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As a child Laura was abused, as an adult she was always sick.

“I’d stand there, trying not to hear [my mum] as she went on and on, my whole body shaking inside.”

Laura never invited friends over for fear they would find out her secret – her mum wasn’t like other mums.

“My mum would go on a vitriolic diatribe about my dad until spittle fell on her chin.”

In her mid 30s Laura began suffering from migraines that landed her in bed for days at a time. 

At 40, Laura developed an autoimmune thyroid disease.

Next thing Laura knew, she was a heart disease patient undergoing surgery. 

This is an excerpt from Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology And How You Can Heal, a book by Donna Jackson Nakazawa that looks at the complicated, though very powerful, connection between the brain and the body.

A connection best seen in the way childhood trauma changes brain development.

The size and shape of the brain is affected.

The cells are impacted.

The DNA itself is also changed.

These are all due to traumatic events experienced during childhood. The potential problems resulting from these changes aren’t solely psychological – they can be physiological too. Research has found traumatic childhood experiences can lead to a greater risk of cancer and autoimmune disease, as well as a shorter lifespan in those affected.

A large-scale epidemiological study by physicians Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda looked to the childhood trauma of 17,000 participants and analysed the physical problems they faced later in life.

By measuring the rate of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are chronic, unpredictable and stress-inducing situations children face, they found a “surprising” correlation between the amount of ACEs and the potential for health problems later in life.

Examples of ACEs might include growing up with a depressed or alcoholic parent, losing a parent, suffering from physical or sexual abuse or experiencing severe humiliation or neglect. ACE’s are not normal stressful events that occur in the everyday life of a child.

Here’s what you need to know about the occurrence of ACEs and health problems later in life:

  • Experiencing four or more categories of ACEs means an individual is twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer, compared to someone without any ACEs.

  • A woman’s risk of being hospitalised with an autoimmune disease increases by 20% for every ACE they’ve experienced.

  • An ACE score of four means an individual is 460% more likely to suffer from depression than someone with an ACE score of zero.

  • An ACE score of six or greater can shorten an individual’s lifespan by almost 20 years.

Women share experiences of sexual violence on Twitter. Post continues below video.

With these facts in mind, consider the following statistics around the prevalence of child abuse in Australia:

  • Between 5-10% of Australian children experience physical abuse

  • Around 11% experience emotional maltreatment

  • Between 12-233% witness family violence

  • From  7% to 12% of girls, and 4-8% of boys, experience penetrative sexual abuse

  • From 23-36% of girls, and 12-16% of boys, experience non-penetrative sexual abuse

The implications of child abuse are complex and far reaching. The link between emotional abuse and physical health as an adult has huge implications, not only for the child in question but also for society as a whole.

By failing to protect the young people of our community, we are contributing to a pattern of long-term pain in these individuals, and immense strain on the families, friends and health systems involved.

They were hurt as children and they continue, both mentally and physically, to be hurt as adults.