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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. maria evangelista says:

    Thank you for this article! Wow, it is a bit comforting to know that as a mother of an abused child, I am not alone in feeling that I, too am abused. It has been over 4 years and all the strong emotions are still with me.

  5. Lin says:

    Hi Maria,

    I completely understand how you feel about it. Society in general is so quick to judge the mother as not having paid enough attention to her children in order to protect them from being abused, but no parent can be with their child 24/7. There are mothers and fathers (and other relatives and friends etc) that do sexually abuse their own children or relatives children and it just blows my mind that there are such people in this world. I cannot fathom how a mother or a father can hurt their own flesh and blood this way, and it’s very upsetting to know that innocent children are being hurt and scarred by their own mother or father. It just breaks my heart.

    Maria, I don’t know if those strong emotions you’re feeling will ever go away. A couple of years ago, someone brought up to me the subject of my son having been molested almost twenty years ago at this point, and I too felt my body stiffen and become tense with the feelings and emotions being front-and-center of my mind. It’s been many years now that this happened to my son, but when the subject is brought up or I hear these things on the news, all of the feelings and emotions I described in this article come right back to me.

    No, you are not alone. Not one bit.

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