How not to talk to child abuse victims

To the call-in radio show hosts out there, if you have someone who calls in and tells you they were abused as a child, do not say things like this:

“I feel very sorry for you but I don’t know what can be done about it now, I mean you are 80 years of age, we’re going back a long, long way. A long way”, Laws responds.

“But maybe you feel a little bit better having talked about it, do you?”

“Not really,” Brian responds.

“So in other words we’ve wasted each other’s time,” Laws says.

“I’m sorry, I would rather have liked to have thought you felt a little bit better.”

“I’m sad more than anything,” says Brian.

That was John Laws’s response to an 80-year-old caller named Brian. Brian shared his account of being repeated sexually abused as a child. He stated that he was abused at 11 and 14-years-old. The assaults occurred during the 1930s, and given Brian’s situation at the time, he was unable to report them. He did attempt to report the assaults in the 1960s and 1970s, however, the police told him to forget about it and refused to help him.

The abuse left Brian obviously traumatized. After all, he is 80-years-old and it still affects him. Yet Laws showed not one iota of sympathy. Instead, he kept pressing Brian on whether the man should have fought back, as if an 11-year-old or 14-year-old is necessarily capable of defending himself against a grown man. Then Laws pressed Brian on whether the call made him feel better. This was after several minutes of Laws attacking Brian over not protecting himself. When Brian said “not really,” Laws stated:

“So in other words we’ve wasted each other’s time,” Laws says.

“I’m sorry, I would rather have liked to have thought you felt a little bit better.”

“I’m sad more than anything,” says Brian.

He has every reason to be. The abuse he suffered left Brian wary of sex and of people. He stated:

“I live on my own, never had a girlfriend … just turned me right off it all together. […] I can’t stand the town, I never go out of a night time, I’m not interested in talking to human beings at all actually. I’d rather not have anything to do with them.”

It is worth noting that Brian never specifies exactly what happened to him in any detail. It could have been something like fondling. Yet chances are it was something much worse to prompt this level of isolation from him. That makes Laws’s following comments all the more horrific:

“Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, why don’t people like me?

“You’re not the happiest soul, I don’t know that you’d make people who are around you feel all that good. Have you tried to brighten up a little? Difficult I know.

“You’ve got to go to them, you can’t expect them to come to you.

“Go and talk to somebody at the Salvation Army.

“Do you hear me? But you’re not taking any notice.

“You’ve got to be responsible for your own activity. You must make the move, go and talk to somebody about it.

“But don’t be down all the time, don’t be a wet blanket all the time. Try and have a laugh.

“Go to the pub and have a lemonade for god sake.

“God helps people who help themselves.

“Smile, be happy. No?”

Silence on the other end of the line.

“No? Well there’s not a lot more I can do, is there?”

“Instead of thinking about your own [problems] all the time, ask other people about how they feel. If they feel good.

“Just talk to other people and find out what goes on in their life, that’s the best thing I can do.”

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Laws ends the phone call with this:

“Brian, could you say thank you?”

I do not think “thank you” is the phrase you want, Laws.

Brian was sexually violated as a child during a time in which no one would have believed him, let alone done anything to stop it. When he sought help from the police, he was told to forget about it. No one talked about child abuse during the time Brian grew up. He had no services to turn to, no one to talk to, and no way to deal with his trauma.

Worse, the abuse left him suspicious of people. From what he shared, it was people he did not know well who abused him. So the very thing Laws suggested that Brian do — go talk to strangers — would have put Brian in the same situation that led to his abuse. Of course he would avoid people.

Added to this is Brian’s lackluster family. According to him, his family was not very loving. This is a man who literally had no one to turn to, and Laws response is to blame Brian for not trying hard enough to be likable.

Perhaps Brian thinks being likable and approachable is what made those men target him for abuse. Laws does not appear to consider that.

This is precisely why abused boys and men do not come forward. There is nothing but callous victim-blaming and shaming and appeals to “manning up.” There is no compassion, no sympathy. Not even pity.

The damning part about this is that it seems that all Brian wanted to do was share his story. It does not appear that he was looking for validation or sympathy. He just wanted someone to listen, and Laws could not get something that simple right.

There is a word for this type of person, but I do not want to insult assholes by comparing them to Laws.

I linked to the interview above. Feel free to listen to it if you can. It is far worse when you hear Laws’s tone of voice.

Thanks to Sonja for sending me the link.

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8 thoughts on “How not to talk to child abuse victims

  1. male victims of real abuse are automatically considered worthless by society.

    men are disposable in every imaginable way.

  2. There is an odd divide in how many people treat male victims. Depending on the victim, the other person and the situation, when dealing with a male victim people often go down the “man up” or the “let it out” route. Then men are criticized for being too emotive, not emotive enough, saying the wrong things, not speaking enough, etc.

    There seems to be no understanding at all about how men grieve and recover as individuals. Some people are equally as insensitive with female victims and I’ll be the first admit that I’m far too blunt and unemotive to be helpful when talking to a victim. When someone comes to me with a problem I offer practical advice where possible and direct them to someone who can actually help, which may seem very cold, but it’s the best I can do. However insensitivity toward male victims is alarmingly commonplace and even people who seem to understand grief and recovery when addressing female victims will readily deny all individuality and humanity of male victims. Either you follow their script or they get angry at you. And people wonder why male victims are scared to talk.

  3. Poor guy. I’d like to say to any male survivor that your fellow survivors are looking out for you (I’ve mentioned female survivors on another thread here).

    This is common with survivors. Society doesn’t understand it, and wishes it would go away, so male and female victims get shunted into a corner because people don’t find it comfortable to manage. I got the same treatment from a passer by who saw me have a breakdown, and responded to me in such a way of saying ‘I think you’re taking the piss’ and had the nerve to ask if I was gay. The answer is in fact, no, but it’s none of his business. No different to this guy.

  4. To be fair, I only told about 8 or 9 people, and only 2 of them gave that response. A friend of mine even suggested that I should’ve ‘reciprocated’ and that ‘a girl can’t rape you because you need an erection therefore…not rape’, but I forgave him, because I just chalked that up to societal ignorance. But I did tell him he had to be more supportive.

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