I imagine that having voiced your true opinion of what your father did to you felt very satisfying. It seems like a good thing to have done. He abused you at a time when you had no choice but to tolerate it. You were powerless to do anything about it. You were too young and too small. As soon as you had the opportunity, and had developed more confidence and power, you confronted him. As you said, “I knew I was right and I wasn’t going to accept anymore nonsense from him.” It’s a very positive step you took. Congratulations on your bravery and willingness to tell him how you feel.
Child abuse statistics indicate that in 2017 (the latest year in which federal statistics are available), there were 3.5 million children who were the subject of an investigation related to child abuse. Of that figure, approximately 674,000 children were determined to have been abused. The majority were neglected; 18% were physically abused and 8.6% were sexually abused.
Neglect involves ignoring the child’s needs. Children who are neglected may not have the proper clothing, access to medical care, food, and so forth. Physical abuse occurs when a child’s body is injured because of hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, and other behaviors involving force. Some estimates indicate that about one in 20 children has experienced physical abuse. Sexual abuse involves the act of forcing a child to engage in sexual activity. At least one in four girls and one in eight boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18.
Sadly, child abuse is fairly common. The perpetrators of child abuse and neglect are often the child’s own parents. Studies indicate that up to 80% of child abusers are the parents. The second most common abusers are the unmarried partners of the parents. It’s difficult to know what would drive parents to abuse their children. One theory is that abusers have themselves been abused. Perhaps they come to believe that abuse is how to treat a child. Substance abuse, addictions, stress, and other risk factors, contribute to parents abusing their children. No matter the reason, it’s never acceptable.
As far as what else you could have done or should do for the future, that’s difficult to answer without having more information about your life and interactions with your father. It would have been interesting to have known how he reacted to what you said to him. Was he shocked? Did it put him in his place? Did he fight back? Having that information would have helped me to better advise you for the future.
Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid the abuser if you can. I’m also wondering what your mother’s role, if any, was in this situation. The non-abusing parent is often aware of the abuse, and sometimes doesn’t do anything about it. Naturally, that can cause a child to feel angry and resentful towards the non-abusing parent. They could’ve done something, and for whatever reason, they chose not to act.
You might suggest that your father seek counseling. He may not be open to it but if so, it could help him treat whatever led to the abuse in the first place.
It would also be wise for you to consider counseling to help you deal with any of the aftereffects of the abuse. Studies indicate that children who are abused or neglected struggle with mental health issues more so than children who have not been abused or neglected. Reactions vary greatly but some individuals become depressed, suicidal, and may themselves engage in violent behavior. That is not true for everyone, as there are a wide variety of reactions. Having a counselor or some other trusted or supportive adult in your life can increase your resiliency, helping to buffer the impact of the abuse.
I’m impressed with your bravery, your willingness to confront your father and to tell him you will no longer tolerate his abuse. You stood up for yourself and it sounds like you did the right thing. You might try counseling to ensure that you have supportive individuals in your life to buffer any potential problems that might arise. Finally, if your father continues to abuse you, report him to the authorities. Child abuse is illegal and he can be punished for his crimes. Good luck with your efforts. Thank you for writing and please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle