There’s a little girl sitting across from me. She has big brown eyes and dark wavy hair that doesn’t want to stay in its pony tail. She looks at me shyly inching her way closer to her mom.
What is she thinking?
Is she wondering why her mom is crying….again?
Is she wondering if I’m going to poke her in places she doesn’t want to be poked?
Is she scared her mom is going to leave her here?
Is she scared her uncle is going to hurt her….again?
In between sobs her mom answers my questions. How has the abuse affected your daughter? What changes have you noticed in her? Is she having nightmares? How has it affected you? Can you sleep? Has the person been arrested? Do you have a safe place to stay?
The little girl looks at the coloring book and crayons I sat down next to her when we first walked in the room. I remind her that if she wants to she can color. I ask her what her favorite color is. She slowly reaches into the box and pulls out a crayon.
“Is that purple?” I ask
She laughs…it’s the first sound she’s made a sound in the 20 minutes I’ve been sitting with them.
“NO!! IT’S PINK! DUH!”
I didn’t even know kids still said duh. This of course makes me laugh. She relaxes a little and starts to color. However, as soon as I start asking more questions about her uncle, her hand stops moving. When I ask her mom if it’s happened one time or more than one time she looks up and answers. It was more than one time…
This brave little girl. How many times has she been hurt? How many times is she going to have to tell her story? How many times is she going to watch her mom cry and think it’s because of something she did?
Her mom leaves the room so she and I can talk. We chit chat at first, and then we talk about what counseling is. I let her know that it’s a safe place, and there will be other little girls too.
“Will there be any boys?”
“Nope just girls”
“Good! Boys are yucky”
She picks up another color and continues coloring.
This little girl no longer lives in a carefree world, and everyone is now a potential threat. Aside from her caregivers, I’m one of the first people that she will trust after her abuse. In 30 minutes, she has to have enough trust in me to know that if her mom walks out of the room, I will not hurt her.
Working with children is not just talking about what happened. It’s also about letting kids know that there are people in the world who are trustworthy and won’t hurt them. We need to show them respect. Treat them as people not as children. We need to respect their boundaries. We need to listen to what they’re saying, not only in words, but in their expressions and actions. It’s about going at their pace, and making sure they know that they are the boss.
The Houston Area Women’s Center provides individual and group counseling for children (ages 5-18) who have witnessed domestic violence and for children who are survivors of sexual abuse and incest. Isabel Martinez has been a children’s counselor at the Houston Area Women’s Center for six years.