How Do I Protect My Child From Being Sexually Abused?
Step 5: Why Does the Child Stay Silent?
Sometimes I get frustrated with my kids — how about you? In fact, each of my three kids get really upset when I lose my cool. My three year old says, “Mommy, are you done being frustrated?” as little tears fill her eyes. My middle says, “I don’t like the big voice mommy,” then hides under a blanket. My oldest just starts saying, “I am so sorry, Mommy.”
Why do they each want my anger to end? If you saw me get mad you wouldn’t, as an adult, think much of it. You would probably think, “Yep, I do that too,” or “That’s not yelling — you should have heard my mom.” But in their world, for those moments that I am upset, there is a disconnect between my love and their hearts. And they hate it! They want to be close and at peace with me. They want to feel that we are together and that my affection is fully available to them at anytime. I am their home, I am their place to count on and to go to. They want me back.
This is the first reason a child doesn’t saying anything when he is sexually abused. The child doesn’t want the “good” part of the relationship to be taken from him, and he knows that it will if he tells. He knows that what has felt so good — the connection and non-sexual touch — will end if he lets someone in on the abuse. The sexually abused child is in quite a bind. He knows, “If I say something I lose the good part. If I keep quiet I get to keep the good stuff but I feel so bad.” What a terrible spot for a child.
The second reason a child doesn’t tell anybody is shame. Author Dan Allender describes shame as the desire to hide yourself. The sexually abused child will feel that he is very bad (because he has been told in some way the abuse is his fault/choice) and he will feel very ashamed (he wants to hide). If a child tells about the abuse he has to be seen. He has to put out into the light the very thing he so desperately wants to keep hidden. It takes such bravery to tell and it takes a safe, safe, safe adult for the child to tell.
The final reason a child doesn’t tell is there has been a threat. The threat can come in all different shapes and sizes. It can come because the child told a dirty joke before the sexual abuse happened, and then the abuser said, “I will tell on you if you say anything.” The abuser may have asked the child to touch him. That puts the child in a situation where he or she made the first contact. Then the abuser says, “You will get in trouble for touching me if you tell your parents.” He might say something like, “This is how friends love each other,” or “This is just a special part of our friendship, but promise you won’t tell.” Can you see how tricky this is for a kid? The abuser knows just how to confuse a child’s sweet mind. And in each case, the abuser carefully puts the weight of ruining the relationship or the blame of the sexual touching right on the child’s lap.
Shame is such a barrier to getting helping for anybody, and even more so when you are little. As a parent, you want to find out if there is anything you might be doing, unintentionally, that makes it difficult for your child to share his/her feelings. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Do you avoid talking about private parts, do you get annoyed when they are sad, or do you punish them or criticize them when they are legitimately angry?
You want to ask these questions because addressing these issues in yourself will open a door of connection between you and your child that has been closed. That open door begins to make you an even safer place to come to when your child is hurting.