Some professionals assume that if abuse occurs in the home, then the mother
must have known about it. Extended family members and even friends may have the same bias at the point of disclosure
. This places the mother in an immediate position of feeling "responsible" for the abuse. The degree of awareness
that something is wrong in a given situation varies among mothers and according to situation. A reminder is important at this point:
- The perpetrator of sexual abuse is responsible for the sexual abuse. No variable, no rationalization, no explanation shifts the blame to the mother or the victim. The perpetrator is responsible for the abuse.
If a family member is the perpetrator, mothers have been given little information. The secret has been protected. Many behaviors and events can be interpreted in ways that do not include sexual abuse as an explanation. If the mother suspects sexual abuse and asks the child in a straightforward way, the child may deny being abused. Or a child may disclose an incident or detail, and, upon questioning, may retract the comment or explain it in a different way. These manners of communication may go on for years - even into adulthood. Most sexual abuse victims never tell. These are common patterns of communication when sexual abuse is occurring.
The Accommodation Syndrome explains the child's response to being sexually abused. Secrecy, helplessness, and delayed and conflicted disclosures are part of the process. The child is attempting to cope with an untenable situation and is suffering a range of painful emotions.
Mothers are faced with the dilemma of interpreting behavioral signals as sexual abuse when an easier explanation makes more sense. Her daughter may be acting out at school or her grades may be dropping. Her son may be suffering insomnia or having frequent nightmares. Her daughter may have an unexplained illness that the doctor can not accurately diagnose. Or her son may withdraw to his room after school and not go out and play with his friends. The first thing in the mother's mind is not sexual abuse.
Sometimes sexually abused children have close relationships to the offender and even this has a positive interpretation. If a father is paying attention to his son or if a grandfather is wanting to spend time with his granddaughter, this is welcome attention.
Other reasons that women may have low levels of awareness of a child's sexual abuse include:
- Domestic violence and the struggle to cope with and protect self and children from physically assaultive partner.
- Marital conflict or disruption.
- Lack of confidence in parenting.
- Health problems.
- A sex offender's ability to manipulate people and situations and get what he wants without anyone knowing.