I never thought this could happen to us.
Every day many mothers face the awful reality of finding out that their child has been sexually abused.
Most sexual abuse takes place within homes. In fact, it is usually committed by someone who is trusted by the child.
How you may be feeling
If the person who has abused your child is your partner, husband or boyfriend, you may feel a mixture of feelings.
Sometimes women feel:
- a failure as a wife/partner and mother
- angry at him for what he did
- angry at themselves for not knowing or for not being able to stop it
- angry at their child for not telling them
- worried about what other people will think
You may want to know exactly what happened, or you may not want to hear about it at all. You may find it difficult to listen if your child tried to talk about it.
Some questions you may have
Why didn’t I notice? Why didn’t I know about it?
Will my child be OK?
What will happen to the abuser?
Will I ever be able to trust him again?
Should I stay in the relationship?
Who do I believe if he says it was all the child’s fault or it didn’t happen?
What if it happened to me as a child too?
These are some of the questions which can go round and round in your mind after you find out about the abuse.
It is possible that you may have noticed that things were just not right at home. It may be really hard to put a name on what you felt.
Sometimes women talk about having a “gut feeling” that something was not OK. At the time there was usually a good reason to explain what was going on.
It may be easy looking back to see what was really happening. But, sexual abuse is the last thing that most people expect to be happening in their family.
It’s not your fault that you were not aware of it sooner. It is not your fault that it happened.
Why did he do it?
Many women believe that their partner sexually abused their child because:
- he was not receiving the sexual satisfaction he needed from her
- she is a failure as a wife and mother, or
- he could not control himself.
But many men who sexually abuse children are having normal sexual relationships with their wives or girlfriends.
The reason men sexually abuse children is connected to their need to feel powerful and in control. It is not about sex. He is in control of his behaviour and can choose not to abuse.
But wasn’t I responsible for it happening too?
You are not responsible for the sexual abuse, even if you were:
- working long hours
- unhappy and preoccupied at the time
- frightened of him, or
- no longer interested in him sexually.
It is up to each individual adult person to be responsible for their own behaviour.
It is not a woman’s responsibility to police her partner’s behaviour.
In fact, most abusers take great care to carry out the abuse in secret. Often the situation is organised so that no-one else will be present, or so that no-one will find out what is happening.
Was it my child’s fault?
Your child was not responsible for the sexual abuse even if:
- she/he wanted to spend time with the abuser
- she/he didn’t tell you about what was happening, or
- she/he couldn’t stop the abuse from happening.
No-one ever asks to be sexually abused. It is possible for a child to care for the person who is abusing them. But this does not mean that they want the abuse to happen or that they like it.
What can I do to help my child now?
There are many things which you can do to help your child to deal with the effects of the sexual abuse.
Some important ones are:
- believe them
- praise them for telling
- try to understand why they couldn’t tell you about it earlier or at all
- allow them to have as much control as possible over the decisions which are made about them
- allow them to feel and express the whole range of feelings they may be experiencing
- help them to feel safe
- protect them from further abuse
- respect their secrets – don’t tell others what has happened without their permission to do so
- help them to find someone they can trust to talk about what has happened
Mothers need support too.
Mothers of children who have been sexually abused need support too. It is important for you to be able to cope with the feelings which you may have about what has happened. See our directory of services around Victoria that may be able to help.
Content reprinted with permission from the Hobart Sexual Assault Support Service, November 1997, with funding provided by the Department of Human Services Victoria.