In HBO’s shocking new documentary, Leaving Neverland, we witness the horrifying spectacle of pop star Michael Jackson allegedly sexually abusing young boys, preying on them with his fame.
Not to mention ongoing revelations about legions of Catholic priests who have sexually abused children over decades. All this bad news is yet another reminder that the world must protect its children.
Nobody knows this better than renowned clinical psychologist Linda Olson, who has committed the last 30 years of her medical practice to treating survivors of childhood sexual abuse, violence and trauma.
Having founded the nation’s first regional chapter of the Childhood Domestic Violence Association, Dr. Olson knows about childhood abuse from the inside out, having been a victim of childhood domestic violence herself, among 40 million Americans who are:
“UNICEF,” she notes, “calls childhood domestic violence (CDV) one of the most pervasive unaddressed human rights violations in the world, an epidemic affecting 275 million children globally.
“One out of seven children grows up witnessing violence between their parents or caregiver, or experiences physical or emotional abuse directly.”
Imagine little kids being slapped, punched, kicked, thrown down stairs, choked or bit, not to mention verbal threats, intimidation and coercion. This leaves them in constant terror, feeling alone, hopeless, helpless.
The consequences of this multi-generational disease are tragic ones: “Kids who grow up in violent homes are six times more likely to commit suicide, 50 times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and 74 times more likely to commit a violent crime. And most importantly, CDV is the single biggest predictor of becoming a victim or perpetrator later in life.”
Dr. Olson is no exception—having grown up in a violent home with parents who were constantly fighting, her out-of-control mother both physically and emotionally abusive to all six children: “She slapped and hit us in the face, pulled our hair, choked us, pulled out pants down to beat us with a belt, always chasing us around, beating us up. Bloody noses were very common.”
As the eldest of the siblings, Linda learned to protect her siblings and later turned her nurturing temperament into a commitment to heal others by becoming a therapist. But in her personal life, she perpetuated the cycle of pain by choosing violent men:
“I always chose very angry, judgmental, super bright men who were sexually, physically, and emotionally abusive.” Her 22-year-old marriage fell into this pattern, “and I kept thinking he would change or that I could ‘fix’ him. I was in massive denial.”
Ultimately, Dr. Olson was able to break free from her husband and divorce him only once she saw the effects the violence was having on her three sons.
While she escaped the cycle of abuse, two of her younger sisters were not so fortunate, the violence they endured as children having tragic consequences.
Dr. Olson’s youngest sister, Anne, 25, was shot and killed at gunpoint by a violent boyfriend. Her other sister, Mary, was in and out of abusive relationships. “And she died of a broken heart,” says Dr. Olson, ” homeless and alone at 50, her depression and borderline personality disorder never treated. She felt completely worthless. Both of my sisters were victims of childhood domestic violence and it ultimately killed them.”
The wreckage of her own marriage and the tragedy of her sisters’ fate has only strengthened Dr. Olson’s resolve to shine a light for all those affected by CDV.
Inspired by the trailblazing book about childhood domestic violence, INVINCIBLE, written by crusader and philanthropist Brian Martin, Dr. Olson hopes to write an inspiring memoir of her own, based upon her childhood years and her clinical experience. She also plans to write a children’s book to comfort those who are in the midst of such trauma, as no such book currently exists.
Nurturing Dr. Olson along in this process is Joseph Cohen, co–creator of Empowered Fathers In Action, encouraging positive relationships between fathers and their children. Olson has also been supported in her mission by veteran media specialist Tom Martin, who worked for years at CBS Sunday morning as a producer.
To comfort kids around the world, Dr. Olson has also founded Project Hope Bear, intended to help grieving children and families find hope after loss and/or witnessing domestic violence. The organization provides an adorable teddy bear to kids, as studies have shown that a cuddly stuffed animal reduces a sense of loneliness and anxiety for anyone who has experienced trauma, violence and loss.
Wouldn’t you like to make a contribution to fund this teddy bear program, so children who need that tenderness and comfort can get it?
We’re lucky to have a Dr. Olson on the job!