Our Theory of Change

We believe everyone in the family can heal from anything, including child sexual abuse.  
We start with a systems perspective.
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The harm can reverberate through a family system for decades after the abuse has ended, often due to the way family members react to the harm events.
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Family members who want to face the harm are often left without a roadmap. There is little out there guiding family members in how to best support healing and repair after the devastating impact of child sexual abuse. Without the proper understanding of how to move through the pain, the emotional exhaustion can become too much.
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Navigating the complexities of child sexual abuse on a family system, community or society takes informed understanding, consistent support, and the patient resilience for the long haul. Without that perspective the family can fracture. Unhealthy coping mechanisms, both turned inward and outward, can further damage individual lives and their relationship to loved ones.
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Families can come to a stuck place in their healing. They slowly give up on the chance they can heal from the harm. The heavy weight of the healing work is often transferred to the one who was harmed, while the rest go back to their lives and try to move on. The unhealed impact of sexual abuse on a family system can continue on for years, and even into the next generation in myriad dysfunctional ways.
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Every family member has an important part to play, if they are willing, in the recovery process. It can be done. We just need to know how and have the courage to do the work.

Our Theory of Change involves a three part journey for any member of a family impacted by the sexual abuse of a young person in their lives.


Do our individual healing work

First, if we're willing to play a part in the healing, we must first do our own work to understand the impact the shame event has had on us personally. It's not uncommon for the one harmed to feel obligated to do the healing work due to the intense trauma reactions we experience, while the rest of the family minimizes, denies, or waits for us to 'get over it.'

In this stage, we begin to remove the first barrier to healing: our inability to address the problem because it is too painful. Understandably overwhelmed and unsure of how to find our way out, we can respond to the shame events with distorted perspectives, harming ourselves and others in the process.

We must not lean on the victim in these moments but find our way to an affinity group with others who have similar experiences. Non-offending parents with other non-offending parents. Those who have harmed and are ready to take responsibility with others who know that path. Partners, siblings, and adult children are given a chance to see how they have been impacted. It is in these spaces that we can understand ourselves better, see what we need, and start the journey toward healing. 

Step into the collective healing

We know that isolation is a potent force in child sexual abuse. While it can be protective at times, it also can keep us from fully healing. Our healing begins when someone who was impacted by sexual harm discloses what they went through for the first time, and we are witnessed by another who is willing to hold the experience without judgment and with deep compassion.

We begin in affinity spaces with others who have a similar experience to ours, but eventually transition into a phase when we can open to the negative impact child sexual abuse has had on others in a family system. Sometimes that can occur in one family, but often it happens with those from other families who have shown up to the work.

Having a person who caused harm engage in their accountability process in the presence of someone who was harmed can be a profoundly healing experience. A non-offending parent who is doing the hard work to learn and heal, sitting with someone whose non-offending parent is not willing to do the work, can be a comforting experience that leads to profound healing.

We cannot heal alone, and we do not spend a lot of time worrying about those who won't do the work, when we have a community full of those who will.


Prepare yourself for prevention

One in three girls, and one in six boys will be harmed sexually before turning 18 years old. Child sexual abuse is an epidemic, and needs to be addressed as a public health issue. Considering all the negative impacts this type of harm can have on an individual and their family, it is shocking how little attention it gets beyond the initial shock value seen in the media.

There are three skills all adults must develop in order to prevent sexual harm from taking hold in their own communities. First, we must learn not to turn away. We must understand our intense emotional reactions to this kind of harm, in order to respond appropriately. Second, we must be skilled in compassionately intervening whenever we see a boundary crossing. Our willingness to set healthy boundaries without shaming anyone will go a long way in prevention. Lastly, when someone does disclose an uncomfortable boundary crossings or an act of sexual harm, we must know how to support that person in a way that keeps them safe without re-traumatizing them.

At Hidden Water, we are currently working on a curriculum to be delivered in a community setting to support those interested in learning how to prevent child sexual abuse and manage disclosures of harm. Protecting children is the responsibility of all adults. Let’s learn how.