Suspicion implies that something is going on in secret
and the person suspecting the "something" that is going on does not have enough information to "know" that it is actually going on. The evidence
is unclear or has alternative meanings. If the person who suspects something asked directly
about the suspicion, and it is denied, that person is left feeling confused.
To suspect that sexual abuse
is occurring is not the same as knowing. When mothers have a suspicion of sexual abuse, they must then set about confirming that suspicion. That can become an obsessive task, filled with ambivalence
and confusion. If the suspected perpetrator is the father or mother's partner
, the losses
are high if the suspicion is confirmed. The mother knows that life will end as she presently knows it.
The mother may cycle between "looking" for signs to validate the suspicion and ignoring the suspicion in hopes that it is not true. It is easy to rationalize not following through on a suspicion such as this. Looking for "clues" that your intimate partner is sexually abusing your child may seen "crazy" in itself. The entire process is painful and full of confusion.Emotions
and complexities that hinder following through on suspicions in talking with the child:
- Difficulty in talking to children about sex
- Fear that asking questions will harm the child
- The mother's feelings of anger, rejection, betrayal, and fear.
Emotions and complexities that hinder the questioning process with suspected perpetrators:
- Perpetrators accuse mothers of being sick or crazy.
- Perpetrators accuse mothers of having sexual hang-ups.
- The mother's difficulty in determining normal versus abnormal behavior.
- Self-doubt about the reasonableness and rightness of asking the question(s).
- Mothers think they are crazy to even suspect sexual abuse.
Many times children give verbal hints and then take them back. Mothers then question whether they heard what they heard. They are already questioning the suspicion. The suspicion that your child is being abused by your husband or partner threatens your family life, marital relationship, financial security, and community membership. The knowledge may be present that, if this is true, he may go to jail, or your child may be removed from the home. A large number of threatening scenarios may inhabit the mother's thought process.
Mothers will experience ambivalence about knowing. They want to know, and they do not want to know. When they are motivated to pursue suspicions and try to confirm them, they may receive conflicting information. If the perpetrator is a family member, both victim and perpetrator may respond to questions with anger. The ongoing process of discovery involves finding information, combining it with old information, and reinterpreting previous events in the light of the new information.
The ability to disclose sexual abuse is directly related to the distance the child is from the abuser. If the perpetrator is not in the home and has no access to him, the child victim is more likely to disclose. However, threats, fear, guilt, and secrecy surrounding the abuse, and feeling responsible for the abuse are all barriers to child victims telling the truth about the abuse.
Many factors contribute to the interpretation of events when sexual abuse is suspected:
- The victim's behavioral and emotional problems.
- Known history of the perpetrator and tendency to harm others.
- The victim's story and sexual details that are beyond the scope of the child's knowledge without the occurrence of sexual abuse.
- Understanding of the victim process and factors that prevent children from disclosing.
- Support from family and friends.
- Accurate information about sexual abuse, its process, and its consequences.
When suspicions are confirmed, mothers then have to make difficult decisions regarding support and protection for the child victim. They may have to decide whether to separate from partners, distance themselves from extended family members, address the situation of sibling abuse, deciding who will stay in the home, or facing an abusive community member. Mothers may face having the charges in the newspaper, having multiple agencies involved with their families, and going to court.
If disclosure occurs at this point, and the mother's suspicions are confirmed, it is important that she be given as much information, as many details, as possible. This may not be what a mother wants to hear or the pictures she wants in her mind. However, it is a place of reality. If mothers know what happened to their children, they are more motivated to prevent its re-occurrence. This enhances the support and protection that mothers are able to provide to child victims.