Aug 23, 2011

Sexual Abuse and the Street

I am asked frequently about sexual abuse in the shaping of homeless street youth's lives. It is a certainly a component that is very present in the lives of many clients. Its effects may be very visible  or they may be lurking beneath the surface in maladapted behaviors. Or they may be very hidden, tucked far from reach. By the time a youth gets to me, they almost all report physical abuse and violence and often sexual abuse. But the abuse often comes on the street. I believe sexual abuse is both a cause of street-dependency in some cases and a by-product of street-dependency in many cases.

Young sexual abuse victims often need to be in a relationship with someone at all times. Their attachment model is different than a young adult who didn't experience abuse. And young sexual abuse victims often numb themselves with drugs and alcohol, either knowingly or sub-consciously. But with help and maturation (the adult brain doesn't fully mature until age 26, not even accounting for any delayed development factors), they can improve.

I don't often go into the sexual abuse backgrounds of clients. I learn to identify them by behaviors and focus on moving them forward with strengths-based solution focused methods. The street is not usually a safe place from which to dissect their past and confront the terrible reality of sexual abuse. My goal is normally to help them become more stable and begin moving forward, believing they will come to a safer and more stable place in the future where they can better deal with their past.

Several clients have a poor history of selecting boyfriends and girlfriends, of bringing children into the world who need foster care, and of generally having maladapted coping skills to navigate the world. I work with them as they are and am privileged to get to know their strengths and gifts. They are highly troubled young people, but they do improve.

One client was discussing with me how she no longer sees her body as something she can simply give away for comfort or protection from a boy. She is learning to be single. It's hard because she feels unsafe and exposed. But she's proud to be single right now.

Another client told me how she's learning not to use her monthly income to buy favors from friends. She's seeing that these aren't all real friends. Some of them just use her to get stuff. She's proud to be saving money for a down payment on an apartment.

Another client went through a crisis where she had to face a recent violent sexual incident. She had to tell her boyfriend (a source of support) what she needed from him. She was unsure she could do that, but she's proud to have used her voice to better cope with the situation and to improve her relationship with her boyfriend.

"To know, love and serve street dependent youth."
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