Healing hurts

Counselors say that with trust and dialogue, sexual abuse wounds can mend

Tiffany Herrick is a counselor at a private counseling firm in Reno.

Tiffany Herrick is a counselor at a private counseling firm in Reno.

Melissa Barry was only 8 years old when, after school, her uncle approached her and asked, “Do you know what it is like to have a bottle inside you?” Mel didn’t know or want to know, but her uncle forced her to the ground and forced a bottle, with cap on, inside her.

This wasn’t the first or last time Mel (not her real name) was violated by family members, but when she talked to her neighbors, they didn’t believe her. In fact, she didn’t know that what was happening to her was wrong until she took a sex education class in middle school. Even then, people were not inclined to believe her or they thought she had invited the molestation.

Eventually she got into counseling through her school.

“For about the first year, I thought it was a load, but the second year proved to be somewhat helpful,” she said. At 25, Mel is still scarred, literally and figuratively.

In some segments of society, the attitude toward child molestation seems to be, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Child abuse is a difficult thing to talk about, even among professionals. It’s paradoxical. On the one hand, people need to talk about it for the protection of children; on the other, the privacy of children must be protected.

Child molestation is a huge problem, not just in our society, but all over the world. In our society, we say that talking about our problems is the best way to solve them. But as soon as victims attempt to talk about their problems as victims of child molestation, they may sometimes find that few people are listening.

Tiffany Herrick is listening. She’s a counselor at Family Counseling Center in Reno. When victims reach her, she tells them they are not alone, and they don’t have to be afraid to talk about what’s happened to them. She believes children and says that 99 percent of them are telling the truth about their experiences. There are counseling groups available.

As a cautionary note, though, false accusations of child sexual abuse are a problem. Organizations such as the National Child Abuse and Resource Center, www.falseallegation.org/index.shtml, offer support and information on this topic.

Pamela Hill, senior program coordinator at Great Basin Counseling, is another good listener when it comes to abuse. She says Great Basin provides a range of programs for female victims of abuse. It has no specific programs for male victims, however, although there are some mixed-gender groups.

“We provide both individual and group services,” she said, and she added that the decision of group versus individual counseling is important. “Many victims involved have trust issues, and it takes several sessions, either alone or in a group, before people will even talk about it.”

Medication is sometimes part of the solution when it comes to helping victims deal with abuse.

“For people with extreme mental problems,” she said, “a counselor may give a referral to the doctor, who might write a prescription, if it’s appropriate.”

A bigger problem, however, is self-medication. About 80 to 90 percent of the women who come to the Great Basin Counseling Center are self-medicating, abusing alcohol or drugs. This clearly compounds the problem.

“People are more often affected psychologically than physically, and they are inclined to act out behaviorally,” Hill reports. Nevertheless, with trust, support and counseling, the wounds begin to heal.

Hill says there is a lack of programs in the Truckee Meadows for male victims of sexual abuse.

“The only services for molestation,” she explained, “are for women and for some young children. It’s also a whole lot harder to have men come forward when they’ve been molested.” In general, she said, there is a huge need in our area for more services for teen victims of molestation, especially young men.

Melissa Barry says she’s a lot better now. She has three children of her own, a husband and a home in Golden Valley. She’s says, though, that sometimes she suffers from flashbacks, which can be brought on at any time by things as common as a jar of peanut butter or a bar of soap.

Forrest DePriest, Chae New, and Stephanie Milligan are students at Rainshadow High School.