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Child Abuse and other Un-Natural Disasters

“All natural disasters are comforting because they reaffirm our impotence, in which, otherwise, we might stop believing. At times it is strangely sedative to know the extent of your own powerlessness.”

~ Erica Jong


I have been very moved over the past weeks by the community spirit in response to the Queensland floods. It seems that our capacity for kindness and compassion, both in relation to those we know and to strangers, is in abundance at the moment.

From my experience as a social worker, I’ve been somewhat accustomed to a sense of disappointment and frustration at our collective inability to act against injustice and to work together as a community to assist people who, for a range of reasons, are suffering in some way.

So I’ve taken some hope from these experiences. But of course, I’m not content to stop there! My bigger and more ambitious hope is that we might transfer some of this kindness and compassion for people who are suffering from the traumas of these natural disasters to those whose trauma is a result of violence and misuse of power.

I feel a constant sadness at our inability to do this. I’ve had many interesting discussions with people over the past few weeks about why we’ve been able to so effectively mobilize our resources in this ‘natural’ disaster but are unable to do the same for those ‘unnatural’ disasters that we, in the welfare sector, work with on a daily basis.

I find it disturbing that we are so frequently told that we (government, the community) do not have the money or resources to respond more effectively to child abuse, or to homelessness or violence against women, or to poverty. That is clearly not the case. It is a matter, as it always is, of social and political priorities and it is this that saddens and disturbs me the most.

We know so clearly from all our work in the trauma area (our practice wisdom and our research) that the impact of a traumatic event is largely determined by the meaning the person makes of the event. While we continue to undervalue the impacts of relational trauma, survivors will more likely conclude that the traumatic event was their fault. The implications of this for their lives are huge.

These relational traumas are preventable by society. There is no good or logical reason why we cannot mobilize to prevent their occurrence. Our inability to do this says more about our social and political will than our capacity.

It seems that if there is any question about who is responsible for the trauma, we are less likely to get involved or offer support. It appears that we are at our kindest and most compassionate when we believe the traumatic event could just as easily have happened to us and when there is nobody to blame but nature or fate or the Gods.

Our collective ignorance about misuse of power is such that many people seem unwilling to accept that the survivor of childhood sexual abuse is as much a victim of forces outside their control as was the flood victim or the cyclone survivor. And, of course, while we continue to deny these traumas socially, the survivor of trauma caused from misuse of power will be even more sure that it was their fault.

Jenny Gilmore – Facilitator for the Complex Trauma in Childhood: Implications Across the Life Span Professional Development Workshop. Book your spot today!

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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. lauren #

    I just read ‘Child abuse and other un-natural disasters’. I think the messages raised by Jenny are extremely important and highlight the frustrations people feel about the issues. As a social work student, I often wonder why more resources aren’t put into protecting vulnerable groups in society and why efforts are aimed at intervening largely when abuse has already occurred and the damage is done. I find this very hard to come to terms with when the consensus is that prevention is possible. When thinking about vulnerable groups, of which children constitute one of the most vulnerable, it is disturbing that more is not being done and that band aid solutions are employed. As a future practitioner, I hope there is a shift in perception starting yesterday.

    February 23, 2011
  2. Kat #

    Love your work Jenny!

    February 23, 2011
  3. Lorraine #

    A timely reminder of the un-natural disaster epidemic we face in our communities on an on-going basis. It is concerning that the hidden and silent nature of the un-natural disaster of abuse and power imbalance will be pushed even further to the background as we become engulfed by nature’s heavy handed dealings and continue to blinker ourselves against the man made disasters.

    February 23, 2011
  4. thanks Jenny for your reflection. I agree that it would make a vast difference to individuals and community to be able to muster the energy we have shown collectively to prevent events which cause trauma. The effects of trauma are with individuals throughout their life span and this also costs society in many ways.Prevention of issues which cause trauma in our society would leave the world a better place for future generations.

    February 23, 2011
  5. Olivia #

    I can’t believe that we are yet to eradicate child abuse and violence from our families. Abuse of power surely was highlighted in the 70’s and has been so ever since. What went so wrong that we failed to sort these abuses? We are guessing the billions of dollars of damage from our natural disasters will be sorted in one to two years??? Go figure! Why are we still having these conversations about child abuse and misuse of power? Is it really this hard and complicated to ask communities and governments to step us and stop permitting children and women to be beaten and abused? What did I miss? I’m feeling like Rip van winkle.

    March 2, 2011
  6. Lily #

    I agree Olivia. What went wrong? I don’t understand why it is so difficult to keep children safe. I do understand though that many people we know just don’t want to know what is happening in their communities or even more so, their families. People who abuse power are someone’s father and someone’s son (I just accidentally quoted Johnny Farnham – a bit!). And yes to continue the sentiment – we look at each other down the barrel of a gun when we pay attention to abuse and children being harmed! Surely there is a better way to keep children safe, women safe and families paying attention. I have to admit – I don’t know how.

    March 2, 2011

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