Myths About Mothers

Myths have existed about mothers of sexually abused children for decades. These myths were based on groundless assumptions, prejudices, and judgments during a long period of time when mother were viewed as either responsible or co-responsible for the abuse of their children. These myths are still believed by some workers in social service agencies. Mother blaming continues to the present. These myths include:
  • Mothers knew about the abuse and refused to do anything to stop it.
  • Mothers were absent from the home, having abandoned their role.
  • Mothers did not care that abuse was happening.
  • Mothers of sexual abuse victims are weak and submissive to partners.
  • Mothers of sexual abuse victims wanted children to assume their role in the family and take care of the their partners (i.e., role reversal).
  • Mothers colluded in the abuse, keeping the secret.
  • Mothers of sexual abuse victims are frigid and unresponsive to their partners.
  • Mothers were passive, avoidant, rejecting, and even psychotic.
  • Mothers lacked boundaries, had poor communication, and were unable to choose a healthy partner.
  • Mothers were unable to parent.
  • Mothers denied, repressed, and minimized.  

Research since the 1980's has shown that mothers vary in personality, strengths, needs, history, and circumstances. No stereotypes exist for mothers, just as no stereotypes exist for perpetrators. Generalizations are not accurate. The above list of characteristics has been used by perpetrators and by writers to rationalize the abuser's responsibility for the abuse. 

It is important to assume that the mother has no responsibility. Occasionally, mothers do know and do not protect. However, most mothers do not know, and when they find out, they believe and support their children. They then take action to protect their children. Most mothers respond to the disclosure in similar ways. They experience shock, angerhurt and pain, guilt, and feelings of responsibility. They are deeply concerned for the welfare of their children. If the perpetrator is a family member, the mother may experience ambivalence . However, most mothers still report the abuse and take action to protect the child.  

Sometimes mothers do not see the Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse. A particular symptom or behavior does not indicate sexual abuse unless the mother already knows that abuse has occurred. In retrospect, the sign is relevant. However, in the moment it is not. Children's behaviors can be explained in many other ways.  

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