At the Community of Hope, a shelter in downtown Washington, counselors help abused women and children every day.
Family therapist Mary Curran has kept meticulous statistics on some of the families she sees. Her findings are not necessarily representative of life in the community she serves, but only of those people who sought help at the clinic. Still, they give some insight into the nature of family violence in the nation's cities. Some 65 percent of the adult population that comes through the shelter has spent more than five years before the age of 18 separated from their own parents. This group of about 75 women "never felt part of a family," Curran says. "Particularly in the adolescent years, not having learned any life skills, there is a feeling on their part that they were abused emotionally and sometimes physically in that situation."Over 60 percent of these women were sexually abused by a family member during their own childhood. Half of the abused group said their mothers knew of the abuse and allowed it to continue.
"I've had a number of women who were sexually abused say to me about their own children, 'Well, I survived. So they'll survive.' "
Curran runs groups to teach mothers of the problems abuse can create in terms of ego development and self-esteem and the ability to build intimate relationships. "As they began to be aware of what this was doing to their child," she says, "and as they got in touch with their own anger about what had happened to them, they were able to change the situation considerably."
Curran has lived in area of the Community of Hope at 14th and Belmont streets NW, and she says, "Despite the taboos, it is my feeling that about 70 percent or more of the girls and boys are sexually abused.
"Given that high percentage of abuse, along with the high rate of i.v. drug abusers, I'm wondering how many children will contract AIDS?"
According to Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, "we've already seen a few cases of AIDS in sexually abused children. And we expect more."