Child Sexual Abuse: Blaming Mothers of Sexually Abused Children

Sexually Abused ChildWhen I first began the series of articles dealing with child sexual abuse, I promised to write about mother blame. I haven’t written about the legal system and society’s role in blaming mothers, when her child has been sexually abused, because the subject of mother blame infuriates me beyond belief. [Update below]

Dealing with the subject of sexually abused children is a difficult one to say the least; just ask a parent of an abuse victim and you will discover the torrent of emotions involved. Better yet, ask ME! Utter shock, disbelief, ferocious RAGE, devastation, gut-wrenching pain racing through your mind and heart, and every other emotion you can think of. (Note: There is a difference between disbelief and not believing!)

Mother Blame

Blaming the mother instead of placing the blame solely on the offender has a long history in our society and does not serve the best interest and protection of abused children. Women are primarily seen as the protectors and nurturers of children, so when it is learned that a child has been sexually abused, many people immediately blame the mother for “allowing the abuse to occur” or, “not paying close enough attention” to her children, without actually knowing the details of the case. “Where was the mother?!” is often the first question people think of when hearing of children being abused.

Abused ChildrenMothers of sexually abused children often feel that no matter what they do it is considered wrong by the legal system and society in general. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they react to their child’s disclosure of sexual abuse with anger and take steps to insure the safety and protection of their child, they may be called mean, hysterical or insane in court proceedings. Mothers who work to suppress their unmitigated rage, calmly carrying out the duties needed to protect their children, say they are accused of falsely accusing their child’s perpetrator.

A common tactic for defense attorneys in sexual abuse cases is to discredit and blame those who act to defend and protect the sexually abused child. It is much more successful to discredit and destroy the child’s defenders, especially the mother, by claiming the mother is insane or neglectful of her responsibility to protect her child.

Defense attorneys say that “if it had really happened, she would be enraged!” Yet, if the mother expresses that rage, she’s accused of being a nut case in court. Add to that the mothers who have believed and acted on their child’s disclosure of sexual abuse report that they have been disbelieved by those who evaluated the allegations including Child Protective Services (CPS).

It is one of the sad realities of our society, blaming mothers when a child is sexually abused. Mothers are placed in an impossible, no-win situation. No matter what she does, it seems wrong. Societal norms and expectations about the responsibility mothers bear for what happens inside their homes, and to their children outside the home, greatly influences society’s views towards mothers of sexually abused children.

The degree to which our cultural values may lead society to blame non-offending mothers “is exemplified” by the findings of Dietz and Craft (1980), who reported that most social workers believed that mothers are as responsible for the sexual abuse as the offender, despite the fact that 78 percent of the mothers in their study were being physically abused by the same offender who abused the child” (Massat & Lundy, 1998).

Mothers of Sexually Abused Children Need Support

Emerging research indicates that mothers of sexually abused children need emotional support, as they are often in a state of complete shock because of learning their child has been sexually abused. (Working With Mothers of Sexually Abused Children.pdf) As soon as mothers or parents make it known what has happened to their child, the relationship between these mothers and the rest of the world changes. (Corcoran, 1998)

End Sexual Abuse of ChildrenTo think or assume that mothers somehow “just know” that their child is being abused, or has already been abused, is ludicrous! Since sexual abuse often occurs within the home by a family member, does that mean mothers should not take showers, use the bathroom, SLEEP!, just to be on the “safe side”? If sexual abuse occurs during the time a pregnant mother spends five minutes on the phone to schedule a doctor’s appointment, should mothers stop using the phone too?!

How about this: Why don’t mothers just make sure all of her children are sleeping right next to her at night until their 18th Birthday, just to make sure abuse doesn’t happen while she’s sleeping?! (Included sarcasm intended)

UPDATE: When I originally wrote this article, I neglected to mention that some mothers DO molest children. That is appalling to me on every level. For those of you who have been molested or raped by your mother or grandmother, my heart goes out to you. Healing from sexual abuse IS possible for victims of child sexual abuse, whether the abuse was done by a mother or father/grandfather/uncle etc. There are many books on sexual abuse for survivors to find healing from the past, so that your present and future doesn’t have to marred and forever damaged by having been abused.

Further Reading:

Child Sexual Abuse – Facts vs. Myths
Why Don’t Kids Tell? Talking to Your Children about Sexual Abuse
Launching Child Safety and Child Sexual Abuse Series
Sexual Abuse Books-Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse-Healing Sexual Abuse
Child Molestation Prevention:Signs and Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse


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67 Responses to “Child Sexual Abuse: Blaming Mothers of Sexually Abused Children”

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  1. Lin says:

    Birdie, it isn’t very often that I hear stories such as yours. What you went through, as well as the others you’ve mentioned, is heart-wrenching and incomprehensible to anyone with a heart.

    I agree that there are some mothers who sexually abuse children and your feelings about your mother are quite understandable.

    Not all children who have been sexually abused in some way show any of the common Signs of having been sexually abused, and there are many mothers who have/had no idea that their child was being molested in any way.

    Non-offending mothers should not be blamed or ridiculed by anyone as having some responsibility for the abuse that took place. Non-offending mothers need and deserve society’s empathy, compassion and support.

    Offending mothers, or mothers who sexually children, should most definitely be blamed and punished to the fullest extent of the law. I’m so sorry for what you’ve been put through. I truly hope the best for you in your healing Birdie.

  2. Birdie says:

    Hi Lin,

    Thank you for your response. I would like to say that my story is not unique in any way, shape or form. There are plenty of stories that I have heard that make my childhood look like the Brady Bunch. It is truly sad what some parents are capable of doing to their own children.

    I can tell that you are a truly caring person. While I do not necessarily agree with your stance, I do respect your opinion. I stand by my belief that, if a child is living under the same roof as his or her parents and is being sexually abused, the non-offending parent must have some knowledge that something is just not right. The majority of sexually abused children DO exhibit signs. Unfortunately, many parents do see these signs, but may choose to ignore them. It is true that these signs may be subtle, but parents must educate themselves.

    Lin, I am sure that you have read some of the literature regarding the reactions of non-offending parents. Ann Elliott, of Radford University and Connie Carnes of the National Children’s Advocacy Center performed a literary review regarding this topic. They found that “Research suggests that mothers generally believe their children’s allegations, either totally or in part. Although the majority of mothers are supportive/protective, a substantial number are not. Even mothers who are generally supportive and protective often exhibit inconsistent and ambivalent responses.”

    Robert Reese M.D. wrote a book entitled “Treatment of Child Abuse: Common Ground for Mental Health, Medical, and Legal Practitioners.” He specifically writes about family dynamics following disclosure. According to Dr. Reese, responses are highly charged and varied and he found that “non-offending parents had divided loyalty between their spouse and their child” and “tend to act in a crisis-survival mode.” He also states that “they even react in ways that are difficult for seasoned abuse professionals to understand.” The responses ranged from being skeptical about the abuse, minimizing the abuse, telling the victim about financial problems should the marriage/relationship end and supporting the offender by remaining in the relationship. However, he agrees with you that these parents should be given support because, oftentimes, they have emotional issues themselves.

    Obviously this is an issue that is disturbing to many. It is also an issue that only those personally involved can truly understand. The sexual abuse of children is nothing new: it has, sadly, been around for centuries. It is only in recent times that people have begun to talk. I do know that you mean well. I truly believe that. But, I am sure that you can understand the anger that survivors, such as myself, have when we read your article. I agree with what Kevin wrote: “For the sake of the true victim, the child, she [the mother] must own her choices.”

    Just for your information and for anyone else who is concerned about the welfare of children, here is a fabulous link to a website aimed at kids who may be experiencing abuse. This website has been produced by the Children’s Aid Societies of Ontario, Canada. Place your cursor over each child and you will get information regarding different forms of abuse and their signs. After you read the information, click on the “RETURN” link at the bottom of the page and place your cursor over another child for more information: http://www.useyourvoice.ca/english.html

    Take care.

  3. Lin says:

    Birdie, thank you very much for that link. Yes, I’ve read much of what you’re mentioning here, the books and literature etc.

    After reading and writing about the Protect Our Children Act 1738 talked about recently on Oprah’s show about sexually abused children and the tremendous increase of online trafficking of sexually explicit images of children being sexually abused, I am disgusted with both men and women who abuse children, regardless of whether these children are their own or not. The world has gone nuts, to say the least.

    After writing that article about the protection act for children that has passed in Congress recently, it’s extremely upsetting to me personally to see the numbers of child molesters and pedophiles coming to my site looking for information on how to abuse children and not get caught, which I can see through the website analytical software I use.

    I do wish I had taken much more time to consider and review how I wrote this article before publishing it. I do understand that some mothers and grandmothers, cousins and aunts do sexually abuse their own children and other children, and as a mother I can tell you it makes me sick to my stomach to think anyone would choose to hurt children this way or in any way at all.

    Birdie, I wish you all the best life can offer. God bless!

  4. Rita says:

    Hi,
    I have been reading some of the comments about mothers here. I totally blame my mom. I was raped repeatedly beginning at age 5, by Mom’s brother. There is strong evidence that Mom knew her brother molested kids when she was a girl, she is now 75. At 6 I was molested by my father, while my mom watched. She said nothing, did nothing, and so it continued. My mom’s step father kissed me for a long 5 minutes with my mom standing beside us, watching. I was scolded when he let me go. Mom said “don’t you ever let him do that again young lady.” My mom witnessed the abusers and the abuse and then chose to blame me for it all. She abandoned me as a mother at age 6, resenting me and hating me then and continues it to this day. I have recently confronted her, not forwhat was inflicted upon me by the others, but what she herself has inflicted upon me. Her response was just to make me out to be a liar, and she is concocting a slander/harrassment suit, if she hears from me ever again concerning this. I have one brother, and four sisters, and only one of them will speak to me at all. One sister said I was bringing up childish, petty things that happened 40+ years ago, and she works at a school with children. I confronted my mom to save what sanity I had left, and in the process, have lost my family. Again I am the blame, and the liar. I would just like my mom to be responsible for her part in the sexual abuse, for not protecting me from the abusers and abuse, for abandoning me, physically and verbally abusing me so violently, and not loving me. I don’t know what to do, or if there is anything I can do.

  5. Lin says:

    Rita, this is appalling and it breaks my heart and I can’t even imagine how it must make you feel inside. As a mother of six children, I cannot fathom how any mother could stand by and knowingly allow her child to be sexually abused and do nothing to protect her children. Then to realize the long history of sexual abuse within families and the secrecy that often goes on, and also threats of various kinds that sometimes prevent children from telling about the abuse they endured until well into adulthood is simply staggering. Then, such as yourself, for your mother to blame you for what was done to you is sickening and disgusting.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see any way of you being able to get the closure you are needing directly from your mother. If she hasn’t taken responsibility for her actions at this point in her life, I highly doubt she ever will. And I’m sooo sorry for that. I don’t see any way for you to “get through to her” and get her to admit her part, especially since she’s threatened a slander lawsuit against you. I’m sorry to say, it does appear from what you describe here that the family has broken down to the point where I don’t see any possible way of reconciliation at all. They choose to blame you, but you know full well that the abuse you suffered was not your fault. You were an innocent child who was taken advantage of in disgusting ways. And no one stood up for you. I would like to hope that your mom would open up to you about what happened, and not when she’s on her deathbed, and find some way of restoring the relationship. I just don’t see it happening, not at her age and not at this stage of her life.

    Rita, I do wish you much happiness and healing from the abuse you suffered as a child. No one should ever be put through what you’ve gone through, or others have gone through at the hand of their own mother or another family member or family friend. It really does break my heart to know there are mothers who would sexually abuse their children, or do nothing to stop the abuse/protect their children.

  6. Lela says:

    I agree with Lin..it breaks my heart to hear when children are sexually abused by a family and the mother knows and does nothing about it.
    I pray healings for those who have been through such experiences. That they can use these experiences to help others to heal as well.
    Anything a child is sexually abuse, it breaks my heart. That is why I do what I do, sharing my story and became an advocate for child who are abused.
    I am mother who did not know my child was being sexually abused. But..believe me when I say..that went this criminal case went to trial, I was looked upon as ‘knowing it by the defense lawyer and had to go through this extremely difficult experience in court for two days. Jurors could have looked upon me as a ‘bad’ mother. But I had God on my side and the truth came forth in the court.
    Even today, over one year ago since the trial and sentencing of the predator…I heard reports that people are blaming me for my child’s sexual abuse from the former church (the one who mishandled this sexual abuse case by leadership in thier own cover up of the truth).
    I am secure enough in the Lord, to know that such things no longer bother me anymore and that I am a good mother.
    God bless you all.

  7. Audrey says:

    I was sexually abused as a child…and its a fact that my mother does have a role in allowing that. She did suspect, but was in denial because she has issues believing her children were anything but extensions of her.

    I tried on some levels to tell her…she said “don’t sit to close to that uncle then” and said allowed to herself while giving a big smile “no no this cant be happening”.

    The abuse continued for about 2 years on weekends when this uncle would drop by while my stay at home mother was in the kitchen cooking or preparing some tea.

    She definitely was a enabler due to her own personality disorders and denial…apart from above I was touched inappropriately 100’s of times in crowds…my mom thought only she needed to be protected with my dad walking behind her…my childhood was a nightmare.

    Let’s not blanket either way. I am a mother of two girls and am very cautious and prudent in what I allow. Off late, I think there may have been something happening off late at my daughter’s friends place…and I didnt sleep all night and am working on it. I want to say is it might still happen…but please please mothers this is a huge reality, much more bigger than most of us want to believe…protect your kids..

    • Lin says:

      Hi Audrey,

      I don’t know which is worse, a mother who refuses to help her child after discovering (or told) their child has been sexually abused, or a mother who actually sexually abuses her son or daughter. When I hear about mothers and fathers blaming the child for the sexual abuse, as if the child somehow “seduced” the perpetrator, it makes me so angry.

      Parents, please do keep aware of what is going on with your children. If you think there’s something sexual going or you suspect your child has been sexually abused, more often not it turns out to be true.

  8. Teresa says:

    Dear Lin. I just thought I’d update you on my son’s progress. I was awarded joint custody of him in Nov. He wasn’t responding well to the treatment he had been recieving since feb.2008, so he was transferred to a level 5 facility in feb.2009. They discovered that he has PDD on top of his other disorders. It is a form of autism. Since he’s been at the new facility, he has made great progress. Thier treatment plan for length of stay is usually 12-15 mnths, then they are transitioned to a step down residential facility to help prepared them for release into society. His dr’s think that because of his age and disabilities, that he was simply acting out what he was shown by my nephew, and that he didn’t realize that it was wrong, or that he was hurting anyone. To him, it was like a game. They are optimistic that they can help him so that he won’t ever reoffend. Still, there are no plans for him to return to my home. My brother will be going to court with me today to see if he can obtain custody when my son is releaseed. We are going for a review on his progress. At least, now I’m able to have contact with him, and I’m involved in his treatment process. Take care and God bless.
    Teresa

    • Lin says:

      Teresa,
      I’m glad to hear that your son is getting the help he needs, and that the custody issue was handled so that you would have at least joint custody of your son. Hopefully with the care and attention he’s now receiving, he will continue to make good progress so that when the time comes that he is able to be released, he’ll be able to move on with his life and be healthy and happy. Good for you and your son Teresa.

  9. Lela says:

    More recently I have been challenged by a ongoing issues, where the abusive ex husband has been making statements through varies communications, in regards to my son’s sexual abuse that happen serveral years ago. He has for the beginning, blamed me for our son being sexually abused and his hasn’t stopped harassing me about it. This is not uncommon with abusers. Everything thing that he has done against me in regard of blame, has been doucmented with local police. I am one who strongly believes in documenting incidents of harassment. I don’t know if anyone else has dealt with an issue of this kind, where the other parent clearly blamed you for the abuse of your child, when you clearly had nothing to do with it. I was the one who reported the predator and the predator is in jail for 18 years. Also this predator molested children in the Philippines, I find this out and reported the predator to Interpol and the FBI. So I have a strong committment in keeping our children safe. No threats or comments from the ex husband will keep me from combating Child Sexual Abuses. I am a advocate for the abused! We need an abuse free world for our children.
    On a good note, I am in the process of obtaining my BA in Criminal Justice, for working in the field of Child Advocacy/Victim’s Rights. It’s time for me to move forward and help other victims of Sexual Assaults and Domestic Violence.