Two weeks ago, Dax Shepard opened up about being sexually abused as a child. Good Morning America came to my home to interview me for their story on the topic. The story didn’t air but I wanted to give all of you some of the questions they asked me (and my answers) as people have asked me about the segment.
Can sexual abuse lead to problems later on in life?
Childhood abuse has been linked with many psychiatric and behavioral problems as teens and adults including anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug use and unsafe sex. Dax Shepard has admitted to drug use and alcohol abuse and this may be linked, in part to his earlier experiences.
Is it the same for men as it is for women?
While much of the research has focused on women who were sexually abused as girls, when both genders are considered in clinical studies, it’s found that both men and women suffer with similar mental and emotional problems.
Why do some sexual abuse survivors not tell?
Dax Shepard is only coming out with this private information now. Some people might wonder, why all the secrecy? Why don’t people tell when they’ve been sexually abused? Many children and teens feel shame, they fear retaliation (perhaps threatened), they may blame themselves or minimize what happened, they may doubt what really happened and may be afraid people won’t believe them anyway even if they did tell.
How can Dax’s admission help parents talk about sexual abuse with children?
Whenever a celebrity brings an issue to light with a personal account, it’s a great time for parents to use the admission as a springboard for some tough talks with their children. In age-appropriate terms, talk about good touching and bad touching, what they should do if anyone touches them in an inappropriate way, and that your door is always open to talking about these tough topics.
As always, any tough conversation you have with your child does not need to fit into a certain time, place, space or age. These types of conversations happen many times over years. What you might say to a younger child about their body, their privacy and who is permitted to see them undressed in certain circumstances (i.e. parent, doctor) is different than what you might say to a teenager. While these conversations can be uncomfortable, they are necessary. As I tell parents when I am presenting; “You can say it outright: This is uncomfortable! This is awkward! But do it anyway.”
And don’t worry if you missed an opportunity or when you last talked about it, it didn’t go so well. Parenting provides the ultimate do-over. Each day you get to try again. Thank goodness.