There is no escape for children caught in a world where silence often seems the only way to survive. And there is no escape from confronting the issues for those who work with children. Teachers who educate themselves about abuse will find many opportunities to support children who have neither the experience nor the maturity to unravel the turmoil they face.
Occasionally a child will spontaneously disclose an episode of abuse. Although a teacher may doubt the story, it is vitally important to believe the child. The child is taking a significant step in trusting the teacher enough to tell what is happening. To betray that trust would repeat the betrayal experienced when an adult abused the child and failed to serve as a protector.
Having said all that, my appreciation goes to a close teacher friend of mine for sending this story of her student, Zainab (not her real name). I’m glad that your natural concern and care for your students have helped promote the process of healing for Zainab.
Teachers have the opportunity to give an abused child the hope of a childhood, the joy of play, and the sense of being cared for by others. Those are gifts that cannot be measured in any monetary or quantitative way.
Probably no adult is more trusted by children who have been abused than a beloved and caring teacher. Teachers have an opportunity afforded few adults to identify abused children and to start a process that will restore safety in the child’s world.
My father used to touch me in a horrible way when mum was at work at night. I was 10 years old when it started. I felt so sick when I knew it was a night that mum had to work, worrying about what would happen. I was tense and stressing out all the time.
I was scared to tell anyone – I thought it was my fault too because I didn’t stop it. He used to say I shouldn’t tell anyone and that mum would kick me out if she found out. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want anyone at school finding out, because I felt like they’d all look down on me.
This has been going on for the last 4 years. This year we had a health class, and someone came to our school to talk about abuse. I knew that what they were talking about was what was happening to me. At the end of that class I just sat there when the bell rang, I felt like my head was about to explode. The teacher asked me if I was ok. I kind of avoided the question for a while, but how it must have shown on my face. Then everything came out.
The school rang mum. She had to come in and meet with the student welfare co-ordinator. They told her what I had said. Then they called me in. I was terrified that she would blame me or not believe me. She looked totally shocked, asked me if it was true and I said it was.
It’s hard to remember what happened next. Me and my brother had to go and stay at my auntie’s place, and now mum has come to stay there too. I’ve also had to speak to a counsellor about it. I haven’t spoken to dad for a couple of months. I don’t know if I want to or not, and mum says I don’t have to. It’s confusing, I feel like I should love him because he’s still my dad, but I just feel like I hate him. Even though mum has looked really stressed out, she told me I did the right thing. I’m so glad that he can’t get at me any more. None of the other kids at school know about all this, and I’m not sure if I’ll tell any of my friends or not. I’ll see how it goes.