Philosophical Meanderings

It’s funny how things can trigger thoughts that were always there staring you in the face but you just never got around to actually forming the actual thoughts into coherent sentences or questions.

I am reading a book called ‘Found,’ by Erin Kinsley. I am not very far into the book just yet but somehow, somewhere in those first few chapters, I was triggered to revisit a thought that has been on my mind for several years. This same thought might also have been on your mind for some time, but I suspect only if you have suffered some kind of abuse that took place in your own home.

Why is it that abuse (physical/sexual/emotional/mental) is deemed far worse when it is perpetrated by a stranger? I think it’s even the same when the stranger attack happens only once and the family abuse is longstanding, over years and decades.

Just imagine what I am about to describe (not in any great detail, I might add) and register how you think and feel as you read the scenarios below:

  1. An innocent and happy five-year-old child is kidnapped from a park and taken to a Victorian semi in suburbia, where the kidnapper proceeds to feed, bathe and sexually abuse them frequently until the police track them down and rescue the child. This process takes a matter of days. The child is then seen by a government-funded therapist until they are able to cope. Their nursery/school is informed and all of the staff make sure to look out for the child and to take the circumstances into account when they show difficult behaviour, have low test scores or do not complete classwork and homework. They will also be awarded a significant level of compensation by the system.
  2. An innocent and happy five-year-old child lives in a Victorian semi in suburbia, where their parents proceed to feed and bathe them. The father sexually abuses the child frequently and the mother beats and berates them at a similar rate. This goes on for more than a decade until the child becomes a legal adult and leaves home (if they haven’t already run away or turned to drugs/alcohol and other destructive behaviours to numb the pain and trauma and to escape the abuse). There is a three-year waiting list for appropriate therapy and they will not be able to access it until they attend group therapy sessions to talk publicly, in front of strangers – who are also traumatised – about the extremely personal and terrifying circumstances that led to them being there. They decide to forgo the trauma therapy as it is, ironically, too traumatic to attend. They can of course pay privately for therapy, but having spent their lives thus far doing everything they can to just survive, being able to study (without any support from the school, which has regularly dismissed their greatest efforts as not good enough) and hold down a long term job, or build a career has not been high on their ‘to do’ list. This child will not be compensated, nor will they receive any benefits for their invisible disability/mental illness.

Perhaps it’s just me projecting my own thoughts based on the reactions from people in my own life to my childhood abuse, that makes me think that most people feel far more discomfort thinking about the first scenario over the second.

In fact, the second scenario might actually trigger negative feelings about the victim, rather than sympathy for them.

There’s something about a stranger violating a child that triggers people in a way that the same actions being carried out in the family home by someone the child knows (albeit not necessarily very well) don’t, making these very similar situations feel extremely different to those hearing about them.

It’s not just me, is it?

Which scenario triggered the most discomfort for you and why?