Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse/Incest

When any person commits any crime against a child, it is tragic and often traumatic, but when the person committing the crime against the child, especially a crime that is sexual in nature, is the child’s parent, step-parent, legal guardian or other primary caretaker, it is especially traumatic. The person who is violating him or her is not only a person that the child loves and trusts, the crime/violation is being perpetrated by the person that is supposed to protect that child from someone violating him or her. This adds to the level of trauma the child experiences as well as the shame, fear, anger, and helplessness the child feels. In addition, it often adds to the reason(s) behind the frequent unwillingness of the child to be honest with law enforcement about the identity/name of the perpetrator and/or the specifics of what occurred.

A further emotional/legal complication with this type of crime if the perpetrator is caught/arrested: The child’s ability and/or willingness to follow through the legal process including the family to press charges or testify in a courtroom. For safety reasons the questioned must be asked, “What if the charges are dropped and/or the perpetrator/parent is found not guilty?” “What if after testifying against his or her primary caretaker the child must return home with him or her?” “Will the child be ‘punished’ first for telling and punished further for testifying? If so, how?” Children who are sexually abused are generally not abused one time by the perpetrator, but are abused over and over again. In addition, the abuse often extends over an extended period of time. When home is not a safe place and the person(s) that is supposed to love and protect you is the one who is violating you, the rest of the world must be a really scary place. Remember, unlike an adult who is being abused/victimized, a child can’t just leave – especially after a court of law says the violator didn’t do it. Or in the eyes/perception of the child, it was a perceived act in other words, nothing wrong occurred. The criminal “justice” system, to this child, is an oxymoron and safety and justice become obsolete. Trust and hope all too often get replaced with fear, bitterness, hopelessness, resentment or anger/rage.

Additionally, these feelings lead to a need/desire to self-medicate bringing about struggles with addiction, mental health issues and sadly, often another generation of probable future antisocial/criminal behaviors.

The “non-offending” parent, step parent, or legal guardian:
The other or “non-offending” parent, step-parent, legal guardian or caretaker in the home (especially in cases of child abuse), is seldom without responsibility in relation to the harm done to the child. Often times, the other parent knows that his or her partner is hurting the child but does not leave or report the abuse. Moreover, a child will tell the other parent or primary caretaker (usually the mother) and the response will often be either that child is “a liar”, a “hussy/floozy” a “ho” or “slut” and treated more like “the other woman” (or “adulterated partner”) than a traumatized and victimized child. This is also a form of criminal child abuse known as “failure to protect” where the parent knows the child is or has been hurt or is in harm’s way and does nothing to leave the home, or report what the child has told him or her to the proper authorities.

In 20 plus years of clinical experience working with adult survivors of childhood abuse, Dr. Laura has found that found many of the survivors (especially survivors of sexual abuse/incest) are more angry and resentful toward the parent who he/she told about an incident or ongoing abuse to the child; or somehow knew about it, and either did not believe the child or worse, knew about the abuse and blamed the child for it. Even more sadly, this parent did nothing about it and failed to protect him/her from future abuse, and additionally, failed to support or validate the child. Consequently and especially later in life, many child victims of abuse hold more anger and/or resentment towards the parent who re-victimized him/her (by not believing the child’s accusations, minimizing the abuse, or was perceived to have chosen to protect or stay with the perpetrator over the child) than the individual who actually committed the initial victimization.

Understanding abuse is about understanding the dynamics of power and control. Sibling sexual abuse (much like other forms of incest/sexual abuse by a family member living in the home) is an abuse of power from one sibling, usually older, bigger and stronger who bullies and/or bribes a younger/weaker sibling into sexual activity/abuse. Similar in dynamics of other forms of sexual abuse, the perpetrator-sibling, has or gains the trust of the younger sibling and then violates that trust when committing the abuse. In order to protect him or herself, the perpetrator-sibling will often use additional examples of manipulation and control in order to make sure that the child does as he or she is told and keeps the “special secret” just between the two of them. Often times the perpetrator will threaten the child. Examples are: “If you tell, Mommy and/or Daddy won’t believe you.” Or, “If I get in trouble then I’m gonna come after you and get you and get you GOOD.”, “Even Mom and/or Dad won’t be able to protect you from me and what I will do to you if you even think of telling.”, “If you tell anyone, the police will come and take you away and you will live in a dirty, filthy foster home with people you don’t know and who won’t love you or take care of you and we will never be able to be a real family again.”

If you or someone you know is a survivor of incest or any other type of childhood sexual abuse/trauma, I  can help.