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Complicity and Intimidation
While there are many reasons
persons maintain the secrecy of their sexual abuse, chief amongst them may be
shame, a sense of complicity and intimidation.
With regard to shame, many persons
who were victimized by childhood sexual abuse come to believe that the abuse is
somehow a reflection on them. They come to mistaken beliefs that owing to their
victimization, they may be less of a person. How this can come about is
understandable even though misguided.
It is understandable in that the
experience of childhood sexual abuse leaves the child with the mistaken
impression that their worth and value are limited to or reduced to that of a
sexual object for the gratification of others. They as a person beyond their
availability for the sexual gratification of the other are of limited value and
they are tainted in the eyes of others, the outcome of being spoiled goods by
virtue of their exploitation. It is sadly misguided, because a personís worth
simply isnít determined by factors so outside their control and certainly not
by their victimization/exploitation.
As for a sense of complicity,
there are those persons who also have a mistaken notion that they were complicit
in their abuse. Again, these outcomes are understandable yet also misguided.
An understanding of sexual
behaviour, from an adult perspective is simply beyond the cognitive ability of
the child. However, some children may feel lonely, abandoned, lost, not cared
for, or they may feel unable to tell their parents or guardians with the fear of
wrongdoing attributable to themselves for lewd, inappropriate or despicable acts
perpetrated against them. These children are vulnerable and in these
circumstances, the child feels their own vulnerability as complicity for either
not speaking out in the moment, shortly thereafter or in part appreciating the
attention in the circumstance, albeit not the activity.
That a lonely child can be
exploited by the lure of caring and attention, does not make that child
complicit with their exploitation. It makes them but a child, used and abused by
the other for inappropriate gain and gratification. Being lonely does not mean
your vulnerability should be exploited. Not being able to tell your parents or
guardian may be more reflective of an ambivalent belief in your care and safety
with what should be trusted adults. If you felt you had to keep a secret for the
wellbeing of your parents, who might be upset, even if appropriately at the
target of your abuse, this is also topsy-turvy and a reflection of something
amiss in the parenting.
Intimidation is a very potent
silencer and probably the easiest to understand. This is the one reason for
secrecy that is understandable and may not be misguided.
Intimidation comes in many forms
from overt threats of violence to the child, threats of being separated from
oneís family if the secret is unveiled, to threats of projecting culpability
upon the child by distortion of facts, to threats of undermining the personís
credibility in childhood or even later in adulthood. There is a trajectory for
the child as they grow into adulthood. The trajectory is to continue to feel
that sense of intimidation even as they age and even when the real threat is not
as great as the perceived threat. That
wounded and scared child remains at the core of oneís being, now enveloped by
their adult body. As such, the intimidation begun in childhood follows into
The role/goal of therapy is
realistically examine misguided beliefs. No child is complicit in their abuse
and no child is shameful for any reason, certainly not for having been abused.
Even in adulthood, the secret is still not cause for shame once we understand
the potent and long living effect of childhood abuse.
As for intimidation, the role/goal
of therapy is to realistically appraise the threat of intimidation. The benefit
of this reappraisal in adulthood is that the adult part of oneís being can
stand up for and be self-protective in appropriate ways of the wounded child
within. Whereas the child within may yet feel intimidated, the grown up self can
take ownership of an adult understanding of abuse as a reflection of the abuser
and not oneself as a child. It may have been easy to intimidate the child, but
more difficult to intimidate the empowered adult.
If you are an adult survivor of
childhood sexual abuse please know, it cannot have been your fault. You cannot
be held accountable for the insidious exploitation by those who betray your
trust. This is not a reflection on you and hence no cause for shame. Now as an
adult, you can learn to not only protect yourself, but own these experiences as
a reflection of the abuse by another, independent of your value and worth as a
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
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