Deondra Brown: Victims of childhood trauma don’t need to be victimized again

Being trauma-informed is not just a process, it is a way of life.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Family Support Center and Salt Lake County leaders plant 3,616 blue pinwheels in honor of every child who was abused in the county during 2020 on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.

When tragedies occur, our natural tendency is to focus on the allegations and the salacious nature of the details. Whether it’s an egregious child sexual abuse case or a terrible act of gun violence, our thoughts and conversations are often consumed with the desire to know more. In the same way we struggle to look away from a terrible vehicle accident, we find ourselves searching for more information, purely for the sake of curiosity.

But it is important to remember that each detail we read, hear or share is directly tied to a victim’s life. A victim’s horrors are suddenly placed on display for the world to see and consume; to be judged and dissected; to reside forever online. These specifics will follow victims to school, to work and to church. They will plague victims while they’re walking down the street or meeting new people. The exposure can alienate victims and lead to further loss.

As a victim of child abuse, I saw the whispers and stares. I battled the demons in my head. I experienced the uncertainty of what life would look like moving forward. I was an adult when my experiences were made public. I can’t imagine navigating this path publicly as a child. Frankly, no child should have to deal with the negative effects of identifying information spreading like wildfire and leading to their identity being discovered. Yet it happens and we all play into it – the media and many of us who push for more and more details.

In Utah, one in seven children are victims of sexual abuse. One of every seven children in our state is living with the pain and trauma of abuse and doing their best to get from one day to the next. These young victims have serious doubts about their self-worth and value. To those of us who have experienced sexual abuse, trauma is not just a buzzword. It is a real issue that can result in long-term adverse consequences, dashing hopes and dreams along the way.

Our communities, caregivers, the media and political leaders must work together to not only help prevent child abuse, but also ease the consequences of trauma caused by abuse by understanding how trauma affects victims. Leading with compassion, considering each victim’s perspective, and recognizing what triggers aggravate or exacerbate further trauma, we can support victims in what we say, in what we do, and by the decisions we make. This trauma-informed approach means having more sensitive, honest and open conversations about how we respond to and effectively address difficult topics, including abuse, suicide, violence and mental health.

Being trauma-informed is not just a process, it is a way of life. It is understanding that what we say, put online or print has direct effects on the lives of victims, many of whom are children. Trauma-informed means we lead with our hearts and approach relationships and discussions with sensitivity and empathy. It means we resist the urge to ask others for those juicy details or further promulgate those details among others. Because each time we fall into these traps, we are part of harmful conversations that further highlight the crimes of evil-doers and frame victims’ stories with a narrative they cannot control. The more we promote these conversations, the more we add to victims’ trauma and lengthen their healing.

I fully believe we can responsibly share, participate and be informed by the news without further victimizing and harming those who already have a difficult road ahead. Over the years since my abuse was made public, I have done everything in my power to help victims of abuse and assault know they are not alone. I have worked on legislation and testified in legislative hearings to further victims’ rights. I share my experiences where I can in hopes of challenging communities to not shy away from conversations about abuse and how we can recognize its harmful effects.

If we are really going to make a difference in supporting victims and helping them heal, we must approach these tragedies with sensitivity and trauma-informed responses. We must increase our awareness of the general problem and use our influence to talk effectively and aptly about difficult topics. We must increase support for victim support services. And we must all do our part to limit the added trauma and shame that victims experience.

Deondra Brown

Deondra Brown is a pianist with The 5 Browns and a candidate for Senate District 14.