Families of Sexual Abuse: The Roles Each Member Plays.
by Sabrina Trobak M.A.C.P., B.Ed
August 11, 2011
The foundation of the information presented in this paper was acquired through training with Tony Martens of Martens and Associates. Martens and Associates’ data and research was developed through treatment centers in Alberta Canada for regressed sex offenders and their families. Unless otherwise stated, information presented was gained through this collection of data and research.
Sexual abuse by an immediate, extended family member, or someone known to the family is by far the most common type of abuse to occur (Sexual-Offender-Treatment.org, 2007). For the purpose of this paper the focus will be around a family where the father, a regressed sex offender, is sexually abusing his own daughter. This is an intricate look at each member of the family and how they are tangled together, decreasing the possibility the abuse will be disclosed.
There are different types of sexual offenders who offend against children; the three most common being pedophiles, hebophiles and regressed sex offenders. For the purpose of this paper, the father is a regressed sex offender, the most common of the three, and also significantly different than the pedophile and hebophile.
Pedophiles and hebophiles have a predisposed sexual attraction to children (Sexual-Offender-Treatment.org, 2007) and believe there is nothing wrong with sexually offending against children. In fact, they may see their behaviors as a way of helping the child become a more confident sexual adult. Pedophiles are sexually attracted to smaller children ages 5-9 and hebophiles are attracted to older prepubescent youth, ages 9-13. Regressed sex offenders are attracted to people their own age (Wikipedia, 2011) and offend against children who are available rather than a specific type of child. Pedophiles generally offend against boys and regressed sex offenders generally offend against girls (although they may offend against boys if boys are more accessible than girls; regressed sex offenders are opportunist offenders). Regressed sex offenders do not have a type of child they offend against but rather offend against children they have access to. Regressed sex offenders, therefore, often offend against their own children, children in their extended family or children in families they know. The regressed sex offender is attracted to people his own age and is not attracted to children, and offends because of blurred boundaries and maladaptive coping strategies for dealing with stress, not because of a predisposed sexual attraction to children (Martens, 1988).
The regressed sex offender, also known as the non-exclusive sex offender in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM -IV (2000), is sexual attracted to people his own age. He knows what he is doing is wrong, feels guilt and wants to stop abusing the child, and tells himself he will never do it again, but ends up offending over and over. A regressed sex offender has maladaptive ways of coping with stress and his boundaries are blurred. With indepth, long term, proper treatment, regressed sex offenders can overcome this behavior. D. Richard Laws states that rather than treating these offenders as risk-laden deviants, they should be treated as fellow human beings who can achieve more productive lives with proper guidance (Franklin, K, 2011).
SETTING THE STAGE
The father is attracted to a woman his own age and commits to a relationship because they are in love. The relationship becomes strained and they start to fight and argue more, they don’t communicate effectively any more and both feel unappreciated by each other. When the father comes home from work, the wife doesn’t really respond but his young daughter runs to him and gives him hug and kiss and makes him feel loved and cared for. As the father continues to struggle in his relationship with his wife and feels more and more rejected by his wife, he feels more and more connected with his daughter. The father feels the daughter loves him, and he may believe she is the only one who truly loves him.
This father-daughter relationship may lead to sexual abuse but it is not premeditated by the father to purposefully lead to sexual abuse. Pedophiles and hebophiles purposely set the stage to sexually abuse against children. Regressed sex offenders do not premeditatively plan for the abuse to happen.
Meanwhile the mother sees the relationship between the father and daughter and becomes resentful to the daughter because, ultimately, she wants to feel loved by her husband, the love he is giving to his daughter. The mother’s relationship becomes strained with the daughter because of the jealousy the mother feels towards the daughter. The mother feels the daughter is taking the love and attention from the father and the mother feels she is being denied this love and attention.
PROCESS OF THE SEXUAL ABUSE
Before the sexual abuse starts the father is nurturing, caring and supportive of his daughter. Overtime this nurturing turns into sexuality. Often the sexual abuse starts as incidental touching. This can be things like he becomes aroused when his daughter sits on his knee, “accidentally” rubbing up against her or brushing against her bottom or breasts. The most common form of incidental touching is through wrestling. The father “accidentally” puts his hand between his daughter’s legs or brushes against her breasts etc. The daughter may be aware of this but often the child isn’t even aware but the offender is sexually aroused and aware of what is happening. During times of wrestling if there is incidental touching and the mother is in the room, the daughter may wonder why the mother isn’t saying anything, why she is letting him do this to her daughter. The mother is most likely not aware it is happening. This causes more strain between the mother and daughter and reduces the trust the daughter has in the mother to protect her.
Generally, something will happen and the father will become extremely stressed and then there will be a fight with his spouse. He will then be drawn to his daughter, the only one he believes loves him, and he will sexually offend against her. After this first incident, he will be disgusted with what he has done and swear to himself he will never do it again. Sexually offending is a way he releases the stress he was under but then when he realizes what he has done his stress level increases again because he has to deal with what he has done. The stress continues to build and build and then he ends up offending again. This cycle continues.
The father has maladaptive ways of coping with stress and his boundaries are blurred. Often alcohol can also blur boundaries; often when he offends the second time and so on, he will have a drink of alcohol. Most offenders are not really drunk when then offend, however, they drink enough so it can be used as an excuse. The father may drink more after the abuse as a way of coping with the fact he has sexually offended again.
Once the father has offended against his daughter he will work very hard a creating a relationship with the victim to try to ensure she doesn’t tell. He will work at continuing to distance the relationship between the daughter and everyone else in the family. He will tell the daughter her mother is not nice to her and doesn’t care about her to keep the daughter from confiding in the mother.
The father may use verbal or physical threats to get the victim to keep the secret or he may make promises of buying her things or taking her on holidays etc.
The mother becomes jealous of the relationship between the daughter and her father and this causes the mother to distance herself from her daughter. The more time the father spends with the daughter, the more the resentment builds. She may even start to see her daughter as being another woman in the house.
The stress of this is often overwhelming and the mother will leave the home so she doesn’t have to be around and see the relationship between her daughter and husband, the relationship she wants to have with her husband. This causes even more distance because the daughter feels abandoned and cannot understand why the mother would leave her alone with her father who sexually abuses her when her mother was out of the house. The daughter sees her mother’s absence as her mother failing to protect her and resentment builds in the child towards the mother.
Often mothers will turn to the medical field as well. The mother feels stressed because of the relationship she is in, and feels unloved and not cared for. She realizes if she goes to the doctor, she will get some attention and someone will listen to her and this feels good. The mother then starts seeing the doctor regularly. She may even be admitted to the hospital from time to time. When she is in the hospital it is very likely that the father will offend against his daughter. Again this feeds the abandonment the daughter feels towards her mother because her mother is not there to protect her.
All the medical attention the mother gets may be seen by the daughter as the mother being weak or fragile. This also reduces the chances the daughter will tell the mother because she sees the mother as being too weak to handle it if the daughter discloses the abuse.
The sibling of the victim also sees the relationship between the victim and her father. The sibling also wants that sense of belonging, feeling loved and cared for by the father and starts to resent the victim or feel jealous of the relationship the victim is having with the father, one the sibling doesn’t have but wants to have.
Often when the abuse is disclosed and the sibling finds out what happened the sibling wonders what was wrong with him/her that he/she wasn’t even good enough to be abused. Siblings are often forgotten about in the therapeutic process that occurs after abuse is disclosed because the abuse didn’t happen to them but the siblings are most definitely in need of therapy as well.
The daughter’s relationship with her mother and siblings becomes strained and she sees her father as the only one who really cares and loves her. The other family members are distant and the daughter turns to her father for emotional support. Then when he abuses her, she has no one to turn to.
The first time the sexual abuse occurs the daughter is in shock and usually becomes almost paralyzed. She freezes and doesn’t say anything. In her head she thinks it must have been a mistake or she may hope it was a dream. She cannot believe the one person who she feels loves her would now do this to her. After the first time she convinces herself that it won’t happen again but then it does happen again. She experiences a great sense of disbelief and cannot believe the only one she trusts would hurt her.
She now feels trapped and doesn’t say anything. She feels she should have said something after the first time it happened and now it is too late to say anything. She may believe that she some how made him think she wanted him to do this to her or that she likes it. This guilt she feels in believing this will stop her from telling. She will then think it is her fault the abuse continued.
The daughter may also start to isolate herself from her friends as well. She may feel too scared to tell her secret to someone or that it may slip out by accident or someone may be able to tell, so she stays away from others. She may also notice her father is more edgy when she is with her friends so she stops socializing with friends because she doesn’t want to upset her father. She may also isolate herself because it is too exhausting constantly being on guard to protect her secret.
Her father may also feed this isolation but taking away her cell phone, not allowing friends over or her going to friends’ houses and/or by monitoring her very closely.
The daughter feels she cannot speak openly and honestly about her experience without unwanted consequences. She may fear the family as she knows it will be lost, her parents will split up, her father (the only one she believes loves her) will be in trouble, hurt or angry at her, her family will be angry at her, or she will be removed from her home. There may also be a fear of her loosing her sense of power, security, identity, sense of belonging, predictability, familiarity, and sense of family. She may also feel a sense of responsibility for allowing the abuse to continue and feel responsible for the family tension.
The daughter may also experience a strong sense of loneliness as she has no one to tell; she had to keep the secret to herself. As long as these fears are present it is less likely she will disclose the abuse.
HISTORIC SEXUAL ABUSE
According to Martens and Associates (2011) 90% of women in relationships with men where the man abuses their child were also sexually abused as children. Data collected from the sexual abuse treatment centers associated with Martens and Associates states that 65% of women who were sexually abused also became offenders. Women often sexually abuse during teen and early 20’s and then they usually stop. Mathews, F. (1996) also states that many self report studies show a high percentage of men say they were sexually abused by women. He adds that a high proportion of rapists, sex offenders and sexually aggressive men state they were also sexually abused by women when they were young. If a woman was abused and hasn’t dealt with the abuse, it will be significantly more difficult for her to believe, help and support her daughter if her daughter discloses abuse because her daughter’s abuse will trigger memories of her own abuse. If the mother was not only abused, but also became an offender, she is even less likely to believe her daughter as she in not only in denial of her own abuse but also her own offending.
90% of regressed sex offenders were sexually abused and virtually all were abused in some way; physically, sexually or emotionally and were discouraged or not allowed to express their emotions. According to Martens and Associates data, the two most common offenders who offended against these regressed sex offenders when they were children were their sisters or aunts. Women were the common offenders who abused these men who then, in turn, abused against their own daughters (Martens and Associates, 2011). Mathews, F (1996) states that boys who were abused by women, if in turn, they become offenders, almost exclusively offend against females.
The victim will not tell authorities because of society’s perception that offenders are horrible creatures. The victim is not going to turn in her father, the only one who seems to love and care for her, to people whom she believes hate and despise him. Helping families of sexual abuse starts with understanding the family dynamics and the perception of each family member. Showing the victim that her father made horrible choices but, ultimately, is understood and can get help will increase the likelihood that she will tell.
American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.
Franklin, K. (2011). Book Reviews. Desistance of Sex Offending: Alternatives to Throwing Away the Keys. Retrieved from http://www.callawyer.com/story.cfm?eid=916114&evid=1
Martens, T. (1988). The Spirit Weeps: Characteristics and Dynamics of Incest and Child SExual Abuse with a Native Perspective. Edmonton Ab: Nechi Institute.
Martens, T (2011). Personal training with Tony Martens of Martens and Associates. February 2009-present. Surrey BC.
Mathews, F. (1996). The Invisible Boy: Revisioning The Victimization of Male Children & Teens, Central Toronto Youth Services, For The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, Health Canada.
Sexual-Offender-Treatment.org (2007). Review of Myths and Facts about Sexual Offenders: Implications for Treatment and Public Policy by Fortney, T., Levenson, J., Brannon, Y., & Baker, J. Retrieved from http://www.sexual-offender-treatment.org/55.html