How do you write about something that people are afraid to see? How to you expose an undermining, but insidious, practice? How do you change peoples’ minds? How does a civilization heal from the wounds of abuse?
It can be challenging to speak about the experience of sexual abuse. Many people who have been sexual abused are not able to speak about it as it happens. Many people wait years to speak of it, some people never reveal it, and others can’t remember the abuse itself until they are well into adulthood.
Many people who have suffered sexual abuse experience a life of generalized anxiety, fear, depression, difficulty with intimate relationships, difficulty trusting themselves or the world around them. Studies show that they are at an increased risk for drug or alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity. Unfortunately, families often take advantage of the abused’s compromised mental health and leverage it as an indicator of the abused’s character, as opposed to the symptomatology of the abuse suffered.
Even within families where sexual abuse has occurred, each family member will cope uniquely with the direct or indirect effects of abuse. Sadly, mothers, when not the abusers themselves, often protect the sexual abuser over the abused, even when the abused is their own child. “According to Martens and Associates (2011) 90% of women in relationships where a family member abuses their child were also sexually abused as children. Data collected from the sexual abuse treatment centers associated with Martens and Associates states that 65% of women who were sexually abused also became offenders. Women often sexually abuse during teen and early 20’s and then they usually stop. Mathews, F. (1996) also states that many self report studies show a high percentage of men say they were sexually abused by women. He adds that a high proportion of rapists, sex offenders and sexually aggressive men state they were also sexually abused by women when they were young. If a woman was abused and hasn’t dealt with the abuse, it will be significantly more difficult for her to believe, help and support her daughter if her daughter discloses abuse because her daughter’s abuse will trigger memories of her own abuse. If the mother was not only abused, but also became an offender, she is even less likely to believe her daughter as she in not only in denial of her own abuse but also her own offending.” (Sabrina Trobak, B.ED., M.A.C.P., R.C.C.)
Because of the myriad of coping and defense mechanisms utilized by individual family members, the collective family story may not contain the narrative of abuse. Within the system of family silence there is a great deal of distortion about what really has happened in the family. The abused often protects the abuser in order to: 1. Honor the fictional family narrative of a healthy family, 2. To protect the abuser from social judgement, and
3. Out of fear of family rejection.
It is never to late to break the silence. Breaking the silence is the first step towards healing. Speak your mind about sexual abuse. Feel free to say out loud that it is, without a doubt, detrimental to humanity.
Tami Boehle-Satterfield, MSW, LCSW-C, NBBCH, HTP, a licensed psychotherapist in Boulder Colorado at attentiontoliving.com has challenged herself in 2016 to post weekly about the unpopular topic of abuse. Learn more about Tami at attentiontoliving.com