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‘Child warriors’ open up about traumatic experiences

on 15/09/2019

Deng Adut was twelve when he held his first AK47.

南宁桑拿

After years of practicing with toy wooden guns, his new weapon felt heavy and awkward, nearly reaching his shoulders. Still, it wasn’t long before it became his only form of security.

“When I didn’t have my guns with me you feel like naked,” Adut tells SBS’s Insight. “But once you have the guns, you have so much power in your hands. Every time I have my gun it’s always loaded. Safety button is off because I know at any time something would happen.”

When Adut was a very young child, he was taken from his family to be trained as a solider in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. He says he was often beaten and tortured for disobedience and had close friends who were killed. Adut also witnessed many killings by firing squad, which he says was one of the first things he was exposed to as a child soldier.

“You see these people falling down and the blood just keep flowing. I remember one guy refused to die. He refused to die until he was shot in the head and those memories were shocking.”

While Adut was forcibly taken and trained as a child soldier, others like former Neo-Nazi skinhead Frank Meeink willingly chose to join extreme causes as a child.

‘I LOVED SEEING FEAR IN THEIR EYES’

Growing up in a troubled and abusive home in the United States, Meeink was indoctrinated into the Neo-Nazi movement at the age of 14.

“As I joined into this movement I become part of the Christian identity which is the far right Christian group. We would go to bible studies, learn about how we should hate the Jews and the gays. Then we’d go out, at bible studies, we’d shoot guns at targets and plan to start a race war in America.”

Anyone that was not of European descent or part of his circle was an enemy he tells Insight. Meeink adds that the movement gave him a sense of identity and belonging, but above all, he “loved” being feared.

“I remember looking in people’s eyes when we would come up on them and seeing fear in their eyes and I loved that. Up until that moment in my life I feared everything,” he tellsInsight.

Meeink has since abandoned his beliefs but he joins a number of people on the Insight forum who, as children, were exposed to extreme – and often traumatic – political situations.

RECOVERING FROM TRAUMA

Clinical psychologist Deborah Gould works at the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) and sees many people such as refugees who have lived through traumatic events like war.

“A lot of the effects that we see on children are from parents who are themselves traumatised and struggle to parent. If a parent is traumatised, one of the messages is that the world isn’t safe,” she says.

“There is also a shattering of assumptions about life and that people are good. Those are quite horrible lessons for a child to learn.”

But people can recover. Gould says that the key to teach survivors how to react differently to former emotional patterns and triggers.

“What we aim for is for them to always remember [the trauma] but not to have the trauma response to the memory. If they have developed something like PTSD, trauma counselling is important.

“But in some cultures the idea of talking about something doesn’t make sense. [In these cases] physical activity is the most therapeutic thing, for example meditation, yoga, theatre and dance. The key is to have some form of intervention rather than nothing.”

Catch Insight tonight at 8.30PM on SBS ONE.

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