Positive outcomes for kids when there's sexual abuse?
August 3, 2016 2:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm curious about how, in real life, one deals with a situation where someone is molesting or abusing a child. Commonly, the perpetrator is within the family or friend group – a father, an uncle, a sibling or cousin, a friend of the family. In these situations where you have family ties, what kind of response actually makes the situation better? I'm interested in both concrete steps that can be taken as well as what kind of outcomes would be expected. [Trigger Warning]

This is a hypothetical concern but I was actually abused sexually as a child, molested by my father. At the point that things seemed to be escalating, I told my mother and that put an end to it. There was some family counselling but I didn't realize until many, many years later that my mom actually didn't know the most of it. As a child, around 12, I just wanted it to stop and I was deeply uncomfortable answering questions about it to my mother or to a therapist or anyone else. I may have even minimized it and life went on. My mother stayed with my father and that has always been a sore point with me.

I think my parents continued on with therapy off and on over the years so perhaps they made their own peace with things. Now I have my own children and I kind of obsess about what I would do if I found out someone was molesting or abusing them. Other than going completely nuts and absolutely taking it seriously, I get brought up short when I imagine specific people as the perpetrators, and what I would do in those scenarios.

If it was my husband, I imagine getting divorced and then him having visitation which would be terrible. If it was a family friend, I imagine how it could ruin our lives, their lives, their kids' lives, if their father went to jail, not including the guilt my child would probably feel to "cause" this disruption. I literally cannot imagine a scenario that doesn't make things demonstrably worse for the victim. I can kind of understand why the hush-hush-carry-on seems to make sense within families. How could this be handled well? How can the child be protected so that they don't feel guilt or that the consequences for the perpetrator are their responsibility?

In my situation, there were some "good" things that came out of it. My father started more consciously working on his addictions and getting help. My mother allowed me more freedom – locking my bedroom door if I want, wearing what I want to wear, a few other random things that actually did mean a lot to me at the time. My older brother started realizing that maybe he could act as my protector a little bit instead of just beating me up and being a total douche. (Childhood was a real treat for me.) I ended up with some kind of relationship with my father that was "good" but also forever altered and obviously with lifelong scars. After all, you might like Jekyll but you can never trust him once you've met Hyde.

Due to all this, I have a hard time thinking what would have been an outcome for this situation that was actually "the right thing." What is the right thing? Is there a book I can read that would give me some perspective on this so I can maybe stop obsessing? I need to feel like I have the tools to deal with this even though I know that it is an unlikely event. We are doing a lot of things to ensure that our child has body respect, positivity, openness with us, no shame, so that they will not suffer in secrecy if something like this happens. It's the after that causes me stress. I'd also like to feel like I can point others in the right direction if I hear that this is going on.

Help me out on this tough topic, Mefi-ers. How does one get to a positive outcome? How is there justice?
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know if you are open to religious books but Rid of My Disgrace is one that has helped me and lots of others I know.

There really isn't a best case scenario with childhood sexual abuse. One person's actions impact the entire family, sometimes for generations. I think the best case that is possible is the victim getting counselling, especially around relationships and family and breaking the cycle forever, in as far as they can.

Memail me if you want to talk. Sometimes it's just helpful to talk to someone who understands. Take care.
posted by guster4lovers at 2:25 PM on August 3, 2016


Well think about what you've said on your own situation. You seem well balanced, have children etc. Hypothetically you turned out ok.... A positive outcome. And although you can't imagine a scenario that doesn't make it worse for the victim (in you were uncomfortable answering questions etc in your own life) the specific outcome you mention as bothering you, now, as an adult is that your mom stayed with your abuser. Thats an answer unto itself. There's no unicorn at the end of the rainbow but getting you away from your abuser and showing the most supportive behavior (leaving her husband and whatever her 'needs' were) would've been positive steps for your own outcome. So let that help inform your thoughts about this.

As for 'is there justice' I don't know. Maybe? I mean of course there can be criminal justice so to speak or you could beat someone badly how hurt your kids but is any of that equal to the essential core damage being abused does to the rest of a child's life? Short of actually being murdered I don't think there is a worse harm to perform to a child, so I don't think you would have justice as an arrow in your quick you could dispense. You can only do what you would have wanted done.
posted by chasles at 2:31 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Please me mail me if you'd like. There's so much more I simply cannot share without the ability to anonymously comment....
posted by chasles at 2:32 PM on August 3, 2016


My ex-husband's family did it all wrong. They harbored the monster and allowed him to continue his behavior. When he was very old, they put him in a nursing home, and they didn't warn the staff, and he was caught harming another resident. I don't think silence is the answer.

I'm so very sorry for what happened to you. You have the right to be furious with your father, your mother, and your therapist. You have the right to never see any of them again. You have the right to tell your mother that she may visit your children but your father may not have any contact with them. You have the right to go a little crazy over this.

The thing with my ex-husband's family is that their boundaries are all skewed, because they had two generations of covering for their monster. I've had to pitch fits because they continue to put my children in harm's way. They allowed a non-family member male to share a bed with my son during a visit when he was very young. They aren't picky about who is in and out of their homes. They do not pay attention to where the children are, period. So my biggest piece of advice to you is to be aware that how you were raised might not be the right way. If your husband or your mother in law points something out, listen with both ears. Your positive outcome can be that you are more aware of what can happen, and you protect your children.

If it were to happen to them, I would hope that you would send the bastard to jail. Because there is never just one victim. Your dad should have gone to jail. He did something horrible. It wasn't your fault. There is nothing you could have done to have caused it. You were a victim and if it wasn't you, it would have been another kid that he had access to. So that is what you would say, if it happened to your kid, that their speaking up is keeping the monster from hurting anyone else.
posted by myselfasme at 2:43 PM on August 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


My cousin is a few years older than I am so late 40s. About 10 years ago she learned from her younger daughter that her husband was abusing their daughters. She went home, riffled through his things, found photographic evidence, packed the car with a few necessities, put her kids in the car, and drove to the police station. He ended up in jail. The girls got extensive counseling. I know she was raised in an abusive household and that her beliefs made turning her husband in difficult, but she did it.

Her girls have had different responses but they are ok so far.

My SIL dated an abusive man. After her neighbors called us to report her youngest child, 4 yrs, could be heard down the street screaming because he was terrified of dogs and her boyfriend was forcing the child to have a bath with the dog, We staged an intervention. It took her 4 more months to break up with him. My niece & nephews still have questions about it, and are not broken or anything but it does weigh on them (esp in light of other issues) - but they know we cared enough to at least do something. (She stopped leaving them with him.)

So...data points.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:58 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also my family handled my abuse badly so I left that out but...I am furious on your behalf. I don't know why your mum would want to be with someone who hurt you like that.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:06 PM on August 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


When there's abuse proved (or even alleged, sometimes) in divorce proceedings, if the judge believes there's a danger to the kid, s/he doesn't give the abusive parent unsupervised visitation rights. In some cases they get no visitation rights at all.

I think protecting the kid from the abusive parent/relative, demonstrating that the kid's safety is the highest priority and making sure the kid knows it was not their fault is the best outcome for the kid.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:06 PM on August 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Like chasles (maybe) I might have more specifics I can give through memail. But I am comfortable saying publicly that it's very important for children to learn that it's possible to love and/or care for someone and still be able to put your own needs first, even if that means not being with that person in a family. This is an important lesson for anyone who will ever be in a troubled relationship, as many are whether abused or not in childhood, and goes beyond stopping the abuse or forgiving the abuse, to being able to establish boundaries for responsibility to others. Kids can't walk away, so adults should do the walking for them. I think all abused children deserve someone who will say, "maybe daddy/mommy/whomever has issues and we feel bad for them (or not) and they're working on them and we hope it goes well, but you deserve to live apart from them until you're old enough to decide for yourself how he fits in your life (or not). You are not responsible for their actions, their recovery, their happiness and since they have lost the privilege of your company you don't have to share in their journey. You are more important than them right now."

I'm sorry that you didn't have someone to say that.
posted by dness2 at 3:26 PM on August 3, 2016 [25 favorites]


dness makes a more eloquent point than i could have.

"maybe daddy/mommy/whomever has issues and we feel bad for them (or not) and they're working on them and we hope it goes well, but you deserve to live apart from them until you're old enough to decide for yourself how he fits in your life (or not). You are not responsible for their actions, their recovery, their happiness and since they have lost the privilege of your company you don't have to share in their journey. You are more important than them right now."

thats it... right there.
posted by chasles at 4:41 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]




Well, because I had been molested, I was clear that if someone molested my kids, I was going to kill them and then spend a long time in jail. So, to my mind, the only good answer was "This needs to never happen to my kids." I read a lot on the topic, did a lot of therapy, etc and initiated the following policies:

1) My kids were not left with people they didn't like. Whether friend, relative or paid babysitter, if the kid didn't like them, I made other arrangements. No explanation or justification was required. Age was irrelevant. This was my policy starting at birth. Babies cry when they are unhappy. They don't need words to explain.

2) Affection, like hugs and kisses, required mutual consent. They were told at an early age that "No means no" and it was their decision. If someone disrespected their "no," they should come get mom. I would enforce their decision.

If it does happen, arrange to remove them from the situation and put a stop to it. Give them access to therapy if they want it, but do not make them do anything in particular. Validate their feelings. Allow them a voice. Don't judge them or silence them if they have really strong things to say, like "I hate them" or "I wish they were dead." If they are old enough, do let them know that it is unwise and can create problems to be too free about saying things like that in public. But arrange a safe space for them to live and a safe space for them to speak their truth and feel their feelings.

For me, a silver lining of what I went through is that I take a very jaundiced view of a lot of social expectations. I decided at age 16 that the rules did not protect me, so I would make my own rules. I read a lot and drew my own conclusions and came up with rubrics of my own. I concluded that society is deeply toxic and catches us all in its twisted web. This helped me have compassion for the people who hurt me and feel like we were all victims of circumstance. It also gives me a peaceable path forward where I can work towards promoting a healthier culture instead of just blaming people and hating men.

Where possible, I try to be supportive of parents, empowering to women and promote healthy sexual relationships among adults. I try to put my focus on helping before it has become a deeply twisted mess. "The war was lost because...the nail was lost." "A stitch in time saves nine."

I try to help women stand up for themselves and learn to exercise agency. I think women often stay with abusers because, at every turn, society pressures us to "be nice" and to defer to other people and strives to strip us of rights and power. I try to help women sidestep that in every way I possibly can, with as little drama as possible. I want, as much as possible, to avoid the lost nail. By the time the war is lost, it is quite a big mess. I try to give support well before it goes that far, whenever possible.

I think women who stay with abusers often have no other real choice. I do my best to help women make choices that limit the likelihood of finding themselves trapped in such a horrible situation. You need to have hope of surviving in order to leave. In order to take the moral high ground, you need resources. Some people just don't really have the wherewithal. Instead of judging people, I try to spread wherewithal to the best of my ability.
posted by Michele in California at 5:16 PM on August 3, 2016 [24 favorites]


I think the one thing that far outweighs all other factors is having parents or close relatives who condemn the behavior of the predator. In my experience as a therapist, this is what is called a protective factor and can allow for quicker healing.

The hypothetical nature of this question makes me wonder about what you are really asking or trying to get at for yourself. Because a hypothetical question would be virtually impossible to answer with complete certainty, I wonder if there is something unresolved for you? I ask this with complete respect and honor for you.
posted by rglass at 6:17 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was sexually molested when I was 9, by a workman who was around for a few weeks but whom I didn't have to see after that. I didn't tell my mother, probably because I didn't trust her to be on my side; she always wanted things to be "pleasant." Nine years after that, when my sister was nine years old, my parents were about to hire the guy again. I went home and talked to my mom, told her what the guy had done. She said, "Well, he's very good at flooring and his prices are reasonable. I'll keep an eye on things. If you tell your father about this, he will be extremely angry and I don't know what he might do to the guy."

If your child is treated inappropriately, with or without touching, please don't underestimate how much good you can do by listening and by reinforcing that your child is right to feel like that person did a bad thing. Acknowledge your child's feelings, and don't push... just be open so they can talk with you whenever they need to.

I say this because you might think it's a minor thing, listening and empathizing. It absolutely is not -- whether the matter is molestation or emotional abuse.
posted by wryly at 7:37 PM on August 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


I worked as a therapist in a rape crisis center, and I helped run groups for teenagers who had dealt with sexual assault and abuse, most of them as children. The huge trend I noticed was that teens whose parents believed them when they disclosed the abuse, and then did whatever necessary to remove the abuser from the family's life, fared the best, psychologically, at least as teens (which I assume would carry through their lives). I did treat a number of teens whose parents didn't cut off the abuser, due to family and cultural reasons, and while the teens generally expressed some intellectual understanding of that, their symptoms were generally worse.

I've also worked with a lot of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The only adults who expressed guilt about the abuser being cut out of the family were those adults whose families did not cut contact with the abuser when the abused person was a child.
posted by lazuli at 8:48 PM on August 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


For me, a silver lining of what I went through is that I take a very jaundiced view of a lot of social expectations. I decided at age 16 that the rules did not protect me, so I would make my own rules. I read a lot and drew my own conclusions and came up with rubrics of my own. I concluded that society is deeply toxic and catches us all in its twisted web. This helped me have compassion for the people who hurt me and feel like we were all victims of circumstance. It also gives me a peaceable path forward where I can work towards promoting a healthier culture instead of just blaming people and hating men.


Wow, quoted for truth, and thank you Michelle in California, for this. When the world looks so, so bleak (and OPs question certainly validates the feeling of bleakness) Michelle in California's compassionate response, while SO HARD to maintain, is what's going to keep us all human in the end.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 6:18 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Courage to Heal might be a good book to look at; I like her take on healing and forgiveness (in that she doesn't push forgiveness as a prerequisite to healing). It's been around long enough that your library should have copies, too.
posted by lazuli at 7:04 AM on August 4, 2016


I have a friend who works as a psychologist with troubled teens. She says that absolutely hands down the kids who were neglected are in a worse place psychologically than those who were molested but otherwise surrounded by adults who took care of their needs. I can see how this would play out with the way adults respond to abuse, because not removing the abuser, validating the child, etc is equivalent to neglect and tells the kid you don't care about their pain.
posted by lollusc at 6:06 PM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


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