What is abuse? – Blog Post 5

I paid for a second appointment with the private counsellor. I had written down some questions to ask her. (It is easier to write things down than to just say them, why is this?).

Our opening conversation went like this:

Jezebel: Is there a difference between someone saying ‘I was abused as a child’ and someone saying ‘I had a traumatic childhood’?.

Counsellor: What do you mean? Can you elaborate?

J: Well, I mean, I think I could maybe say I had a traumatic childhood because it distresses me when I think about it. But I couldn’t say the other thing.

C: Why do you feel that?

J: Because I don’t feel I have the right to say that.

C: Ok. Can you tell me why you don’t feel you have the right to say that?

J: I feel I don’t have the right to be that hurt about it. In comparison to some people’s experiences, it wasn’t that bad. And I feel it can’t have been that bad, because society says what happened to me was acceptable.

C: Why do you think society says it was acceptable?

J: Because if it wasn’t acceptable, there would be a law about it.

C: There is a law about it. It’s called the Child Protection Act.

J: No, the Child Protection Act is for real, terrible physical and sexual abuse, real abuse.

C: J, the CPA covers other types of abuse. Including psychological and emotional abuse.

J: Does it? *Gets out ‘phone, disbelieving, starts to look it up* I did not know that. Why didn’t I know that? How is that possible?

C: How would you know that unless someone told you?

J: Why didn’t anyone tell me? (I was extremely upset and incredulous at this point).

C: Who do you think would normally give a child this information?

I wasn’t able to answer that question. I’ve always believed that there were, very specifically when I was a child, 2 forms of abuse – physical abuse like being beaten with an object, and sexual abuse when someone touches you because they want to have sex with you. That’s always been my understanding of abuse then. I’ve believed that to be true, my whole life. So whenever I’ve mentioned my childhood to anyone, I’ve always said ‘My upbringing was a bit strange. I was raised in a religious cult but it was okay. We weren’t abused or anything horrible like that. We were fed and clothed and loved.

I am now coming to terms with the fact that that wasn’t the case. I have lived for years with ‘an invisible scale of horribleness’ in my head. At the top, was death. Next came rape. And third, was being beaten. As none of the things that happened to me featured on this scale, I have always said ‘It wasn’t that bad’. This is how I’ve measured my childhood.

I am also astonished to learn that a child’s ‘welfare’ as defined under the Child Protection Act, includes their happiness. I read for over 9 hours that night all the laws relating to protection of children during my childhood. I never knew the majority of this information.

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