Feeling Responsible

Mothers assume responsibility for their children as part of their caregiving role. They care for, protect, nurture, and comfort their children from birth. When unable to protect a child from harm, a mother will feel guilty and question what she could have done differently in order to maintain the safety of the child. 

Mothers may engage in "what if" conversations with themselves. What if they had recognized warning signs or symptoms that abuse had occurred? What if they had been there? What if they had been more available? More understanding? Worked less hours? Trusted less? The list of self-questions is endless. "What if" questions cause you to feel guilty, and you are not the one responsible for your child's sexual abuse.  

It is possible that you noticed that something seemed wrong. You may not have been able to identify it, but you had an intuitive sense of it. It is much easier to look back on the situation and examine the signs. At a previous time, you did not have a context within which to put the sign or symptom. It was a mystery because you did not have all the information you needed. In the case of incest, even if a mother saw something suspicious, she would not ordinarily go to sexual abuse as an explanation. It is not your fault that the abuse occurred. Even if signs were present, you did not recognize them.

It is important that you, as the mother, come to the point of realizing that you are not responsible for the abuse. Nothing that you did caused the perpetrator to sexually abuse your child. You are not responsible for the sexual abuse even if:

  • You worked long hours.
  • You did not sexually satisfy your husband or did not want to have sex with him.
  • You were mad at him or unhappy or unkind to him.
  • You left your child with a babysitter.
  • You trusted the boyscout leader.
  • You left your child home with a big brother or cousin or uncle.

The perpetrator is ultimately and always the person responsible for the choice to sexually abuse a child. Many offenders have normal sexual relationships with wives and girlfriends. This does not deter them from sexually abusing a child. The motivation to abuse has to do with power and control. Many offenders are sex addicts and are acting out fantasies. 

It is always the responsibility of each adult to be responsible for his or her choices or behaviors. A wife is not responsible for a husband or partner's behaviors. It is also not the responsibility of an adult to police or be watchguard over another adult's behaviors - unless she is in fact a policeman. Offenders take great effort to avoid discovery and plan and scheme to maintain the secret of ongoing abuse. It is usually difficult for anyone to know it is occurring. This is why most sexual abuse continues undisclosed.

There is one caveat: If you knew about the abuse and consciously allowed it to continue, or if your child told you about the abuse and you refused to believe her and confront the offender, then you are co-responsible for any abuse that occurred after that time. Taking responsibility, being accountable, and discussing this will your child is the only way that your relationship with the victim can be restored. He or she will have difficulty with anger and betrayal and will possibly be unable to trust you in the future. 



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