Complexities in Victims

Most victims do not disclose child sexual abuse. They are often afraid to tell. Perpetrators warn victims not to talk about the secret because of the bad things that will happen if they do, such as the child having to leave the home or father getting arrested. Children are afraid that if they tell, they will hurt others (e.g., mother, family). Children often do not have someone to tell, someone to trust. They may be told that their mother will not believe them. They feel helpless in the situation and find ways to cope with their fear and anger. Children often blame themselves for the abuse. Perpetrators sometimes tell the child that it is their fault, and perpetrators often blame the child at the point of disclosure. If they do want to disclose, they often do not know how to tell, not having the language to articulate what has happened to them.

Confusion is a normal response to an event that makes no sense. A child does not know how to handle the experience of sexual abuse and has many conflicting emotions. She may feel guilt, shame, and embarrassment. She might be attached to the perpetrator, if he or she is a family member, and not want to get him in trouble. She feels trapped. She might like certain aspects of the abuse. She may be bribed with candy, toys, or privileges, given by the perpetrator. She may enjoy the affection and closeness. 

If the pain, fear, and anxiety are great enough, the child will dissociate during the abusive incidents, and memory processes are disrupted. She may be able to accommodate the abuse as a normal part of her life, keeping herself separated from her emotions by dissociating.    

If the child has a close relationship to the offender, she may develop a betrayal bond. A betrayal is a breach of trust, and children sometimes bond with the abuser. Because of this bond, the child may protect the abuser and lie to keep the secret. These bonds are usually established if the victim has a dependency on the abuser and the betrayal bond maintains this relationship. 

Victims may develop negative feelings towards the mother, believing her to be responsible for the abuse or knowing about it and not protecting her. Perpetrators often tell victims that the mother knows, and that she does not care or that she will not believe the victim if she tells her about it. The victim then feels confusion, ambivalence , and blame regarding the mother, reducing the likelihood that she will disclose the abuse.

Part of the human development process is attaching to others. Infants attach to caregivers for basic needs (e.g., food, protection) and for social needs. The child learns how to relate to others based on these early relationship experiences. If the perpetrator is someone with whom the child has a prior relationship, attachment and trust will be present. Perpetrators are often able to use this attachment and trust to obtain compliance in the sexual abuse. However, the abuse is a violation of trust, resulting in a betrayal, with the child later developing inabilities to trust, attach, and/or participate in close relationships.  

Many factors contribute to the difficulty and inability that many victims have in telling about the abuse. Following disclosure, the child may experience many of the fears that she had. She may not be believed, the perpetrator will probably deny the abuse and may be believed (by law enforcement, by protective services, and sometimes by mothers). She may then recant. Do not believe that the child was fabricating or lying about the abuse if she recants. Almost no children lie about abuse. It is much too hard to come forward and talk about it. Retraction of a former disclosure usually occurs because the child is feeling so much pain, shame, confusion, and/or anger that she does not want to deal with it. She may be asked questions by many people and be stressed by the post-disclosure process. She may be pressured by other family members (e.g., siblings, grandparents, other family members) to take it back, to deny that the abuse took place, and she may give in to this pressure.

See also Accommodation Syndrome.
See Betrayal Bond.
See Stockholm Syndrome.



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