Listen in as our host Kyle Rudge discusses the short and long-term effects of child abuse and family violence with Val Hiebert. Tune in to learn about how we can be change-makers in our communities and families.
Note: This episode contains sensitive subject matter including illustrations of domestic violence.
Threads, formerly known as Word and Deed, was established in April 2007. It is a 15-minute radio program by KR Words featuring the work of MCC in Manitoba and around the world. Threads broadcasts on CFAM AM 950, CHSM AM 1250 and CHRB AM 1220 at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of the month.
Kyle Rudge (00:02):
It begins with a single thread woven through other thread, and then another and another until we have a single piece of fabric. That fabric is stretched, cut and stitched together with another, just like it. This process is repeated over and over and over until we have a beautiful tapestry that all began with a single thread. Welcome to MCC Threads, where we look closely at how our stories in Manitoba weave together with the stories of MCC and its partners around the world.
Val Hiebert (00:51):
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you know, the German Protestant theologian said, "The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children."
Kyle Rudge (00:58):
Mennonite Central Committee works for relief, development and peace in the name of Christ. Often the way we think about that is MCC's efforts in foreign countries with things like migration and resettlement, disaster response and food security, but MCC's commitment to peace extends all the way back to homes here in Manitoba.
Val Hiebert (01:18):
I'm Val Hiebert, and I work as a program coordinator for MCC in the Abuse Response and Prevention Program. I am also a professor of sociology at the University of Manitoba.
Kyle Rudge (01:29):
November is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and sadly, it is a relevant discussion with MCC's commitment to peace in our homes. Val Hiebert works part-time for MCC with a program called Abuse Response and Prevention. Disclaimer for today's episode: While we will not be sharing stories of abuse, the topics of intimate partner and child abuse will be discussed within the context of the work of MCC in Manitoba.
Val Hiebert (01:53):
The effects are almost the same, whether you've witnessed it or been a victim yourself, and many, many adults live with the consequences of what happened to them as children and has effects on their current adult relationships. And many of them don't realize that. You know, you sort of think, "Well, I'm not a child anymore. It happened in my childhood. I should be over that and I should - " And they don't even recognize the ways in which they interact, are connected back to the really, deeply harmful things that happened to them as children. So we also want to reach those who are working through those issues from their childhood and give them better tools and better self-understanding, and also give community members better understandings of those who've experienced abuse.
Kyle Rudge (02:39):
Often when we think of domestic violence, we equate that with intimate partner abuse. However, even in the context of intimate partner abuse, the mere witnessing of that will still greatly affect any child present.
Val Hiebert (02:52):
Sometimes we don't recognize that something that's happening with someone, might very well be about what happened to them in their childhood, and we expect things from them that might not actually be fair because they haven't been given a chance to develop that kind of personal, psychological, or mental health.
Kyle Rudge (03:11):
On November 21st, Val and her colleague Jaymie Friesen, will be hosting a public presentation titled Child Abuse Victims and Witnesses. The effects of child abuse continue long past childhood. There are several factors that impact an adult's life due to that abuse that they had as a child in the home.
Val Hiebert (03:29):
It depends a lot on the age at which you experience the abuse. It also depends a lot on the degree of the abuse or the type of abuse you experienced or how long you experienced that abuse. You know, was it like a four-week thing or was it a ten-year thing? Was it a trusted adult, like a father or grandparent? And I note that I'm using male examples here. Females also can be abusers, but disproportionately males are typically the abusers. So, I usually use male terms, but with a disclaimer because it isn't entirely male, but it's mostly male. So that's an important thing for us to hold as well. So, all those things shape what that looks like in your adulthood. And the younger you are when you experience the abuse, the more severe will be the long-term effects for you, especially at the youngest ages because if the abuse happens pre-memory,
Kyle Rudge (04:42):
Pre-memory would be the time in which a child is experiencing and learning behaviors but has not been able to form long-term memories just yet. Generally, between the ages of zero and three years old.
Val Hiebert (04:53):
If a child is abused at that age and not after that, the child will not remember and yet that child's fundamental ability to trust in the adults nearest to them, that the world is a safe and a good place, is broken, but they don't know it. So, it profoundly shapes who you are as an adult, but you don't know it. It can get really complicated. So, there's all of those things, but some of the more, you know, I guess common, maybe would be the word I would use: denial. You know, you just, you want to get on with your life, so you just deny that it's happened to you. Difficulty forming trusting relationships in adulthood because your ability to trust that the person nearest and dearest to you won't harm you isn't there because the person nearest and dearest to you did harm you right? So that's not an easy thing to overcome and you can't just logic your way through that. It doesn't work to just say to yourself, “I'm an adult now and these things shouldn't bother me.” It doesn't work that way. Sometimes as a way of wrestling with explaining it to yourself, you'll just take the blame yourself. I mean, children do that already as children, you know if the parent is hitting the child or if the parents, one of the parents is hitting the other parent, the child will internalize that as somehow being their fault because they don't know any better.
More significantly, and this maybe gets a little dark, but this is just some of the realities that Jaymie and I deal with in the work that we do. What we're seeing now in developmental biology, and this is really useful stuff, is that in any given situation, our stress level responses change how we think, how we feel, how we behave, how we digest food, how we pump blood, how we mobilize white blood cells, how we release insulin. Stress affects all of those physical functions in the body. So, we've got lots of brain body mediated functions and when there's lots of abuse present, those dysregulate. And so, you have all kinds, and this shows up differently in each person. Like each body is still unique, just the way each of your family members is experiencing Covid in a different way. So too, bodies experience and internalize stress in different ways when they are experiencing abuse. And we are now seeing the research that adverse childhood experiences actually put that adult survivor at higher risk of some of the major causes of death, like cancer and heart disease, diabetes. Yeah, we now have actual scientific evidence of that.
Kyle Rudge (07:50):
The effects of childhood abuse, whether directly encountered or simply witnessed has a profound long-term effect. But what exactly is child abuse? How has it been defined in these studies?
Val Hiebert (08:03):
I think the first thing we think of is physical, which is absolutely a very concerning form of child abuse. So if we're going to define that, I mean that's everything from, you know, hitting and slapping, pinching, kicking and does also include what often for the parent falls under physical punishment, but is actually much too extreme and is a form of abuse. So there's that, but there is also verbal abuse. So a child who receives lots of yelling, is in the presence of lots of arguing (even if not directed at them), belittling, threatening, name calling, all those sorts of things can deeply harm a child, whether it's the partners directing it to each other or whether it's a parent directing it at the child. So the sticks and stones truism isn't true at all actually. Words don't break your bones, but they will break your spirit.
And then there's the emotional psychological abuse. So this is, I mean this happens both in adult relationships and in adult-child relationships. So this is things you do and things that you don't do. So when a child feels a lot of rejection and disapproval on a really continuous basis from the parent or is terrorized, you know, the parent says things like, “I'm gonna spank you so much that you're not gonna be able to walk.” Or I mean, I know one context where a father would line up the kids and be angry and say, “I'm gonna leave now and kill myself,” and would take his gun and leave. So that father's not actually threatening the child, but that father is terrorizing the child. So that's a form of psychological abuse or isolating a child, you know, not letting them go out and play with their friends, keeping them locked up in their room, not properly socializing them or miss socializing a child. You know, introducing a child to sex at too early of an age or sexual ideas or substance abuse, you know, welcoming a child into you know, those are all forms of emotional and psychological abuse that many children in our area experience. And then of course there's sexual abuse, is when an adult uses a child for their own sexual gratification. And that could be coerced, manipulated, it can be deceitful, it can be force, and the child complies, you know, out of awe or fear or maybe trust or maybe love for that adult. So once you hear all the different types, you realize how deeply complicated this whole issue actually is.
Kyle Rudge (10:44):
Complicated, yes. Heartbreaking? Absolutely. But how prevalent is it in Manitoba given Val's profession working in teaching in this field? I asked if there were any relevant Manitoban studies regarding child abuse.
Val Hiebert (10:59):
We do have one study from Isaac Block, which was done in about 1996, something like that. And he actually studied Mennonite families in Winnipeg. What he found was that 29.2% of them had experienced abuse in their childhood. And 19.4 of those were sexual abuse. It's kind of ironic because being Mennonite is about pacifism and yet we do have significant violence inside Mennonite homes. That's true more generally of conservative religious systems. This isn't unique to Christianity actually. So let me generalize that as well. Conservative religious systems of all types. Typically, research shows that they have higher levels of abuse in the home than the general public.
Kyle Rudge (11:55):
These topics are never fun to speak about, but they are important, nonetheless. So much so that Val and her colleague Jaymie are hosting a series of public presentations on the topic. Notably this one called Childhood Abuse Victims and Witnesses: Short and Long-Term Effects, the presentation will explore the consequences and challenges faced by those who have experienced or witnessed abuse as a child. The presentation is on November 21st from 7 to 8:30 PM and is at the Pat Porter Active Living Center in Steinbach and is completely free to attend. There is another presentation specifically regarding domestic violence and intimate partner abuse. That one is scheduled for Monday, November 7th at the same time, 7 to 8:30 PM at the same place, Pat Porter Active Living Center in Steinbach and is also free to attend.
Val Hiebert (12:42):
You can just Google abuseresponseandprevention.ca. That's our particular website and you'll find this under events.
Kyle Rudge (12:50):
Child abuse in all its forms is anything but peaceful. Thank you to the work of Val Hiebert and Jaymie Friesen in devoting so much time and effort to educating and responding to the situations like these and for sharing your heart to see change happen in Manitoban homes with us.
Oh, one further MCC announcement before we go. Coming on November 26th, there is a Christmas Craft Sale for MCC. Piece It together is presenting shop Christmas gifts that give twice. Come out to Bethel Mennonite Church in Winnipeg on Saturday November 26th for beautiful locally made crafts. From children's activity books to wooden creations to candles and quilts. Your purchase will support MCC’s relief efforts around the world. And for more details for that, you can visit mccb.ca/events. I'm Kyle Rudge and this is MCC Threads.
Transcribed by https://www.temi.com