Vaneisa: Trauma, trauma, everywhere; sexual abuse accounts for 1/4 of T&T’s mental health cases

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I see you write about me again, she said, laughing. Mystified, as she was not present in my mind as I wrote my last column, I asked what she meant. She was referring to the people who bottled everything inside and the unexpected eruptions that come from what might seem slight triggers. 

It made me think of how many times I have tried to coax her to talk about the pains of her past, only to pull up when it was evident that dredging up the memories was too much for her.

Image: Metoo…

Head of the Special Victims Department, Claire Guy-Alleyne, responding to questions from CNC3 regarding the abuse of children at various homes, made the point that investigators and counsellors had to tread gently with the little ones who had been traumatised by the horrific experiences they had already faced in their young lives. 

It was often too difficult for them to describe what had happened because they could not revisit the sites of pain and were afraid of naming culprits.

For many who have been brought up in nurturing environments, surrounded by love, care and support, it is hard to imagine what the other extreme is like. Having witnessed practically everything along that spectrum, I understand the various coping mechanisms that a child, an adult, has to find just to keep moving forward. It is a journey full of stumbles.

So while the public in its outrage about the monstrous behaviours demand immediate actions, we must be mindful that it is not simply about getting these victims to provide actionable evidence as quickly as possible so charges can be laid.

Photo: How many children in Trinidad and Tobago are traumatised by sexual abuse?
(via Express and Star)

One sickening aspect of this sordid scandal is the responses coming from people who should have acted and did not. It is unforgivable and unacceptable that politicians are busily trying to exonerate themselves from responsibility and culpability. 

Do any of you who have been involved—and I am not just talking about politicians here—do any of you feel one whit of remorse, of shame? Why should anyone trust you with anything if you believe that, having gained such appalling information, your duty was to cover it up? 

We know that these horrors are not just confined to children’s homes; they are rampant in a society where women and children are regarded as property to be treated any which way their ‘owners’ feel like. We know that many of the perpetrators come from positions of power and are enabled by those who procure for them and protect their predatory behaviours. It is a societal sickness.

Photo: Former minister of community empowerment, sport and consumer affairs Manohar Ramsaran failed to table a 1997 Task Force report into child abuse in Parliament or pass it to the police.

And this brings me to another disturbing element. As we know, many cases of domestic abuse of all sorts are not reported. The statistics only represent a fraction of what exists. Even within those limitations, the figures are very high.

Mental health practitioners have reported that something like one in four people who seek help has been sexually abused.

I have been thinking about the people who have suffered in silence—an unforgivably large swathe of our population, male and female—and I wonder what impact it must have on them to see the current stream of similar stories being revealed.

So many people got away with so many cruelties to so many hapless victims, mainly children. 

Photo: Reports into local children homes have found shocking abuse of boys and girls.

Children don’t always have the capacity to assess what is going on; they might see something that makes them uncomfortable, but do not know what to say or do—especially if the adult involved is a relative, someone with an air of authority. 

How do they process that?

Given the high numbers of abused people in our communities, many blocked out or buried memories must have resurfaced as a result of the current revelations. It is not confined to those directly involved. 

Right now, there are many bleeding all over again as old wounds are reopened; the pains as raw as the day they were inflicted. There must be anger towards the predators and the ones who covered it up. Those who were children at the time, probably scarred adults, holding that sense of betrayal because someone who was supposed to protect them didn’t.

Photo: Try listening to what’s not being said…

Families are as much a part of perpetuating these monstrosities. People know of the incest, know of the beatings, know the daily horrors and keep all sorts of heinous secrets to protect their reputations.

Force young people to feel guilt over their victimhood. Don’t tell anybody, become a part of the conspiracy against yourself. Your childhood becomes a place to block out—a furtive reminder that you are unclean, unworthy and unloved.

I have often thought about how many worlds exist inside this world we like to believe is a place we know. We know very little outside the one we inhabit. That world, with its conventions and patterns, is just one small enclave running parallel to millions of others.

If you have not grown up with love, your world can never be anything like that of a person who has been nurtured from birth. If you have been hurt repeatedly in childhood, you learn not to trust anyone. If you cannot trust anyone, if you cannot feel love, then what is there for you to believe in?

Photo: A protest for women’s rights in India.
(via Brewminate)

It is a complex situation and we cannot lose sight of how many lives have been damaged. More than anything else, this country is writhing in pain, as our suppressed yesterdays come back to haunt us.

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About Vaneisa Baksh

Vaneisa Baksh
Vaneisa Baksh is a columnist with the Trinidad Express, an editor and a cricket historian. She is currently working on a biography of Sir Frank Worrell.

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