When a child is sexually abused
experience long-term consequences in their lives. They know that the impact of sexual abuse is life-long, and the damage to the child is irreparable. Although the child may recover, many areas in his or life will be affected. The adjustment process for mothers is unique in each individual. However, hurt
, fear anger
, and guilt
are common to almost all mothers. If the child's abuse is not accepted
, and the thoughts and feelings
are not processed, the pain and hurt can affect the mother for years.
and the child's initial recovery and adjustment, mothers may feel that the worst consequences to the abuse are past. And that is possible. Some resilient
victims with support and coping resources are able to move past the abuse and not be impacted negatively throughout their lives. Many factors affect this possibility:
- Age of the child at time of abuse
- Identity of the perpetrator
- Length of time the abuse occurred
- Severity and force involved in the abuse
- Whether the victim is believed at the point of disclosure
- Maternal support following disclosure
- Internal coping resources
- Ability of the child to move through normal childhood development stages
- Effect of stress on child's brain, body, and immune system
Most sexual abuse victims, however, experience long-term consequences that negatively impact many areas of their lives. (See Ten Life Areas Most Impacted .) When a child is ill or disabled, a mother's life process is altered and feelings of grief, pain, and loss are normal. Mothers process through the stages of grief when a child has been seriously harmed, is diagnosed with serious illness, or dies. Mothers experience the same process when discovering that a children has suffered sexual abuse. Mothers are aware of the future impact of the diagnosis and feel pain for their children's future losses.
Mothers of sexually abused children are at risk for depression. Many mothers find primary life meaning and purpose in the role of parent. The disclosure of a child's sexual abuse can leave the mother feeling incompetent and unable to provide protection to her child. She may feel powerless and helpless. If the child's recovery is difficult, she may despair of the situation ever improving. Her self-confidence and self-esteem will be negatively affected, and this will affect other areas of her life.
The hurt and pain that mothers experience is sometimes not noticed because the focus is on the victim's safety and well-being and the legal process of the case. However, mothers are secondary victims in cases of childhood sexual abuse. If the perpetrator is the husband or partner, mothers are primary victims due to the sexual relationship with her partner. She may develop grief symptoms that affect her physically, emotionally, behaviorally, psychologically, socially, and spiritually.
Many mothers develop symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They may experience nightmares, heightened anxiety, be hypervigilant, have an increased startle response, experience intrusive thoughts of the abuse, avoid reminders of the abuse, and may experience panic attacks.
Even years after the abuse, as mothers observe the previously abused child struggling with adult relationships, continuing to manifest PTSD symptoms, or addicted to alcohol and other drugs, the pain and hurt will resurface. It is possible that years later the mother will recognize the unhealed places in her own life and how she affect her present roles and relationships.
Mothers are traumatized by the abuse of their children and are also suffering during the period following disclosure and perhaps long after. It is critical that mothers pay attention to their feelings and honor the ongoing pain and hurt they experience as a result of their child's sexual abuse. As with all grief experiences, the pain will lessen as time goes on. However, an ache may continue to be present for many years to come. If possible, mothers should access individual counseling so they have a safe place to talk and process feelings. Family counseling is recommended for the support of mother and other family members during the time of chaos and reorganization following disclosure.