When a child is sexually abused
, the mother's
own sense of trust
is seriously impacted. Regardless of the identity
of the abuser
, whether he or she is stranger, local cub scout leader, sunday school teacher, neighbor, or family member, the mother will feel that she is less safe, and her child is less safe. She is less likely to trust others to care for and not harm her child. Mothers, whose roles involve providing safety and protection
to their children, will no longer take safety factors for granted. They will now look with a jaded eye on everyone with whom their child comes in contact.
Sexual abuse is an emotional assault on both the victim and the mother's sense of security in the world. In cases where sexual abuse is perpetrated by people the child knows, a bond
of trust is violated between the child and family member, teacher, coach, adult friend, or other close person. Society has both written and unwritten rules that adults are to care for children, and that adults will not use their physical strength or adult authority to hurt a child. It is also understood that an adult will not use a child for sexual gratification. Children are taught this expectation - that adults care for and protect children - and are taught to do what adults instruct them to do.
Children who have been sexually abused by adults they know have been violated by someone they should have been able to trust. Unfortunately, this is the most common scenario. Sexual abuse is perpetrated more often by a person known by the child and family.This predicates a violation of trust in which the child knows and trusts someone who then harms them. It then becomes more difficult for the child victim and adult survivor of sexual abuse to trust. Because of this, survivors often fear intimacy and are unable to form trusting relationships.
As secondary victims
, mothers may no longer be able to trust absolutely. A dose of doubt, a mite of distrust supplants automatic trust in anyone. Mothers may develop distrust of men, distrust of counselors, distrust of pastors, distrust of schools, of systems, of law enforcement, of social workers, and the court. If the perpetrator was a partner, the dilemma worsens as their inability to trust an intimate partner is exacerbated.
Many mothers have separated from the offenders, and time has passed since the abuse. However, the possibility of establishing a new, intimate relationship may be negatively impacted by the mistrust of self to make a safe partner choice and the mistrust of any potential partner. Mothers may not be able to manage the thought of another potentially abusive person entering her family.
Unfortunately in cases of child sexual abuse, offenders may continue in the lives of both victims and mothers. Mothers may remain in intimate relationships with offenders because:
- The offender denied the abuse, and social services did not "found" the case. The mother is ambivalent.
- The offender admitted the abuse, began therapy, and is positively engaged in treatment. Treatment providers say he has a good prognosis.
- Child Protective Services promoted the reconciliation of the family and, through family and individual counseling, facilitated the process.
- Financial and other obligations appeared so substantial that the mother envisioned no other response.
These are merely examples of situations in which mothers may live in the same household with the person who abused their child. See If Offender is Partner.
Part of the healing process in mothers' lives is to grieve losses. Loss of trust is one of those. Mothers of sexual abuse victims may now see potential offenders at the zoo, at the grocery store, at school, and in the church sanctuary. Their antennae are tuned to that signal, picking up the warning signs of offenders and the energy of perpetrators. Others, who have not experienced either sexual abuse or being the mother of a sexual abuse victim, have no such mechanism at work. This hyperalert status is, in actuality, an isolating factor in which mothers feel "different" from others.
Part of the dynamic effects of child sexual abuse is that the mother, because of her perception of failure in her protective role, may not be able to trust herself. She must relearn to trust herself before she can relearn to trust others.