Most of us would shudder to ever think that we would enable a predator or an abuser to abuse a child. To enable is defined as:
- To provide the means or opportunity; to make possible, practical, or easy; to cause to operate
- To give legal power, capacity, or sanction to
With this definition would you say that if someone ignores the warnings signs of abuse, or blatantly allows their own child to be used or abused by another person is an enabler? Wouldn’t you agree the answer must be Yes!
For child abuse to stop, one of the biggest things that needs to happen is for others to wake up to what is going on. Educating yourself on Grooming and other ways that child sexual predators operate is imperative and well worth the time and effort. Enabling happens wittingly and unwittingly. The result is equally the same on the victim – the emotional, physical, psychological and brain injuries are the same.
As a society and as neighbours, prevention would include times when an individual knows or suspects abuse or neglect. The thoughts of ‘I don’t want to get involved’, or ‘maybe I’m imagining things’, or ‘I wouldn’t like someone else to call about me’, push aside the protection and safety of the child. According to the above definition, if an adult suspects something wrong and does nothing, this can be classified as enabling. Here in British Columbia, Canada, we have a legal duty to report concerns to a child welfare worker. Calling after hours 1.800.663.9122 gives one the option to report anonymously. So yes, there is a duty to report. The Child, Family and Community Services Act requires “anyone who has reason to believe that a child or youth has been or is likely to be abused or neglected, and that the parent is unwilling or unable to protect the child or youth, must report the suspected abuse or neglect to a child welfare worker.” Sobering, isn’t it?
We know that on September 15, 2021 the Senate Judiciary Committee was investigating the role two FBI agents played that enabled Larry Nassar to keep sexually abusing and molesting female gymnasts. Senator Cory Booker said: “The one saying that rings in my head is the only way for injustice to continue is for good people to do nothing.… It shouldn’t take something to directly happen to us to trigger our empathy and our action.…We are all playing a part in a culture that allows this to happen.”
Senator Blumenthal said some strong words directly to FBI Director, Christopher Wary: “the actions and inactions are totally unacceptable. [italics mine] … These individuals betrayed the core duties that they have of protecting people. They failed to protect young women and girls from abuse.” He also said that the false statements by the two FBI agents “is blood curdling”. The inaction he referred to can be labeled as enabling and it becomes institutional betrayal.
Clearly, enabling abusers to continue strongly incites our sense of justice and we cry out for such. And it is the abused victims who are exhausted, worn down, physically dealing with the aftermath of the sexual abuse, sometimes for the rest of their lives. The victim-shaming and denial and coercion all takes a toll. Aly Raisman, one of the gymnastic athletes who survived the abuse, described how far reaching the aftermath and residual impact of sexual abuse has in her own health, where she spoke to her extreme fatigue, and it led to collapse. It was due to the exhaustion of healing from the trauma. She is not alone. Most, if not all trauma survivors suffer various physical challenges; fatigue and brain fog are very common.
This type of outrage at the egregious actions on the part of the two FBI agents and Larry Nassar and the USGA, USOC and the USPC clearly has ignited outrage regarding the enabling and the cover-up that took place. We all feel this betrayal. As onlookers, we also can experience a certain level of vicarious trauma betrayal, simply by knowing this happened and by watching the legal and judicial proceedings.
Another example of institutional betrayal and enabling is the ongoing news releases on the sexual abuse cover ups within the Catholic Church. Now there are more than 200,000 that the French clergy [in France] have abused since 1950. This is just one ‘Catholic’ country. How many victims in total does this make now? One article stated the church had shown “deep, total and even cruel indifference for years,” by protecting itself rather than the victims of the systemic abuse. It is important to note here that child sexual abuse is not exclusive to the Catholic Church. Sexual predators love religion, all religions. Where else can one find a more submissive target that in an organization where all are taught to be forgiving, to be loving and kind, to be obedient? And time nor space will not permit delving into the atrocities committed against the helpless child victims of the colonization of the indigenous populations via the residential schools in North America and beyond. This will be discussed at another time.
Yes, the opposite of love isn’t hatred, it’s indifference. And this is where the painful betrayal comes from too. The feeling that we don’t matter, that our pain doesn’t matter, our story and what happened to us doesn’t matter. Righteous indignation often arises coupled with the hurt and betrayal. True we cannot undo what has been done. Owning up – being accountable – and doing one’s best to make up or right the wrong goes a long way towards the healing of trauma for the victim survivors.
Now let’s think of a domestic situation. If one caregiver of a child does not prevent another parent or adult from verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually abusing the child, what message does that send to the child? The one adult is enabling or granting permission via inaction. In some areas of the world, it is now an avenue for social services to remove a child/ren from a home when there is domestic violence because of the long-term impact this has on the children – witnessing violence is abuse. So, if witnessing violence is considered abuse how much more so is enabling the abuse? Does this not also cause abuse?
I will not go into the reasons why a parent may not stand up for the child. I am simply giving what is happening a name. We need to call it what it is. Silence on the part of onlookers is enabling, choosing to ignore what is seen or heard is enabling. Not holding the perpetrator nor the institutions accountable is enabling, all which result in another layer of betrayal.
What I’ve found is that it’s not just people who are enablers. The biggest enablers are Denial, Silence, Apathy, Ignorance, and Complicity. All these are choices that one makes in life. We all have free will. So, choosing to look the other way over facing the truth, choosing to deny what is seen over being open to it, choosing to be apathetic over caring, choosing ignorance and complicity over compassion– these are decisions one can make every single day.
Enabling can show up in subtle ways too. It usually isn’t bold and obvious. That’s why education on enabling is so important. In a home environment, enabling can show up in just being too busy as a parent or caregiver to notice when a child is suffering or is struggling. Enabling can show up when a parent or caregiver is not emotionally intelligent to the feelings of the child/ren or when there is an environment that is emotionally neglectful. Enabling can show up as a lack of attunement in the parent/child relationship. Enabling often happens when the caregiver has not processed his/her own trauma.
Enabling shows up after the victim discloses what happened and those close to the accused/perpetrator maintain the same relationship with the accused and over time, end up ignoring or ostracizing the victim. Pretending the abuse didn’t happen enables the perpetrator to stay in his/her own denial and accountability is never expected. This enabling, this cover-up is extremely painful for the abuse survivor to watch and endure. And it is damaging to the abuser; it impedes their own personal growth.
Let’s go back to the definition of enabling: To provide the means or opportunity; to make possible, practical, or easy; to cause to operate. Enabling, covering up, remaining silent, looking the other way, pretending that what is noticed isn’t happening never helps the victim, never helps in the healing, never supports the building up of the health and well-being of citizens in any nation.
All I ask that that you name what you see, notice this is happening when it happens, trust your gut, and come to the aid of the victim. Being silent never helps the victim. Silence always helps the abuser – it helps the abuser to keep on abusing.
Lisa B Hilton, CTRC, is a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach working with adults who’ve survived childhood trauma. She herself is a childhood trauma survivor. She supports these ones in transforming their travesty into triumph. She coaches clients on a one-to-one basis and in closed group coaching sessions. She is a blogger, an educator on childhood trauma, a consultant. She is a wife, mother, dream supporter and has a passion for supporting people connect to their authentic selves so that they can live life in the freedom they’ve always wanted.
She can be contacted through hiltoncoachingconsulting.com or through