Common questions about childhood sexual abuse
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Sue Corfield Registered MBACP ADV Dip Humanistic & C.B.T Dip
13th May, 2011
You may have many questions about surviving sexual abuse. Below are thoughts on some of the most common questions asked. Naturally, the answers to these questions will be different for each and every one of us, however these answers may give you some insight. You may wish to discuss your questions further with your counsellor.
Many survivors ask the question why me? Why did the abuser choose me to abuse? They often find answers through blaming themselves;
- I must have been flirtatious.
- I must have wanted it.
- It must have been because I was bad.
- I must have led the abuser on.
Sometimes the abuser will have confirmed such beliefs with comments like;
- " Because you are a little flirt I am giving you what you deserve"
- " You are just like your mother"
- " You've been asking for this."
- " You are naughty and I must punish you"
- " I know you like this"
- " You are making me do this"
A child is likely to believe what the adult says. Many children are taught to believe and trust adults and not challenge even when they doubt them. Such beliefs keep the survivor silent and self blaming and create feelings of guilt, shame and low self esteem.
The truth of the situation is that the child is never to blame. No matter what the child does or says, it is the adult who is in the position of power and responsibility and knows such behaviour is unacceptable. When a child is abused it is because the child is unlucky enough to be alone with an adult who has the desire to sexually abuse children.
Many survivors think they were singled out for the abuse. This is often not the case, abusers don't usually select one 'special' child to abuse and then stop. They tend to abuse when they can create the opportunity. However because of the coercion often involved in ensuring the child keeps it a secret, the situation arises where many children sometimes sibings or friends are being abused and none of them are aware of the others. This is a very powerful form of manipulation used to silence children who are sexually abused. Remember, you are not alone and are unlikely to have been singled out.
Why was I abused by a number of different abusers?
Many survivors who have been abused by more than one abuser often feel sure that it was their fault and that it must have been something about them that caused this to happen. This is actually very common, many children who were abused by one person were later abused again by another. The reasons for this are simple to understand; when a child is sexually abused, the abuser has had to spend some time overcoming the child's resistance. Sexual abuse leaves a child feeling powerless and unable to protect herself. It is easier for the next abuser to overcome resistance if a child is obviously used to giving in to the desires of others. Some children feel so helpless that abuse actually becomes a 'normal' situation which they feel they have to tolerate in order to survive.
Why do I feel like it was my fault?
Survivors often believe and feel as if it was their fault into adulthood. As we have already expressed, it is never the fault of children or adolescents however there are many reasons why survivors assume that blame.
- Some survivors were told by the abuser that it was their fault.
- Some survivors having told someone else about the abuse were punished or reprimanded or accused of telling lies.
- Some survivors religious or cultural messages would have suggested they were bad or sinners.
- Some survivors, unable to accept the terrifying powerlessness of their situation and in order to resume some power take on the belief that they are bad and had some part to play in the situation. At least if they are bad then there is hope they can become good and improve things.
- Some survivors enjoyed the closeness, the touch, the attention and may have loved the abuser very much. All children need attention, it is not your fault if this was the way you sought it, it is the abuser who was at fault for taking advantage of a child's need for love and attention.
- Although some survivors experienced only pain and numbness, others experienced sexual pleasure, arousal maybe even orgasm. It is important to remember that it is natural to have had sexual feelings and even if it felt good and you enjoyed those feelings it doesn't mean that you were responsible in any way.
You may be gathering by now that whatever the circumstances, it is never the fault of the child. It is unreasonable to expect children to protect themselves, they are growing, learning and testing out the world, it is the responsibility of adults to accept and respect this in children and not to take advantage of it. Regardless of age or circumstance there is never an excuse for sexual abuse. Even if a fifteen year old girl throws herself upon an adult naked, there is no justification for the adult to engage in sexual activity with her. It is totally the responsibility of the adult not to be sexual with children. Children do not have the power or tools to protect themselves and therefore need to be protected not exploited by adults.
Why didn't I tell anyone?
There are a number of reasons why children don't tell anyone about the sexual abuse both at the time and later in life.
- There is no-one to tell, the abusers are also the carers or there are no responsible adults around.
- The child does not have the vocabulary to describe what is happening.
- The child is too young to speak.
- There is no opportunity to talk alone with a trustworthy adult.
- Caregivers are preoccupied with their own problems and do not listen.
- The child is frightened of caregivers.
- The child is already in a situation of protecting the caregivers emotionally.
- The child doesn't have any caregivers.
- The child is too embarassed and ashamed to say tell.
- The child feels guilty and responsible.
- The child fears being rejected / abandoned / punished / love withdrawn.
- The child fears the abuser will be imprisoned.
- The child fears the stigma if people know.
- The child feels totally confused.
- The child is told by a 'trustworthy' adult that it is to be kept secret.
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