“My son, was sexually abused by a predator. I felt as though my son’s life and mine had come to an end. As a result I blamed myself and hated myself. How could I not have seen? Was it possible I let this happen? Why did I not see the signs? What did I do wrong that my little boy not tell me?
When I eventually found out my first action was to hold my son. I told him over and over again that I was sorry. Very sorry that I wasn’t there when he needed me the most”.
This was the beginning of a seeming never-ending nightmare for Mom X. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.
“The need to protect my son could only be done through separating him from the world. I had a deep need to hold him in my arms, and this is exactly what I did”.
When we think of child abuse and child rape, we often think if little girls. Girls being the most vulnerable. Statically this is true, however one should question the extent of male child sexual abuse and whether this area remains under reported. Children are children and all equally vulnerable.
As parents we feel our child’s pain when they tell us others have bullied them. We feel their hurt when they fall off their bicycles and cannot stop crying and jumping around when we try to get the gravel and dirt out the grazed and bleeding cuts. When our child is admitted to hospital, we feel helpless as parents, and have no choice but to allow the doctor to take our child away into theatre. In all these circumstances we are aware of what our child is facing. We are able to be with our child thereby caring for them from the beginning.
The events that unfold when hearing your child has been sexually abused and the length of time it has been going on for is nothing short of life shattering.
Reasons Children Don’t Disclose
In most cases of child sexual abuse, the child does not disclose immediately. One estimate cites that 73% of children don’t disclose sexual abuse for at least one year, 45% don’t tell anyone for five years, and others never disclose their abuse at all (Smith et al., 2000; Broman-Fulks et al., 2007).
All these children grow up to be adult survivors of child sexual abuse. A child that is not believed and supported at disclosure can result in trauma. If the child does not disclose, the trauma of this can manifest in various aspects of the adult survivors life.
It took Mom X time and therapy to realize that there was no way she could have known. There were no immediate obvious signs. Therapy helped her realize that she should not blame herself. Mom X also learnt to stop asking herself questions to which there will never be answers. Child X’s disclosure was not intentional. He was simply relating a story of what happened in his day. Mom X can be proud that she is a parent who listened and heard what her child was saying. It was here that little alarms started going off.
How can a child be sexually abused without mom, dad or another caring adult knowing about it?
It happens under the cloak of the “Three A’s” that are generally present for child sexual abuse to occur — Access, Alone Time and Authority.
- Who has Access to your children – At school, your home, your family, friends’ houses, lifts to school, on the bus, the taxi, in your community? There are so many people in our lives that have access to our children
- Who spends time with our child Alone – What happens at school? Is our child the last to be dropped off in the lift club, do our children stay home with family, a parent or caregiver that can get them alone? Are they with the neighbour while you are at work
- Authority – a teacher, coach, school bully, baby sitter, parent, guardian, caregiver, camp leaders – anyone who is placed “in authority” over the child.
As parents we teach our children about different touches. We always tell them they can talk to us about anything creating hope in us that they are going to be assertive enough to say NO (this word may never prevent the abuse from being carried out) and come and tell us immediately. Some children do but statistically most children don’t. At least not always immediately.
The following are reasons for children taking their time to disclose, if they disclose at all.
It’s our Secret
Sexual predators are master manipulators and often use these words with younger children, creating the impression that the abuse is something “special” and only the two of them share that “special” time together.
The Blame Game
Being manipulators, sexual predators make children believe that the abuse is their fault. The child caused the abuser to behave the way that they did and if the child tells anyone, they will be in big trouble, not the abuser.
The grooming process can be carried out by the sexual predator in a short space of time if the predator can get the 3 A’s to fall into place at an early stage. Alternatively, if there are parents, caregivers or other involved adults in the child’s life, the grooming stage may take a little longer. As a result of other adults, such as parent, guardians and caregiver the predator many need to have numerous contacts with all of them. These interactions with child and adults are all for the purpose of grooming.
Threats – Direct and Indirect
A sexual predator’s common tactic is using a threat. They may threaten to harm the child’s parents or siblings. This threat may be direct or indirect. A direct threat that could be used is telling the child if they tell they will be taken away and never see their parents again.
The perception of harm, portrayed to a child about harming their family, for a child, is the same as making a direct and actual threat.
People in Positions of Power (Authority)
People in positions of power who prey on children, may make the child believe that no one will believe them if they did tell. Such people for example could be educators, religious leaders, people who wear uniforms or leaders in the community. This tactic is manipulative and scares children into silence.
Children from a very early age are able to experience shame. Think of a little child who wets their pants and tries to hide the pants under the bed. This is because they are ashamed and don’t want to disappoint their parents or fear the repercussions of being found out. Child victims of sexual abuse can experience shame, embarrassment and humiliation. These feelings can be so strong that they choose not to tell about the abuse.
YES LOVE!! 90% of children are sexually abused by someone that they trust, know and or LOVE. Should the child have feelings for the predator the chances of them disclosing are small resulting in the abuse remaining a secret. The child may love the parent or family member that is abusing them. Some children may want to protect their parents and how the parent may feel or react should they disclose the abuse. This is especially true where one or both parents are already vulnerable, but not always the case. Child sexual abuse can happen to any child in any family environment and happens in all communities.
“Hearing that my child had been abused over a period of time, made no sense to me. Nothing that anyone said made sense to me. I heard a case had to be opened, I heard something about a doctor’s visit for a medical examination but my mind was about to explode. Pathetically, I felt helpless and felt like a failure, guilty and hated myself”
“Opening the case, was difficult. It was a combination of numbness and total hysteria. There were times when my statement was being taken that I had to walk away and cry. I remember at one point I left the statement taking room and locked myself in my car. No longer could I cope with what I was feeling. It was overwhelming and I remember getting very cold.”
Before my son made his statement, disclosing what happened to him, he was angry. Angry is a mild way of putting it. I was in for a wild roller coaster ride. One moment my boy was fine, then angry, he even became violent at one stage and then totally withdrew. During each of his outbursts he always landed back in my arms and cried. His tears flowed like a tap that couldn’t close. I just held him close and reassured him that he was safe.
Taking the statement was a long process. Never was there pressure placed on my boy. He spoke at his own pace and shared what he felt comfortable to share. Step by step the very patient police man from the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS), slowly and patiently took down the information being offered. Needless to say, a further statement had to be taken”
Mom X’s son shared how he felt about that day, he said “I felt angryish because I didn’t know what to do. Afterwards my safest place was my mom”.
Anger is an outward expression of fear and hurt. Little Boy X wanted to protect his mom from what had happened to him. He felt shame and embarrassment and was now confronted with a world totally unknown to him. He didn’t understand the processes and procedures that had to be followed in opening a case. This was a fearful adult world.
“I can’t say that the doctor’s examination was an easy one. My boy was fearful, yet brave. The doctor spoke gently to him and explained each step that needed to happen. I felt lost and helpless. It was difficult to place my trust in a stranger who was going to be examining my sons private parts and behind for signs of sexual abuse. All too vividly I remember once the examination was over my son grabbed me and I held him. He felt like a sack of potatoes in my arms. I’ve never felt him so heavy before and could feel his relief at it all being over. He now knew that I knew and that he no longer had to carry this burden on his own”.
“That moment was a defining one and will always remain with me. A moment of such brokenness, but a moment of great strength and unburdening”.
The Court Process
“As if the statement taking and doctors’ visits wasn’t trying enough, the court process started. This involved numerous visits to the court. First for a preliminary interview to see if my child could tell his story and was going to be competent witness – did he know truth vs lies, right vs wrong”.
From there it was interviews and consults with the prosecutor going through all the evidence with my child pre-trial. I thought it would never end. Then the trial started. Well so I thought. There were numerous delays in getting started. Many times we arrived at court thinking today it would all be over, our stories would be told and we would never have to return. The emotional build up, visits to the therapist, going to court and then nothing. So many times I felt that enough was enough. How much more must I put my child through? If I wasn’t dealing with it, how could I expect him to?
Finally after many months of turmoil, build ups and let downs, my boy had his chance. It was difficult for me to have my boy separated from me. He was alone with an intermediary giving his evidence. I had to wait in a separate room. As I was also a witness, I couldn’t have contact with my son until he was done. Luckily I managed to slip in a “hug and I’m proud of you, keep going” here and there during the quick breaks. The waiting lasted for what seemed forever. During this time I experienced every kind of emotion possible.
The wait was draining but I knew my child would be finished and need me when he was done. I had to keep composing myself and putting on a big, brave smiley face. Inside I was in turmoil. The saying “put on your big girl panties” couldn’t be truer during that time.
When we got home, after getting a treat for him, he was tired and slept. For about 2 days my son didn’t seem himself. He was angry and withdrawn. I was told this would happen. We went back to the therapist for him to talk through his feelings. I cannot emphasize the importance of getting a good therapist.”
Message from Mom X
Don’t let your child being abused and you not knowing define you. There is no way you could have known. The smoke and mirrors only becomes clearer in hindsight. Always remember that your child needs you and responds to your actions and reactions. They can read you like a book. My son heard me crying, no matter how I tried to hide it, even if it was in the shower with the water running.
I remember a day when my son reacted with such anger because he heard me cry. In hindsight I realize that it wasn’t anger. He didn’t have the words to express how “responsible” he felt for “hurting” me and in turn this hurt him. This was all expressed as anger (hindsight).
Be a parent when faced with this mountain. You have to stand strong, face the crisis with your child with no fear. Don’t let your anger and heartache make you act out in front of your child, around your child or within ear shot of your child. Your child feels what you feel. If I could take back my son hearing me cry I would. Your child needs a safe place, be that safe place.
Stay strong and focused. Let people help you and don’t talk about the abuse to the world and his wife. Tell a few trusted close people and never talk in front of the child or where they can hear you.
Remain a parent. Keep the boundaries, home routines and discipline. It’s hard because you just want your child to be happy and you don’t want to harm them in any way, but it’s important. They will feel safe. Trust me.
The process from reporting, statement taking, therapy, doctors’ visits, therapy, court interviews and consults with prosecutors, therapy, numerous trial postponements, therapy, giving evidence and more therapy is a long bumpy ride. Hold on to yourself and keep going. There is light, you just don’t think you will ever see it.
The criminal justice process can be frustrating, painful and filled with ups and downs, but you have to keep the course. It’s not about the predator, their lawyer, the magistrate or the prosecutor. It’s all for your child and their future. I was grateful that I did not have to endure the court process alone and received such amazing support from all who were involved in dealing with my son’s matter.
Your child will draw strength from your strength. They will always know that even though they were a child, they were able to do something very brave. As your child grows into an adult they can draw strength from this when finding themselves in a very difficult situation.
I will not take this process back for anything. My son and I feel empowered, braver and stronger because of this. We are closer than ever.
Give your child a chance to let their voice be heard. Let them know that you believed their story and believed in them.”