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Cheryl Sharp

Senior Advisor for Trauma-Informed Services

Are There Reasons Behind Bad Behavior?

December 11, 2014 | Mental Health Treatment | Comments
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Trauma is not an excuse for behavior, but it can be a reason for it.  Mike Tyson’s recent declaration that he was sexually abused as a child suggests that his early experiences might have contributed to a life defined by rage and violence.

Tyson spoke of his experience during an awkward interview on Opie Radio, stating  that he was not sure if being sexually abused had impacted him or not. Inside the ring, his notoriety and success as a boxer is marked by aggressive acts. And outside the ring, his tumultuous personal life has often been in the headlines. Some have said his problems stemmed from traumatic brain injury. It certainly did not help an already troubled man, but his abuse at the age of seven could explain so much more.

The National Sex Offender Public Website reports that 62,939 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in 2012. Darkness to Light cites child sexual abuse as the most prevalent health problem children face — and the one with the most serious array of consequences.

About one in 10 children will be sexually abused.

About one in seven girls and one in 25 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

This year, there will be about 400,000 babies born in the U.S. who will become victims of child sexual abuse; unless we do something to stop it.

Adverse Childhood Experiences can impact mental and physical health well into adulthood. They directly correlate to suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, and addictions and increase the likelihood of being justice–involved. There is a direct correlation to a myriad of difficult-to-treat medical conditions.  Understanding these relationships is key to providing the best integrated services.

We have to start asking the question “What happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?”  And, we have to begin operating from a trauma-informed perspective as we deliver services. We must recognize that many people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses have a history of trauma. We have to start reframing our conversations to remove the shame, stigma, and hopelessness of child sexual abuse and offer hope and possibilities for healing. Trauma is not an excuse, but for people like Mike Tyson, it can offer reasons for behavior — and perhaps if help is provided in time we can avoid the perpetuation of pain that is all too often the result of untreated trauma.

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