My mother died this week. While I loved her deeply, our relationship was, as they say, complicated.
The relationship between mothers and daughters is always complicated – all the more so when there is sexual abuse by the father/stepfather or another family member.
The central questions victims ask themselves, in such cases, are: whether their mothers knew the molestation was taking place; and, if they did know, why their mothers chose not to intervene on their behalf.
This can feel like betrayal on the most visceral level. How is it that we can be rejected by our mothers? Our very hearts cry out.
Many factors come into play:
- A woman who is herself abused may fear for her life, if she does not acquiesce to the sexual violation of her children (daughters and/or sons).
- Alternatively, a mother may fear abandonment by her partner/spouse, especially if she does not see herself as capable of supporting the children on her own.
- A few women may be callous, particularly if they are addicts whose judgment has been impaired. This group of women may actually trade a child for drugs.
- Many women live in denial. Unwilling or unable to cope with the thought of molestation by the father/stepfather or another family member, these women ignore what may to an outsider seem like clear signs of sexual abuse .
As for rescue:
- There are women who do not understand the abuse dynamic (the inherent inequality between adult and child) and, therefore, see their daughters (even children as young as 6) as “competition” for a partner/spouse. These women are likely to blame a victim for the molestation, mistakenly characterizing the violation as seduction by the victim.
- When the child molester is a family member, but not the father/stepfather (for instance, a brother, uncle, or grandparent), there is a greater chance of rescue for the victim, since “competition” does not come into play.
- When child molesters challenge the veracity of the children they have violated, mothers are faced with a credibility issue. Some women will side with their partners/spouses as against their own children. This can be crushing for victims.
- Women in denial never deal with the rescue issue.
Often, mothers and daughters are alike in more ways than we might care to admit. But ours is the choice of whether to follow in our mothers’ footsteps. We need not make the same mistakes they did…or inflict the same wounds.
 Signs of possible sexual abuse can include:
- the presence of child pornography in the home,
- changes in behavior by a child (disobedience on the part of a normally obedient child, for example),
- sudden unease by a child around the offending individual,
- secretive behavior by the offending individual,
- unexplained nocturnal visits to a child’s bedroom,
- sexual comments about a child in the mother’s hearing,
- inappropriate touching of a child in the mother’s view, and finally
- the statement by a child that sexual abuse has taken place.
None of these is, by itself, conclusive. Each though merits inquiry.
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