The prefrontal cortex (the thinking brain) controls the amygdala (the primitive brain) in all situations other than trauma. During a traumatic event, the amygdala takes over, and the goal becomes survival. Automatic, life-saving responses highjack the thinking brain, forcing it to choose between flight, fight or freeze. This response happens involuntarily.
If the sexual abuse occurs more than once and over time, the strong, primitive responses of fight, flight or freeze are repeatedly triggered. Sometimes, a child is left constantly looking for signs of potential threat and ready to choose flight, fight or freeze at a moment’s notice
In 2012, Florida Department of Children and Families served 53,341 children. Of these children, 5,601 (10.5%) were sexual abuse cases.
Once parents, caregivers, professionals, concerned community members and survivors began to speak out and demand that child sexual abuse be prosecuted, the perpetrators lost their greatest advantage: secrecy and denial. States strengthened or passed new laws imposing stricter penalties for sexual perpetrators and the courts prosecuted accordingly. Learn more about legal and supportive efforts in the state of Florida on the next page.
Triggers may also initiate a flashback, which is the feeling that the event is currently happening. During a flashback, the child’s primitive brain may automatically take control to deal with what is perceived to be reality. When this happens, the child will choose flight, fight or freeze. One good response is to help the child regain a connection with the environment. For example, you might say, “Look at the sky. See the birds? Can you hear them?” Don’t be surprised if it takes a while to reconnect. Keep trying. Do not address behavior and emotions until the child is reconnected.