“Why didn’t you tell”, is one of the most frequently asked questions that I hear other survivors say that they are asked by the people they chose to disclose their abuse to. Looking from the outside in, this may seem like an appropriate question, but it can often leave room for the assumption of blame by the person disclosing.
The Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau estimates that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. If you know anything about statistics you know that they can be skewed, especially when your sample size relies on those who disclose to someone who is able to get them help. Darkness 2 Light reported that 38% of child sexual abuse victims disclose their abuse and of those only 40% of kids tell someone of authority who report the incident. So that leaves the burning question, why didn’t you tell?
The purpose of this blog post is to explain some of the reasons that a victim of child sexual abuse struggles to disclose their abuse. Know that abuse experiences are different for every single person and the categories I have chosen to discuss are popular reasons, but are not the only reasons someone may not come forward. I want people who have not been victims of child sexual abuse to understand why many individuals, both children and adults, have difficulty coming forward and those who have been or are victims to understand you aren’t alone.
The driving force of child sexual abuse is the instillation of fear into the victim. If a perpetrator does not instill fear, then they are subjected to being caught doing something they know to be wrong. Fear can be expressed to a child in many different ways.
“If you say anything you will get in trouble”
“If you tell, then I will hurt you or someone you love”
“If you tell, I could get in trouble”
“If you say anything, no one will believe you”
“If you tell anyone then it will break up the whole family”
The list goes on and on and on. For children, it is easy for a perpetrator to instill this fear from the examples given. Children are made to believe that the perpetrator will/can hurt their family, their pets, their friends. They are made to believe that no one would ever believe them and most children are close to their abuser, therefore they do not want to get them in trouble.
“What will my friends think”, “What will my girlfriend/boyfriend think”, “How will people react”. Many victims feel overwhelming embarrassment for the actions that took place and think that if their peers find out about it they will be an outcast. When I was in high school I was on the bus going to a wrestling tournament with several other boys and girls. I remember there was a boy who was a year or two older than me that made the joke “why don’t you go have sex with your dad”, mind you this person was not aware that I was sexually abused by my father. For some reason children make jokes about incest and rape which shows victims the response they will most likely receive from their peers. Child sexual abuse is the stealing of a child’s most important possession, their body. When this happens, victims can feel like they have lost all control of everything in their lives.
In our society we view men as masculine. You’re supposed to enjoy the outdoors, beer, and shooting guns. As for boys, they are supposed to learn masculine ways to handle emotions and grow up to be a “man”. It’s portrayed as acceptable for young boys to look at female porn and sleep with older women. These are all reasons in which our society makes it difficult for many young men to come forward about their abuse. It’s not viewed as masculine for a boy’s body to be taken advantage of. We also make it difficult for boys to understand they’ve been raped when adult women take advantage of them. It’s viewed as cool to have sex with an older woman even though the understanding of children not being able to consent is the same as an older man with a young girl.
One of the most difficult things for me to realize on my own path of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse was the confusion between body stimulation and consent. I’m reading a book called “Hush” by Nicole Braddock Bromely who explains perfectly that just because it felt good to your body, doesn’t mean you consented or were okay with what was happening. We have sex organs for a reason, but the reason was never intended for children or in the bounds of rape. For a long time, even after I disclosed and met other survivors, I felt disgusting as I felt like I was the only one whose body responded in this way. I was so confused as to why it felt terrible in my mind, but my body was responding in a way that felt good. This is by far the biggest battle that I faced in trying to understand whether or not the abuse was okay or not okay.
When we think of children, we think of young people who are selfish and feel like the world revolves around them. The most fascinating thing I have ever discovered is the thought process in children who consider disclosing sexual abuse. I met a young woman who told me that her abuser was a family member who was revered in her family and she knew if she disclosed then people would not believe her because of how much they loved him. You see, my dad was disliked by mostly everyone so when I decided to speak out I didn’t have to consider his reputation, how it would effect the family, or risk no one believing me because he was not a popular person. It is amazing how much child victims consider how the non-perpetrating parent will be effected and how the family as a whole will be effected by their disclosure. Some children would rather face the sexual abuse than break up their family, which is the most selfless thing I’ve ever heard of.
Many victims of child sexual abuse wear the repercussions of their perpetrators actions on their back. They feel that if they say something then that person, who they may really care about, will go to jail or get in trouble. Many feel that when the family can not handle the truth of the abuse then it is their fault for breaking the family apart. One of the most difficult things for me to realize as a survivor of child sexual abuse is that it was not my fault and there is nothing I could have done to stop it from happening. As a child you do not have the ability to consent to sexual relations with an adult which is why it is a law.
- My Disclosure •
My father and I lived alone together the majority of my life which made me an easy target for manipulation. My father would not allow me to see the rest of my family and would make me stay home alone during the summer for fear I would spill our little secret. I was sexually abused from the time I was about 5 until 15 so trying to figure out that the abuse was wrong was the most difficult thing for me as I had become normalized by what happened in the homes I lived in with my father. I remember we only had basic cable andIn the summer I would watch Live with Regis and Kelly, The Price is Right, The Young and the Restless, Days of Our Lives, Opera, Rachel Ray, Judge Judy, Dr. Phil and Ellen. I remember watching Dr. Phil, Ellen, and Opera where these kids would be invited onto the show to talk about child abuse, rape, and other things happening to kids. As I child I would recognize the tone of the topics and how the crowd would react as well as how proud the host was that the child was speaking about it. I truly feel that those shows impacted my life and taught me that what was happening behind closed doors was not okay. On October 22, 2008 I told a teacher at Tascosa High School that my dad “did things to me” and from there I was able to begin healing, but the road to that day was 10 years in the making.
If someone makes the choice to tell you about their childhood sexual abuse, whether that be a child or adult, JUST LISTEN. Give them the ability to get it out and be supportive. Understand how much it may have taken them to trust someone with what happened to them and know it’s not easy.
** If a child discloses something to you, call law enforcement or the child abuse hotline in your state **
If you are or have been a victim of childhood sexual abuse, talk with someone you trust and always remember that you have a voice worth listening to.