A Call to Action for Moms – Stop Keeping Sexual Abuse Secrets!
Stop Keeping Sexual Abuse Secrets | 8 MIN READ
A Call to Action for Moms: Stop Keeping Sexual Abuse Secrets!
Written by Wendy M. Johnson @wendymjohnson7
Have you ever told anyone about the sexual abuse, and nothing happened? Nothing was reported and you still had to be around the abuser and the abuse may have continued for years after. Maybe the person you told, exposed you by confronting the abuser and the abuser was believed over you? Remember 93% of sexual abuse is done by someone the victim knows (RAINN, 2022). If the abuse occurred in a home, it is not uncommon for the other parent to keep the secret. Why would someone want to keep that a secret? What would make it be okay for someone to know their own child is being sexually abused by their spouse, or stepparent to the child, boyfriend, extended family, in-laws, trusted friend, etc.? It does not seem logical. Upon first hearing that a child disclosed abuse, why would the parent not call the police or family services and take them to a doctor immediately? Why would they not call a therapist who specializes in child sexual abuse? Children are too young to understand what sexual abuse is, but they can share what happened to them and if a child trusted an adult enough to disclose, then they should have the respect and integrity to protect the child.
When a child discloses, the adult is left having to decide who is telling the truth: the child or the spouse or boyfriend or a trusted adult. Simply confronting the adult who the child said abused them is not enough and could cause more harm to the child. Getting a third party involved is imperative. Let them make an independent assessment, especially if an adult does not really know. But all too often, if the abuse is happening in the home, others know. Not all adults who are not sexually abusing a child know but it is so common that they do that it is a reoccurring theme with adult survivors sharing their stories. If it is determined that the ‘adult’ the child said is abusing them is found to not be telling the truth, that would mean a life-changing event. It would mean betrayal from someone they love and having to report it to the police and face a possible trial. Embarrassment can overwhelm the situation worrying about how others will judge the mom for not knowing or protecting her.
Failing to Acknowledge the abuse
Moms can fail to acknowledge the abuse for many reasons. When a mom vehemently denies the abuse that happened to the victim-child by making her own assertions based on her thought process alone, she may be a woman in denial. Denial-meaning the adult who did not sexually abuse understands at some level it is true – the sexual abuse – but will deny it anyway. When a mom fails to acknowledge the abuse without ever contacting the police or family services to talk to the child and take them to a medical doctor or have them meet with a therapist to get the help they need or to talk about what they disclosed, then, besides being absolutely wrong and neglectful in her actions, there may be more going on. Reasons for failing to acknowledge sexual abuse includes:
- The mom may have been raised in an environment where it was learned that what happens in a family, stays in a family even at the cost of abuse.
- The mom may have been abused herself and with her own past history of abuse, she has learned how to cope and act. Often the response of someone who has experienced abuse is to respond by looking the other way, not talking about it, and internalizing it. Yes, if you have experienced abuse that happened in a home, you can learn how to act in a home of sexual abuse. Abuse runs deep in multigenerational patterns. It takes a serious conscious effort to heal and stop the multigenerational cycle of abuse.
- It may be hard to accept a mom would permit their child to be abused or that the same abuse happened to their child that happened to them.
- In an effort to cope, the mom may even blame the victim-child for the abuse.
Failure to Believe the Abuse
It’s unbelievable that adults are disclosed to by a child that sexual abuse occurred, and they fail to believe them. The greatest excuse is confronting the abuser and the abuser’s answer. If the abuser is the other parent or boyfriend or extended family who gets upset over the accusation the mom may feel bad for believing her child. The mom may feel her internal family investigation was sufficient and therefore punishes the child for suggesting such a horrible experience against their father, stepfather, boyfriend, etc. But that response is no longer an acceptable excuse for not believing a child. It is actually detrimental to any victim who had the courage to come forward. Children may not be able to say the technical terminology “sexual abuse,” but they may say:
- I was touched or had to touch dad or [someone] here (pointing)
- We play secret games
- I hate when they give me a bath
- They take pictures of me with no clothes on
- I shut my eyes when daddy [or someone] comes in my room at night and takes off my clothes
- He hurts me when you leave
- He makes me do things I don’t like to do when you are gone
The text above is disclosure. It is a way a child is trying to explain that something wrong is happening. Children do not know how to say they are being violated by someone. Some parents think if the adult is not having full intercourse with the child, it is not sexual abuse or touching is not that bad and dismiss it. Do not minimize disclosure when a child is saying what is happening is uncomfortable because sexual abuse only escalates. The most vulnerable sexual abuse age in the U.S. is 7-13 years old (NCVC, 2022).
Children are dependent on their parents to protect them, love them, accept them, and provide a home that is safe from violence and sexual abuse. Parents are the number one defense against the sexual abuse of a child. By healing from your own past, you will be equipped with new knowledge and coping strategies on how to protect your children. Private, internal family investigations and confronting the person the child says is abusing them, is no longer an acceptable reaction. If a child discloses, get a third party involved who is trained to help your child and your family. Friends or extended family are not professionals to help. On that note, if a family member is a therapist or police officer, or a professional in child welfare, get an outside, independent professional to help who is not biased. Third-party means family services, police, a child therapist, and a medical doctor. Remember, the focus is the child, not the person they say is abusing them, not what others might say, but the well-being and protection of the child.
Justification for not protecting a child who discloses
Many moms can feel overwhelmed at the thought that there is truth in a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse. Many options are thought about upon disclosure and many fears. Below is a list of justifications a can parent makes to not protect their own child who discloses:
- Financial dependence on the other spouse
- Will sacrifice child’s safety for a lifestyle they enjoy
- Wants to prevent a divorce (for many reasons – saving reputation, embarrassment, etc.) and chooses to be married to a man who sexually abuses her children
- Loves the abuser and wants to stay with them even if it means the spouse abuses the child
- Confronts the abuser and believes the abuser through their own investigation by not getting a third party involved
- May have a bad marriage or relationship with the person the child said abused them and the crisis that disclosure brings can help re-bond their relationship by standing by each other and denying their child’s plea for help and protection. Unfortunately, that means the abuse can continue for years and the child internalizes there is nowhere to go to get help, especially if they can’t go to their own parents.
- Believing the child means the family will break-up
- Fear that others, extended family members will ostracize them and even their extended social networks.
Failure to know how to respond is no longer an excuse to not protect your child. There are helplines in your local county and state and nationally. There are family services, police, medical doctors, and child therapists who are all trained to help you navigate through protecting your child. 87% of all Americans have access to the internet or cell phone service. Help is a phone call away.
A CALL TO ACTION FOR MOMS: If your child comes to you and says someone, even their dad, stepfather, extended family or trusted adult or coach touched them or sexually abused them STOP keeping the secrets that surround sexual abuse. Get the help your child needs. Saying, you will make sure they are never alone with that person again or minimizing sibling sexual abuse, not getting third-party help are not acceptable excuses anymore. Keeping sexual abuse secrets in the family is no longer an acceptable answer or reaction. If you are a person a child disclosed being sexually abused, get them the help and protection they deserve!
Remember, it’s time we no longer accept the denial or lack of acknowledgment or keeping secrets in the family as a solution to this problem. They are excuses that perpetuate the cycle of abuse not just in our homes, but it affects the communities we live in and our broader societies. Say NO to denial of sexual abuse!
Please respond to this blog with any questions or comments you have! I would love to hear from you!
Love and Friends,
Ever imagine what it would be like to live a life without shame?
Join the HEAL community today. 🎉
Child sexual abuse statistics. The National Center for Victims of Crime. (2022). Retrieved June 8, 2022, from https://victimsofcrime.org/child-sexual-abuse-statistics/
HEAL has strict sourcing guidelines and draws only from peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical journals and associations. HEAL also may reference thought leaders, experts in the field, survivors stories, and websites. We link primary sources – including studies, scientific references, and statistics – within each article and also list them in the resources section at the bottom of our articles.