Secrecy in Mothers

A secret is, of necessity, labeled a dysfunctional behavior in family systems. Codes of secrecy are inherently harmful to children who are told not to talk and not to tell. Victims of sexual abuse are invariably told to hold the secret and are threatened with consequences that will occur if they do tell - harm to themselves, loss of family, harm to mother, or harm to pets. Children fear these consequences and are silenced. Sex offenders must ensure the secrecy is maintained in order to continue abusing and also to prevent detection and consequences to themselves. Other family members may also be coerced into silence, not just victims. Predictable Stages of Sexual Abuse include a Secrecy Stage. The Accommodation Syndrome, a way of viewing the dynamics of sexual abuse (e.g., helplessness, delayed disclosure, retraction), includes Secrecy in Accommodation.

However, after disclosure, a very different question arises regarding secrecy: who to tell now. These are difficult and complex questions for mothers to make. Does grandmother need to know? Pastor? Good friends? Teacher of child? Offender's brother? Mother?

If the abuser is the father or husband, the question is painful and embarrassing. Telling about the abuse may feel like a reflection on you as mother. You may blame yourself and ask how you did not know, what you could have done differently, or how you could have protected your child. Shame and humiliation may be associated with thoughts of telling. To confound the problem, mothers may be ambivalent and moving back and forth between belief and doubt for a period of time. Depending on the age of the victim and details of abuse that have been disclosed, mothers may be more or less convinced of its occurrence. 

Law enforcement and Child Protective Services may have intervened. Social services may have made the determination that the case was unfounded: not enough evidence existed to move forward. Law enforcement and prosecutors may have determined they could not prove the case and have let the offender go - without consequences. Who to tell now involves the fact that the offender denies the abuse, and professionals have not supported the allegation of abuse. But you, knowing that the best predictor for your child's recovery is your support, are believing her and supporting her. However, you may be alone.

The secret is out. Your child has disclosed, and you have reported to all the appropriate agencies. However, the sexual abuse of your child may be a secret you hold inside you for the rest of your life. You may choose to disclose - if you trust the person and believe the response will be appropriate. But that is your choice. You will need to make decisions based on the safety and protection of your child. But with no legal process, you are unable to prevent the perpetrator's access to the child if the abuser if biological parent. Parental rights allows that access without court intervention. However, for all other perpetrators, including extended family members, you have the responsibility to restrict access and protect your child. Keeping the abuse a secret does not help you protect the child. 


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