becoming aware of small incremental changes is an important safeguard to protect young athletes.

Safeguards Against Small Betrayals:

1. Remember children are always a whole and complete in their current age, condition and abilities;

2. Both parent and child have authority to speak out against violations of trust;

3. Small betrays are real and cause lasting trauma to survivors. These betrays must be acknowledged and, when applicable, prosecuted in court.

If you have questions or concerns, call our office for a confidential conversation. Judie Saunders can be reached at 212-709-8141.

If this information was helpful to you, please share with your family and friends.

Do not forget to listen to the Legally Brief Podcast on Apple, Spotify, Amazon or your favorite platform.  

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