Vulnerability takes many forms.
It can look like physical frailty, lack of strength, or lack of size.
It can look like lack of information or experience.
It can look like physical or psychological disability.
It can look like youth— or age.
Factors that might not make one person particularly vulnerable, might be devastating to another person’s ability to make decisions and defend themselves.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to assessing vulnerability. Everybody’s capacities, including their relative strengths and weaknesses, are at least a little different.
There is one thing we can say across the board when it comes to vulnerability, however: when someone is vulnerable, they are not responsible for what is done to them by a less vulnerable person.
Children tend to be more vulnerable than adults, due to their youth, size, and lack of life experience. They are not responsible for what is imposed on them by adults.
No child is ever responsible for having been abused by an adult.
No child is ever “to blame” for not having reported abuse or not having asked for help.
Children are not responsible for the trauma inflicted upon them, or for not being able or willing to reach out for help.
Most of us might instinctively realize the truth of this. Even though many childhood abuse victims grow up blaming themselves either for being in an abusive situation in the first place, or for having “let it go on” by not reporting, most of us— at least when we step back from the situation— have a hard time holding a child responsible for having been abused by an adult.
Many of us are not as charitable when it comes to adults, however.
Many people, even if they are willing to be realistic bout the fact that children don’t “ask for” trauma or abuse, then turn right around and hold adults to a much different standard.
When an adult is in an abusive situation, it’s often asked why that adult didn’t simply leave.
When an adult is in an abusive situation, it’s often asked why they let it go on, instead of reaching out for help or reporting their abuser.
It is very important to understand that many of the same factors that keep children from escaping or reporting abuse, are operational with adults…especially if those adults grew up having been abused.
In order to escape, avoid, and prevent abusive situations, specific knowledge and skills are necessary. Emotional regulation skills, planning and organizational skills, and behavior management skills all come into play.
If you can’t manage your fear, figure out how to escape, be able to plan where to go and how to avoid the potential danger presented by an abuser, you’re not going to get far.
People aren’t born knowing how to do all of that.
And if people grow up being abused themselves, it’s unlikely they’ve learned.
In fact, it’s very likely they’ve not learned any of those skills, at least not in an applicable way.
The variable at play here isn’t age. It’s vulnerability.
The same standard simply does not apply to more vulnerable people and less vulnerable people.
Assuming that everyone in an abusive situation had equal resources to escape it is like assuming that everyone has equal resources to pay for attorneys when they get into legal trouble.
It just isn’t the case.
The temptation to blame or shame adults who find themselves in abusive situations is strong.
We like to blame and shame them, because it reinforces this delusion that WE’LL never be in that situation, because WE know how to prevent or escape it.
Blame and shame don’t help anyone.
That goes DOUBLE for blaming or shaming yourself.
We need to get past it.
We need to realize that abuse situations really do a number on our ability to cope and function.
And above all, we need to get realistic and compassionate about what abuse victims need.
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