By Bernadette A. Moyer
Today we all know that sexual abuse is a crime and a crime that needs to be reported. Years ago it wasn’t that way and was most often buried to try and protect the victim. Protecting the victim often allowed the abuser to get away with the crimes of sexual abuse. Many times it was considered a “family matter.”
The abuser is typically someone’s family member, a father, an uncle, a brother, a son and no one wants to believe that their family member is capable of sexual abuse of a child. We want to think that we can tell by looking at someone if they are an abuser. But the reality is that sexual abusers are not the “boogey man” nor are they strangers. They are people that we trust or we wouldn’t allow them around our children.
Most of the time they are charming and well liked, and they are also very manipulative. I had a bird’s eye seat to the fall out related to sexual abuse in my own family. It would be the man that married my mother that would be accused of abuse. A child trusted me enough to confide in me and I believed them.
Initially other family members said they too believed the victim, but later they stated, “Well if it really happened why wasn’t he arrested?” And other family that would declare with conviction, “It never happened!” They did not want to believe it or even hear about it. Denial was the constant. One of the saddest parts about the person who declared “it never happened” was that he/she was a well-respected long time elementary school teacher. Teachers are taught more than most professionals and they should know better. This person was blinded by their love for the abuser.
Social workers will tell you that most often the accusations will be met with disbelief in the family and then they will go into self- preservation mode. They often target the victim and the messenger rather than take a good hard look at the accused. They just don’t want to believe it.
And why do they choose denial?
Because to believe it would mean that they have to change their life and they don’t want to do that. Part of it is ego. We think we know when we love someone and we want to believe that we are right about them. Certainly if we love them and see their value they couldn’t possibly be molesting young children?
In order for my mother to believe that her husband was guilty, she would have had to leave him, to divorce him and she didn’t want to do that. Her children would find themselves on the outside looking in if they didn’t go along with living her lie. I know this because that was my fate. In her denial I was to be discarded and discredited and denied. Her children later followed her lead and would do the same, right up until her death when I was omitted from her obituary. What was my crime? I couldn’t go along with the lies and with the denial and most of all with the hurt and the misdirected rage and anger.
Meanwhile the child and the children that were abused are not only left not to be believed but the whole thing gets turned around on them. If they can discredit the victim and any adults that support the child victim they can take the focus off of the abuser.
Once sexual abuse is reported it takes on a life of its own, there will be social workers, police, detectives and judges involved. It is a crime. The child will be put through a host of interviews and exams both physically and mentally. Are they telling the truth? Does the story stay the same or change with each telling? Are they consistent, telling the truth and are they credible?
The family and the abused child will need all kinds of support. They may become the target of rage and false accusations so that they can be discredited. No one wants to believe that “Uncle Johnny” is a child molester. Most families will fight for the family reputation over the child accuser and the victim.
Studies support that few children lie about being sexually abused and typically if the child is lying it is because parents are divorcing and the child is being used to hurt the spouse.
Some kids are easier targets than others as it has been proven that kids from single parent homes are more likely to be abuse targets. A father in the house often makes an abuser look for an easier target. Abusers like to “groom” their victims and win them over. They take their time developing trust and manipulating the child before they begin abusing them.
Think about what you would do or feel if a child accused your husband or your father or uncle or son of sexual abuse? If you were like most people you would not want to believe it. The cases that are easiest to prove are the ones where there is material evidence. Many cases are one person’s word against another.
When it comes to sexual abuse, prevention is always best. When a child has endured sexual abuse their whole brain chemistry and brain functions change. They have been violated. To continue on with their daily lives and daily activities is to pretend that everything is okay when in fact it isn’t. Their reality has been altered and many learn to live in a fantasy world and are very good liars. They learned to live a lie by sweeping the sexual abuse under the rug. The problem is that it doesn’t go away and often plays itself out in many destructive ways.
Dr. Bradley of Lewes Beach Delaware was easily convicted because there was no denying the videotaped evidence. He was a trusted Pediatrician and abused and raped more than 100 infants and children. Penn State University where there was no material evidence, yet many credible victims. I know that Penn State took a long time from the initial complaints of abuse, until more than a decade later when it could no longer be denied.
If you are the messenger for a child victim, you will need support. You will become the target of rage and many will try and “kill the messenger” and harm and discredit you for speaking out on a child’s behalf. They want to stop the message from being delivered and/or believed.
Abuse needs to be reported ASAP, it is a crime not to report it. The child victim will need support through a team of professional people that are well versed in child sexual abuse and who believe them and support them and who want to contribute to their wellness.
Suppressing sexual abuse does nothing to support or to help heal the victim. Case studies show that it actually contributes to many mental health disorders.
There are cultures that literally kill the women that are rape victims and sexual abusers were often sexually abused themselves. These are just two of the reasons that abuse victim don’t speak out and get the help they need. They know that they will be looked upon in a different light.
I applaud Elizabeth Smart who turned from victim to victor and is a true survivor. She got the help, the love and the support from her family and that helped her to heal. She has a book out and speaks out on behalf of herself and other sexual abuse victims. She was able to turn it around for her good and the good of others.
Abusers count on the shame of the victim to allow them to get away with the crime of sexual abuse. A child is just that, a child. Any sexually abused child should NEVER feel shame; they are innocent and did absolutely nothing to deserve being the target of sexual abuse. We need to believe them and support them.
There is nothing to be gained by having to report that a family member is a sexual abuser, it is without a moral conscience to look away and do nothing to protect a child who communicates they have been abused. Most social workers believe that NOT believing a child and trying to discredit them and their accusations of sexual abuse can be equally as traumatic as the abuse itself.
If your family is impacted by abuse, you need to get help, for the victim and for the entire family. Always believe and support the child until or unless they are proven unbelievable. Few children are educated enough to communicate sexual abuse if it never happened.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime; Child Sexual Abuse statistics from 2010 show that:
- 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are a victim of child sexual abuse
- 3 out of 4 victims are abused by someone they knew well
- Children who do not live with both parents are at higher risk
- Victims often suffer with low self-esteem, suicide and mental health challenges
I can’t think of anything that could be worse for a child than to have endured sexual abuse and right behind that would be to communicate the abuse and for no one to believe them.
Prevention first and care and love and support always, prayers for all the victims and their families impacted by sexual abuse.
Bernadette on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bernadetteamoyer