The experience of child abuse and family violence rocks the very core of children. It changes the ways they understand their world, the people in it and where they belong. They develop distorted rules about relationships – ones that are built on mistrust, fear and betrayal. They feel out of place in their family and with their friends. They feel separate and alone. The memories of abuse are pronounced and ever present. Small reminders may cause them to relive their fear and confusion. The world itself, is experienced as dangerous for abused children – a place without haven or safety.
Hope is the outcome of change for children. It is like a wave that carries them into the future with fun, enthusiasm and optimism. Hope is the first moment in time when they dare to dream. For these children, hope comes from feeling that their experiences of abuse no longer separate them from their friends and family. They know that they do not have to feel alone any more. They start to really feel a sense of safety in themselves and in those around them.
Cynthia called this picture ‘Hope.’ It shows that getting over the pain, anger and despair associated with abuse is a slow but steady process. Cynthia had carried the secret of sexual abuse by a cousin for over 10 years. But after several months of counselling, her drawings of despair changed to pictures of hope and optimism.
Crying ChildRebecca, 9
Rebecca was sexually abused by an uncle and rejected by her parents following her disclosure of the abuse. The child in her drawing has no mouth, fingers or feet. Unable to speak, fight or move, she is powerless and paralysed other than for her tears dropping into two pools.
Hope With a LeafSasha, 15
Sasha had been sexually abused by her stepfather. In counselling, she created this beautiful artwork that shows her crushed spirit growing and coming back to life.
Alone and LostStella, 13
Stella was sexually abused by her father between the ages of 4 and 7, but her disclosure of abuse was not believed. As a result, Stella had not lived with either parent for 2 years when she drew this picture. She felt abandoned by her parents and in the picture, her parents are turned away from her and leaving her alone and lost in the forest.
The Invisible PrincessLisa, 14
Lisa was sexually abused by her father for a period of two years. She had been in counselling for three years when she drew this picture. She still remembered how guilty she felt for not telling her mother about the abuse, and her message is clear
My Best FriendElizabeth ,11
After a lifetime of feeling alone and not important to anyone, Elizabeth was at last able to draw a picture of people in her life who cared about her and showed her she mattered.
Stella felt unable to fit in with her group of peers. She is the black butterfly crying in the corner. She feels different from her group of friends because she was sexually abused. She admires them and they are represented by the butterfly in glorious colour flying far away from her.
A Full HeartAlex, 8
Alex felt he had lost a lot of his heart when he kept having to hear and watch his father hit and hurt his mother, but after counselling, he felt that his heart was finally full again.
At age 15, Melinda had been hospitalised for three suicide attempts. She had suffered emotional and physical abuse by her parents. Melinda felt worthless, but counselling gave her some hope that change could occur.
Flying above worriesScott, 10
Scott witnessed severe domestic violence between his parents for several years. He said the games in counselling took his mind off other things. After a period of counselling, Scott drew this picture. He explained the bird in his drawing was a symbol of freedom in the city and in the air and said, “I feel free now.”
Sad BoyFred, 8
Fred drew himself after being told that he was not able to go home due to rejection by his parents. His sadness at his decision is very evident in his face.
Scary feelingsMitchell, 11
Mitchell witnessed long-term family violence and when he drew this picture, he was afraid of his father’s return to the family. He said, “Sometimes I have been scared that I will get hurt by a monster just like the person in the drawing.”
I am a PrincessJay, 7
Jay stopped feeling anything for a long time after she was sexually abused by the man who lived next door. Her mum and dad made her feel special by telling her how much they loved her and that they were proud of her for telling them that she had been hurt. She started to feel more and more like a princess because she was being kind to her friends and her brothers and sisters. To her, princesses are kind and beautiful.
Where it Still HurtsJosh, 9
Josh had been a victim of severe domestic violence from early childhood. He remembered trying to disappear from his body so that he didn’t have to watch the violence between mum and dad. He was also sexually abused by his father. He drew these two pictures six months apart. The first, in his early stages of counselling, depicts what it is like to be him. His body is blacked out with very dark crayon. His explanation was that he was “hiding”. The second picture shows him having emerged from behind the blackness. The arrows in the picture point to the areas where he continued to feel hurt.