of sexually abused children
may feel isolated, set apart from others, and different. They may not know anyone else who has experienced having a child sexually abused. They may never have talked to anyone about sexual abuse and have no or little knowledge or information about sexual abuse
, warning signs
, sex offenders
, the victimization process
, or any of the family
dynamics surrounding sexual abuse.
Whether your child was abused by family member or stranger
, you will go through an emotional process
similar to that of someone grieving
a loss or death in their lives. You may be sad
, confused, guilty
, and ashamed. However, unlike death and some other losses, secrecy
shrouds the topic of sexual abuse, and mothers are less likely to openly discuss their experience.
If your child experienced sexual abuse by a family member, the isolation and secrecy is greater. It is hard to talk about your husband, partner, son, father, or other relative abusing your child. The closer the relationship, the more you feel responsible
for the abuse. Although this is not a rational assumption - you did not perpetrate the sexual abuse - sometimes, by virtue of relationship, both you and others will attribute
a portion of responsibility to you. Ambivalence
also increases the sense of isolation. How can you tell others, share the story, or ask for support
if you are not sure you believe it happened? Or if you are not sure what you want to do? At the time that you most need support from others, you may be least likely to seek it. This is the time when a support group
for mothers or a counselor
, well-trained in sexual abuse and family dynamics, is most helpful.
Other factors might also increase your sense of isolation and prevent your seeking needed support. If you have experienced previous domestic violence
from the perpetrator, intimidation, fear
, and a sense of helplessness
can prevent your making and carrying out protective decisions
. It is important to ask for help and make an Emergency Plan
to keep yourself and your child safe.
If you have family or friends that are attempting to support you through the process, they may not know how to respond or what to say. They may give unwanted advice or they may minimize the seriousness of the situation. They may blame you, the mother, either directly or indirectly. They may insist that you had to have known, that it was impossible for you not to have known. Unfortunately, this is a common response to mothers. Sometimes the least supportive and most blaming responses may come from family members.
You may find that you feel uncomfortable and tense when around some individuals that you thought would support you in this post-disclosure process
. However, some friends or family members may not believe your child or may not believe that the abuse occurred. Some may believe that the child is responsible somehow for the abuse. It is not healthy for either you or your child to be around these individuals during this time.
It is important that you pay attention to your support needs and seek support from people with whom you feel comfortable, who you trust, and who does not judge or criticize you. You need to have people in your life who listen to you, and your feelings and the feelings of your child need to be validated. Ambivalence is a symptom of the process you are engaged in. To be with others who increase the ambivalence is to heighten the sense of "going crazy" that may already be present in this process.
People who have not experienced sexual abuse or the role of mother of a sexually abused child may have opinions and state them. They may make one simple but painful statement such as "how could you not have known?" This statement may initiate an onslaught of guilt, shame, and self-directed anger. That person had no idea of the effect of the statement. It is important not to hold onto anger or resentment at people who say or do hurtful things. It only takes more of your energy at a time that you need it.
You may have to deal with social service agencies, prosecutors, attorneys, physicians, detectives, interviewers, and others involved in your child's case. This process may increase the sense of isolation if you feel helpless and powerless. It is important for you to be assertive
, for you to voice your concerns, to ask questions, and be listened to. This may not be a realistic expectation in some instances, but the goal is to be proactive. Without that, your self-esteem
will suffer, and you will think less of yourself and your competence. You will have to work at regaining your self-esteem later.