Child Sexual Abuse: Blaming Mothers of Sexually Abused Children

sexually-abused-child-3When I first began the series of articles dealing with child sexual abuse, I promised to write about mother blame. I haven’t written about the legal system and society’s role in blaming mothers, when her child has been sexually abused, because the subject of mother blame infuriates me beyond belief. [Update below]

Dealing with the subject of sexually abused children is a difficult one to say the least; just ask a parent of an abuse victim and you will discover the torrent of emotions involved. Better yet, ask ME! Utter shock, disbelief, ferocious RAGE, devastation, gut-wrenching pain racing through your mind and heart, and every other emotion you can think of. (Note: There is a difference between disbelief and not believing!)

Mother Blame

Blaming the mother instead of placing the blame solely on the offender has a long history in our society and does not serve the best interest and protection of abused children. Women are primarily seen as the protectors and nurturers of children, so when it is learned that a child has been sexually abused, many people immediately blame the mother for “allowing the abuse to occur” or, “not paying close enough attention” to her children, without actually knowing the details of the case. “Where was the mother?!” is often the first question people think of when hearing of children being abused.

abused-children-3Mothers of sexually abused children often feel that no matter what they do it is considered wrong by the legal system and society in general. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they react to their child’s disclosure of sexual abuse with anger and take steps to insure the safety and protection of their child, they may be called mean, hysterical or insane in court proceedings. Mothers who work to suppress their unmitigated rage, calmly carrying out the duties needed to protect their children, say they are accused of falsely accusing their child’s perpetrator.

A common tactic for defense attorneys in sexual abuse cases is to discredit and blame those who act to defend and protect the sexually abused child. It is much more successful to discredit and destroy the child’s defenders, especially the mother, by claiming the mother is insane or neglectful of her responsibility to protect her child.

Defense attorneys say that “if it had really happened, she would be enraged!” Yet, if the mother expresses that rage, she’s accused of being a nut case in court. Add to that the mothers who have believed and acted on their child’s disclosure of sexual abuse report that they have been disbelieved by those who evaluated the allegations including Child Protective Services (CPS).

It is one of the sad realities of our society, blaming mothers when a child is sexually abused. Mothers are placed in an impossible, no-win situation. No matter what she does, it seems wrong. Societal norms and expectations about the responsibility mothers bear for what happens inside their homes, and to their children outside the home, greatly influences society’s views towards mothers of sexually abused children.

The degree to which our cultural values may lead society to blame non-offending mothers “is exemplified” by the findings of Dietz and Craft (1980), who reported that most social workers believed that mothers are as responsible for the sexual abuse as the offender, despite the fact that 78 percent of the mothers in their study were being physically abused by the same offender who abused the child” (Massat & Lundy, 1998).

Mothers of Sexually Abused Children Need Support

Emerging research indicates that mothers of sexually abused children need emotional support, as they are often in a state of complete shock because of learning their child has been sexually abused. (Working With Mothers of Sexually Abused Children.pdf) As soon as mothers or parents make it known what has happened to their child, the relationship between these mothers and the rest of the world changes. (Corcoran, 1998)

end-sexual-abuse-of-children-3To think or assume that mothers somehow “just know” that their child is being abused, or has already been abused, is ludicrous! Since sexual abuse often occurs within the home by a family member, does that mean mothers should not take showers, use the bathroom, SLEEP!, just to be on the “safe side”? If sexual abuse occurs during the time a pregnant mother spends five minutes on the phone to schedule a doctor’s appointment, should mothers stop using the phone too?!

How about this: Why don’t mothers just make sure all of her children are sleeping right next to her at night until their 18th Birthday, just to make sure abuse doesn’t happen while she’s sleeping?! (Included sarcasm intended)

UPDATE: When I originally wrote this article, I neglected to mention that some mothers DO molest children. That is appalling to me on every level. For those of you who have been molested or raped by your mother or grandmother, my heart goes out to you. Healing from sexual abuse IS possible for victims of child sexual abuse, whether the abuse was done by a mother or father/grandfather/uncle etc. There are many books on sexual abuse for survivors to find healing from the past, so that your present and future doesn’t have to marred and forever damaged by having been abused.

Further Reading:

Child Sexual Abuse – Facts vs. Myths
Why Don’t Kids Tell? Talking to Your Children about Sexual Abuse
Launching Child Safety and Child Sexual Abuse Series
Sexual Abuse Books-Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse-Healing Sexual Abuse
Child Molestation Prevention:Signs and Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse

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, Telling It Like It Is

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