Sexual Abuse, Brain Changes and the Gospel

By Ariel Bovat - Posted at Kaleoscope:

Years ago, when I worked at a crisis center for children, a five-year-old girl was brought in after being removed from her home due to allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of her caregivers, specifically, her mother’s boyfriend. Within days of her arrival, the counselors placed her on “watch” due to her habit of rubbing her genitals on table legs, chair legs and would attempt to rub her genitals on the legs of adult male care-workers after she demanded to sit on their laps. It became apparent that her abuser groomed her to the point of making her believe that love and affection were only evident through manipulation of her genitals through constant friction. Sexual abuse not only changed the way she interacted with the world around her, but also changed how she viewed herself in relation to her environment, the people close to her, and created sexual pathology that would take years of treatment to undo. Damage was done. It was not initially obvious, but like cancer, it was hidden, deep in the crevices of her brain, and emerged as she interacted with others.

Child maltreatment in any form is one of the leading causes of mental illness and behavioral dysfunction in children today. One study reveals that all forms of abuse account for higher rates of childhood onset psychiatric disorders (Teicher, 2016). It often goes undetected until the abuse becomes extreme to the point that someone notices changes to a child’s body or emotional state, which then authorities are called. Typically it is a third party that calls authorities and parents are then reported to Child Protective Services, in worse case scenarios, the children are then taken out of the home and placed in either a temporary shelter, group home or foster home.

Child abuse takes the shape of many forms, including but not limited to various manifestations of verbal, physical or sexual. Sadly, survivors of child abuse, in any form, have higher adult rates of overall body inflammation, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, heart disease, shortened telomeres (Teicher, 2016), which are caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect chromosomes and effects how one ages. They are the aging clocks for our cells and represent biological age, not chronological age. Studies have indicated a strong correlation between short telomeres and how our cells age, most often shown through the immune system. (What Is A Telomere? 2018). The immune system is most affected by shortened telomeres, which reduces life expectancy (Teicher, 2016).