Newspapers across the nation and around the world carry the headlines of children who are victims of abduction, molestation, rape, and other forms of sexual abuse. Radio and television talk shows fill the airwaves with accounts of people who have survived being abducted or sexually abused yet, somehow at least part of the blame is frequently placed on the victim.
When a young person is one of the fortunate ones who managed to survive an encounter with a sex offender especially if the abuse occurred over a long period of time, his or her well meaning friends, family and members of society often ask, “Why didn’t he escape?” or “She surely could have found an opportunity to call for help.”
These types of attitudes imply that pedophiles and child molesters have some natural license to have power and control over young people, treat children like sex objects, and the innocent victim is somehow perceived to be responsible for his or her own abuse.
The child sexual abuse victim can be compared in many ways to the wife who suffers from Battered Woman’s Syndrome. Psychologists recognize that these women stay with their abuser for many reasons. If the battered woman decides to leave, she would face losing most if not all of the family income and have nowhere to go especially if she has children. Frequently the women found in these situations love the partner who abuses them. Many times these women were also abused as children and have grown to believe that physical and emotional abuse is normal and that it is deserved. She also believes and sometimes rightfully so that if she leaves the abusive situation, she immediately increases the odds of being killed by her abuser.
When a child molester or pedophile finds the void in a child’s life and fills it, the child soon believes that it is his or her fault that the abuse occurred. Often the void is a physical need such as food, clothing, or money and the youngster knows that if he or she breaks the silence, the gifts will stop. The emptiness longing to be filled can also be an emotional need. Child sexual abusers are very proficient in knowing and understanding the emotional needs of young people and will tell them anything they want to hear. The child is told they are special, they are loved, and soon the child is made to feel very important when he or she is with the abuser.
Behaviors found in victims of child sexual abuse can also be compared to those who are members of a cult. The faithful followers of a charismatic leader are led to do things that they would not normally do. Some leave their families and move to a compound where all of their time, effort and energy is spent abiding by the philosophy of the cult and others will go clear to the point of suicide after being told that there are special blessings awaiting them in heaven when they end their own lives.
This type of brainwashing is very similar to the power and control that the pedophile has over his or her victim. Many of these innocent children do in fact love their abuser and believe that the abuser loves them. Their vision is blurred, they cannot see themselves as victims, and will defend the perpetrator until the day they finally realize the relationship is harmful. This enlightening doesn’t usually come until the abuser has been caught or the child is well into adulthood. This is why we are hearing the many adults who finally break the silence and tell the horrifying events that unfolded many decades ago.
The offender uses many deceiving techniques to persuade the young person to think in ways that will offer the abuser immediate and long term gratification while reinforcing the belief that the child at least contributed to the abuse. The child sexual abuse victims often feel that this adult relationship brings new hope and meaning to their lives. The morals taught by the child’s loving family and the standard norms of society are completely erased from the child’s mind and replaced with the secrets he or she must keep often forever. The young and innocent child is placed in a situation where he or she is powerless over the amount of control that the abuser places on him or her and it is extremely difficult if not impossible to escape.
The child may also feel responsible for the safety of his or her family or pets after the abuser makes direct or indirect threats including, “If anyone ever found out, I would have no choice but to kill them. I know you don’t want that, but I would have no other choice because I love you.”
The crimes of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation are even more destructive when society punishes the victim through their lack of knowledge or education about the dynamics of child sexual abuse. The more of us who work to understand the complex effects of child sexual abuse, the less permissiveness there will be for this behavior in our communities. We must all work toward the goal of being aware and informed so that we may protect not just our children but all children from the prevalent crime of child sexual abuse.