Adapted exclusively for Parent Reviewers from the book SOUL RAPE…Recovering Personhood After Abuse
If you are the parent of a little girl, there is a 1 in 3 chance the child will be abused well before the teen years; for boys, about 1 in 4. Tragically, parents are not often able to pick up the subtle clues. Therefore, here are a few pointers.
Of all the horrid ramifications of child abuse and neglect, the self-beliefs formed by the child reap the greatest destruction. Abuse is the most penetrating and permanent communication possible, and it always conveys to the child one or more of several messages:
- “I caused it to happen.”
- “It’s my fault because I am bad.”
- “I don’t deserve any better.”
The most frequent type of maltreating female children by far is sexual abuse. Whether the victim is very young or a teenager, she takes deep within herself all three messages above and develops a loathing that is all-consuming. Set up by either the taste or illusion of power, the girl concludes that there is indeed something horrible and detestable within her that caused the older person to perform such an act upon her. She knows little else but this: She is the one to blame.
Taking on the blame, however, does not explain the incident. The event makes no sense. Therefore, as a computer cannot process illogical inputs, the human mind, whether child or adult, cannot deal with events that make no sense. There is no resolution because there is no logic.
Since intelligent people tend to force sense into an occurrence so that it can be processed, the child tries to solve the mystery experimentally. A child molested early in life will be repeatedly drawn to the subject of sex, so much so that a seductive quality will seem to exude from the person until, if ever, the puzzle is put together. In addition, the victim will reflect a woundedness that is easily spotted by a predator. This is certainly one pattern. If I see a pre-teen with sexualized behavior, I know I am looking at a sexual abuse victim. However, there are other typical reactions. One is the overweight girl who dresses dowdy. Another is the Amazon warrior out to fight the world.
Because child molesters, as well as rapists, are predators, they have a capacity beyond the usual to recognize easy prey. Just as a hawk will circle above until it finds a wounded animal and then suddenly sweep in for the kill, a human predator acts in much the same way. This almost paranormal ability of human predators, combined with the woundedness of the victim, explains why, in so many cases, a child once molested will be molested again, and a woman once raped, will be raped again. I don’t think this field of human activity is any different from some others. The same is true for school/workplace bullying and for violent crimes such as robberies. It can all be quite adequately explained by nonverbal signals sent out by the victim-to-be. A school bully will prod at everyone. Those who respond with emotion of any kind (fear, tears, aggression) provide amusement, so will be attacked. Those who shrug it off are left alone. The same is true regarding sex.
Molested children are very often driven to sexual activity, seemingly on a voluntary basis, in order to find some meaning in the original event. For children, mysteries demand action to solve them.
The teen years, especially the early teens, soon after maturation, bring sexual acting-out behavior in order to figure out the meaning of the earlier victimization. She is not conscious of what is urging this sexual intensity as she violates her own values and morals for more experience; that is, more chances to solve the puzzle.
Before full adulthood, she will accept a significant relationship with a male who does not exceed what she unconsciously believes she deserves (message 3, above).
Often the victim will have blocked the memory of the first assault, especially if she had been in a state of dissociation (“not there”) at the time. In one case two sisters, who slept in the same bed and were molested nightly by their father, were talking. The younger sister related, “It wasn’t the dark I was afraid of. It was what would come out of it.” The second sister replied, “What do you mean? Didn’t you ever learn to go away?”
This phenomenon is the origin of dissociative identity disorder (D.I.D.) and “multiple personalities”, brought to public awareness through the movies Sybil and others. In actuality, these false identities are not nearly as pronounced as popular belief would have it. There is a variance in speech, affect, and behavior, however, that is clearly noticeable.
This “going away” mentally is one form of dissociation and is a frequent “escape” from the intolerable and inexplicable. Dissociation and “repression” (the unconscious work of keeping a memory out of consciousness) are two of the reasons why child victims, and sometimes adolescent or adult victims, cannot recall the violation.
About the Author
Heyward B. Ewart, Ph.D., D.D., is author of SOUL RAPE…Recovering Personhood After Abuse (Loving Healing Press, 2012); also, AM I BAD?…Recovering from Abuse (2007). Both are available at Amazon.com/books and can be purchased also in e-book format for Kindle, etc. A 28-year veteran psychotherapist, Dr. Ewart is President and Dean of Psychology at St. James the Elder Theological Seminary.