If Offender is Partner

The news that a father or father figure has sexually abused a child is traumatizing to the mother. Most mothers did not know about the abuse prior to the disclosure, believe
the child's report, and protect the child. At the same time, the mother's life has been turned upside-down. She loses her identity as she perceived it in the past, and she realizes that the relationship she had with the abuser was one of deception, lies, and betrayal. Her child has been seriously harmed by the person whom the mother believed to be a safe parent. She must re-assess her relationship with this person at the same time that she is processing through grief about her child's abuse, The post-disclosure process is stressful, regardless of the identity of the abuser. However, when the abuser is the father of the victim and the mother's partner, decisions must be made immediately. The child's recovery is dependent on her mother's support, while at the same time, the child may blame the mother because of the lies and manipulation of the abuser. It is now the mother's responsibility to protect the child, regardless of the cost to her and her relationship to the abuser.

If the child discloses initially to the mother, a report must be made. Law enforcement and Child Protective Services will then become involved. An evaluation a Child Abuse Assessment Center may be scheduled. If the District Attorney moves forward with the case, an arrest will be made, and her partner will be scheduled for court hearings. The mother will be expected to immediately separate from her partner and allow him no access to her child. (The court may later allow supervised visits.) The mother will face many decisions following the disclosure, among these, residence, finances and employment, and therapy for the victim, herself, and other family members. She will need to access support for herself, and this will require telling others about the abuse. This will be very difficult for the mother. Many factors will influence her during this post-disclosure time. Ongoing stress related to the disclosure will result in biochemical and immune system changes. She will need to practice healthy coping and self-care. She will experience many negative emotions, including shock, denial, anger, guilt, anxiety, fear, and ongoing pain and hurt. She will attempt to understand how this event occurred, and she did not know about it and will experience self-blame, guilt, and shame. She may get caught up in a spiral of negative thinking. Mothers will also experience a high degree of ambivalence . Research has shown that ambivalence is normal during this process and does not predict whether mothers are able to maintain the safety of the victim (Bolen, 2002; Bolen & Lamb, 2004, 2007).

Professionals will assess the mother's ability to parent the victim and other children, and they will pay attention to whom the mother is most loyal, partner or child. If she does not separate from the partner, it is likely that the child(ren) will be removed from her care and placed in protective custody. While the mother views the abuser as partner/lover and parent to her child, professionals view him as a sexual perpetrator and dangerous to children. Mother-blame continues among some professionals, and she may be assigned a degree of responsibility for the abuse, regardless of her knowledge and or complicity in the abuse. Many factors inform the mother's thoughts, feelings, and actions at this time. Although the mother believes the child's report, the abuser may deny that it happened. She is confronted with this dilemma, and although painful, must make the choice to believe the child. Children almost never lie about abuse. (See Statistics.)  Another factor that has a large influence on the mother is whether prior domestic violence has been present in the home. If so, the mother may have have learned helplessness, prior betrayal issues, and prior ambivalence . Depression, anxiety, fear, dissociation, and other posttraumatic symptoms may be elevated as a result, and these may partially paralyze the mother during this critical time for the child.

To compound the situation that the mother faces, other members of the family may turn against her because she is reporting the abuse. They may choose to believe the abuser's denial and assert that the child is fabricating the report of abuse. Friends may not align with the mother, and she may find herself isolated at a time when support is critical to her wellbeing. This additional pressure from family members may cause the child to recant the previous disclosure, stating that it was not true. It is important that mothers understand that the abuser has often told the child victim that bad things will happen if she tells. Her greatest fear was that she would not be believed or that she would be removed from the home. Unfortunately, this occurs, and the damage to the child can be irreparable. 

Many child abuse cases do not have sufficient evidence to proceed in a court process. If the abuser denies the abuse, the mother may be left without recourse. It is possible that Child Protective Services will also drop the case. The mother may then be left with a decision to protect her child in an impossible situation. Professional support can assist her in difficult decisions. However, because no case was opened, the father has continued access to the child and may file for custody if the mother attempts permanent dissolution of the relationship.

See Rules for Home and Family Visits
See If your Child is Removed from your Care
See What to Expect
See Abuse Prevention.
See Ambivalence .
See Domestic Violence .



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