Moving from Silence to Healing after Childhood Sexual Abuse
BOYT: Nicole Bromley, your books and personal story are incredibly moving. At what point did you realize that helping others to heal and provide help for survivors of abuse was your true calling?
Nicole Bromley: I have always been of the mindset that one of the best ways to navigate life is to take what is ugly, dirty and broken and turn it into something beautiful. But I think I was most confident in the calling on my life after speaking out at the age of 15, sharing my story at a church camp, and seeing the number of other kids who could relate to what I had been through. For so long, I thought I was alone; but after sharing my secret, it became evident that there were so many others out there needing my voice to help them find the courage to step out of the darkness and into the light.
BOYT: The statistics for abuse are staggering and horrific; 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the age of 18. Does the abuse typically occur with those close to you or your family such as trusted friends or relatives?
Nicole Bromley: Yes. The majority of sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows, most often a family member or family friend. And sexual abuse also crosses every socioeconomic level, race, and faith background. It’s happening in places where we least expect it.
BOYT: Every parent wants to protect their children from abuse but many aren’t aware of the important conversations to have with our children, and at what age. How and at what point do you recommend parents begin talking to their children about appropriate verses inappropriate behavior?
Nicole Bromley: We must communicate with our kids as early as possible. Let them know that they have a voice and a right to say no in uncomfortable situations. If my son doesn’t want to sit on someone’s lap and read a book, I don’t force him to do that. I want him to know he has control over his own body and he has a voice. If ever he feels uncomfortable, I want him to know he can tell me. We must talk to kids about safe touch and unsafe touch. I also believe it is important to use correct terms for body parts with kids. And I think all of this starts as early as they are able to understand. Sexual abuse can occur to infants and toddlers, so there is no reason for us to wait for the schools to teach them about it—they may never even do that. For the sake of our children, parents must take that responsibility. It is one of our privileges as parents, and our children are depending on us for this love, truth and protection.
BOYT: What are the best steps that a parent can take to protect their children?
Nicole Bromley: Talk to your kids. Know the people in their lives. Know who your child is with and what they are doing. Pop in unexpectedly on one-on-one meetings. Ask your child questions. Let them know they are loved and accepted, have a voice, and can tell you anything. Explain to your child that nothing should be kept secret between you. Our children are not responsible for our happiness as parents, and kids need to be assured of that. Children fear hurting their parents, not being believed or “ruining the family”; kids need to be confident that if something isn’t right, they can tell their parent and receive a parent’s selfless support and care. And if a child ever tells you they have been abused, BELIEVE THEM. Stand by them. Seek justice. And get your child the help they deserve.
BOYT: What are indicators for parents that their child has experienced some type of abuse?
Nicole Bromley: Extreme emotional/behavioral changes (i.e., sudden excessive clinginess, aggressiveness, withdrawal), urinary infections, bedwetting, cutting, eating disorders, depression, promiscuity, fear of particular people or places, recurring nightmares, the list could go on...
BOYT: When abuse has occurred to a child, what are the necessary steps that parents can take to heal most importantly the child, but also the family?
Nicole Bromley: Counseling is so important. Not just for the child, but for the family as well; abuse affects everyone. And being surrounded by a circle of support, whether that is seeking out trusted friends, family members, a church body, or a local support group, is a very important step in healing for all involved.
BOYT: For victims of sexual abuse it’s often very difficult or impossible to have a healthy sexual relationship, and be open with their partner about their past abuse. How can a couple work together in the healing process to achieve intimacy?
Nicole Bromley: You are right; for a sexual abuse survivor, trust and expectations are difficult in relationships and especially in the area of intimacy. Childhood trauma can be triggered by the slightest, smallest thing in a relationship. It is important to seek out counseling as a couple and as individuals. This can be very effective to not only opening lines of communication, but to help a survivor view her sexuality and her partner in a healthy way.
Good counseling also helps us understand how abuse affected us and how it may be affecting our current relationship. A safe place to talk and time to process with a licensed professional can also help us gain a stronger self-awareness, a more positive view of our sexuality and it may also be a place where we can learn better communication skills to help us thrive in our most intimate relationship. The partner of an abuse victim will become better equipped to respond appropriately to his/her partner and what it looks like to be sensitive, gentle, patient and loving in the area of intimacy and communication. Counseling and healthy communication can help a partner understand more deeply what their loved one is dealing with and trying to overcome.
BOYT: What is the necessary dialogue that needs to happen between both partners to move toward healing?
Nicole Bromley: I think both partners need to purposefully put themselves in the other person’s shoes and try to understand how they may be feeling, what fears that person may have, and how might be the best way to express one’s heart to the other. Every couple is different, just as every abuse story is different. The best advice I give is: listen and love. If both sides focus on that as their foundation, I think healing is in the future for them.
About Nicole Bromley
Nicole Bromley is the Founder and Director of OneVOICE enterprises and an International Spokesperson on sexual abuse, rape & human trafficking. She is the author of Hush: Moving from Silence to Healing After Childhood Sexual Abuse (Moody Publishers, 2007) and Breathe: Finding Freedom to Thrive in Relationships After Childhood Sexual Abuse (Moody Publishers, 2009). She is a frequently featured guest on television and radio broadcasts around the world. Nicole and her husband Matthew have two sons. For more info, visit: www.onevoiceenterprises.com
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