Updated: Jan 7, 2021
Trigger warning: This post deals with sensitive topics relating to sexual abuse trauma.
This is not really my lane.
I don’t treat trauma (yet? Who knows. )
I feel like it’s everyone’s right to hear about this, because of how widespread it is, and how relatively little it’s spoken about. So I’m gonna say some upsetting things:
Child sexual abuse is a real pandemic.
And like the Coronavirus, there may be a delay in the presentation of symptoms. Sometimes the symptoms never show outwardly. There are many survivors who show no visible signs of ever having been abused. And sometimes symptoms can be life-threatening.
We used to see people who had the desire to touch kids sexually and acted on it as perverted deviants.
But in front of our collective societal eyes, this has evolved and child sexual abuse has become a sickening genre of mainstream pornographic consumption, and epidemically widespread in terms of actual abuse: by family members, “educators,” members of the “clergy,” celebrities, politicians, and sex traffickers. It’s no longer a fringe sliver of sick-minded strangers that engage in this. There is no profile for the predator; they’re everywhere. It’s genuinely terrifying.
The statistics around reported abuse are rising, which may mean abuse is increasing, or it may mean this has been happening for a long time, and we didn’t even know. Either way is catastrophic. (And yes, it technically may also mean some people are lying about being abused. Maybe some- but I doubt that would account for such alarmingly large numbers.)
We need to do a better job educating, advocating, and protecting.
We need to set up more and better resources for treating, healing, and improving systems.
There are many dedicated individuals dedicated to this, in a variety of ways, G-d bless them.
What I want to tell survivors today, is that not all sexual abuse looks or even feels violent, in the obvious sense. Often it does, and that is horrific and traumatic in its own right.
But sometimes, the abuse looks more subtle- almost seeming affectionate and loving to the eyes of someone who doesn’t understand what’s happening yet.
Some survivors report added layers of shame and guilt because their abusers groomed them so “well” that they manipulated them into believing they “wanted” “invited” or “enjoyed” the abuse. They knew how to insinuate their way into their victims’ minds and bodies in such a way as to elicit a sexual arousal response.
The same way they used deception to trick the child into trusting them emotionally, they used their biological knowledge and cruelty to deceive the victim’s body into reacting physiologically as if it’s pleasure, when in fact it’s the exact opposite.
They then used mental manipulation to convince their victim that this is evidence that the molestation was wanted, and pleasurable, and somehow their own doing. I’ve even heard survivors say they were blamed by their predators for “seducing” them. The mind games are traumatic in their own right.
So many survivors suffer prolonged abuse because of the shame and secrecy they feel based on being tricked into thinking this was their fault, and they would get in trouble if anyone found out about it. Even many years later, so many of them suffer residual shame and self-loathing, still believing that they brought this on themselves, and that there is something wrong, dirty, damaged, or broken about them what they endured. They also sometimes fault themselves for not “stopping” the abuse, or speaking out sooner- as though this is the victim’s job.
Like I said earlier, I don’t treat trauma directly, but there are many competent therapists and programs who do. I do encounter it a lot anyway, because it is ubiquitous, and that’s why I wanted to share this:
Please know: if someone took advantage of you sexually as a child, you DID NOT consent to it, because children are not even able to consent to sexual touch, nor should they EVER be put in the position of being expected to. Even if your body responded to it, in a way that sometimes indicates arousal, that DOES not mean you liked it; our bodies are programed to react to certain stimuli, and your abuser may have known how to take advantage of that. Even if you remember feeling some level of physical pleasure because your abuser was someone you had liked, trusted, and again, understood how to groom you physically so that you would believe this felt good, it was still NOT your fault, NOT ok for them to do to you, and there is NOTHING wrong or sick about you for having had mixed reactions to the experience.
You are not weak or pitiful or bad for not fighting back, running away, or reporting the abuse sooner: it’s not a child’s job to stop abuse- it’s adults’ jobs to not abuse children. (This is true of adult abuse as well.)
When we teach children ways to try and keep themselves as safe as possible, and what to do if someone tries to cross boundaries with them (or does), that doesn’t mean we place the onus of responsibility for safety on the child. It’s adults’ jobs to protect kids and not abuse them. BUT because there are dangerous adults (and older kids) who will seek to violate them, we try to equip children with knowledge and tools that might reduce the risks, and let them know what they can do if the situations arise. But strengthening kids with this education doesn’t mean that a child who didn’t know how to deal with it at the time was in any way at fault.
If you were sexually abused as a child or teen, or as an adult for that matter, please know that you did not deserve that, and it does NOT need to define you or ruin your future relationships. With good therapy and internal work, many survivors can and do go on to create loving, trusting, pleasurable relationships with healthy partners.
*To learn about how parents can educate their kids towards healthy, safe sexuality, click here.*