Any sexual contact, covert or overt, between a child and a trusted individual that damaged the child, whether these contacts included suggestive remarks, pornography, fondling or acts of sexual aggression or torture, needs to be dealt with assertively. These contacts scar virtually all facets of victims’ lives since we are left with little or no self-esteem. At least one out of five boys and one out of three girls will be abused before they reach the age of eighteen. The child’s emotional growth will be arrested at the age of the first attack, and we have found the surviving victim won’t begin to work on recovery until adulthood, if then.
Boys, as well as girls, are victims of child sexual abuse. Abusers come in all shapes and sizes. Many perpetrators were perceived by the child to be an authority, including: father, grandfather, mother, brother, uncle, friend of the family, aunt, teacher — unfortunately the list is endless.
Some of the social maladjustments arising from incest are: alcoholism, drug addiction, self-injury, prostitution, promiscuity, sexual disfunctionand suicide. Eating or sleeping disorders, migraines, back or stomach pains are just a few of the serious physical consequences that we may suffer. Food, sex, alcohol and/or drugs deaden painful memories of the abuse and obscure reality temporarily. If for instance we perceive obesity to be unattractive, and if we believe or were told that we were abused because we were attractive, we may overeat in a misguided yet totally understandable attempt to defend ourselves from further sexual assault.
“I felt like throwing up” is a common response among victims. Bulimia is a way of acting out that feeling. Anorexia can be another form of self-punishment, or a desperate grab for control, eventually leading to the ultimate self-victimization, suicide.
A number of emotional problems may emerge from the abuse, including inability to trust, perfectionism, phobias, avoidance of both intimacy and emotional bonding. The denial system that insured our survival as children now prevents us from enjoying unencumbered adulthood. We don’t trust our own perceptions; we were forced to become an expert in disbelieving our own senses. We tried to convince ourselves that we over-reacted and that nothing really terrible happened: “My daddy would never REALLY hurt me.”
When reality is too painful for a child’s mind s/he learn to fictionaliz – to somehow make it all make sense. It is extremely painful to give up the fantasy family we needed but never got. Children see themselves either in reflected glory or disgraced shadows. Therefore, we sometimes make excuses for the abuser: “He was drunk at the time. She had it rough as a child.” We take responsibility for the assaults: “I was too attractive, too sexy.” The abuser probably reinforced our own nagging guilt and questions we had concerning our own innocence. Essentially, we defend the perpetrator by minimizing, rationalizing and taking on the blame.
If we continue to use these coping mechanisms (or “old ideas”) as adults, we set ourselves up to be abused in current relationships. We may even feel safer in the familiar role of victim. In Survivors of Incest Anonymous, we can learn to accept the fact that we were abused rather than loved by the abuser. We can then learn to seek out healthy, loving relationships. We have been accustomed to accepting only crumbs, believing that we do not deserve anything better, when in fact we deserve the very best.
We may have parenting problems, always second-guessing our decisions – another result of distrusting our own perceptions. We may avoid parenting altogether, or try to be a perfect parent or live in fear of somehow repeaingt the abuse. The worst possible consequence of not working on our own recovery is to see abuse fall on the next generation and assume the blame.