When victims of incest arrive at the social worker’s office or at the police station, one of the first questions asked is usually “Why didn’t you tell sooner?”
Sometimes adults would even suggest that the child liked having sex with her abuser, hence her decision to keep silent.
While adults may find it difficult to understand, children victims of incest do have their reasons for keeping the abuse to themselves.
They have a lot of fears and they think they have no other recourse but to submit to the abuse.
Fear of Losing a Loved One
Before children are victimized sexually, they are prepared for such an abuse through a process called grooming. In this trust-building process, the abuser establishes a connection with the child. If the abuser is a family member, it makes it easier for him to have access to the child and gain her trust and love.
Thus, when the abuser starts to sexually abuse the victim, the child understandably feels conflicted. If they tell, and their abuser goes to jail, they will lose a person who has given them love and care.
For most children, this is very important. In many cases, he is the only “caring” person around the child.
Fear of Being Harmed
In other cases, the victim has other supportive individuals. As such, the abuser will use it to threaten the child.
It is very common to hear children say that the reason they have not told was that the abuser has threatened to kill their mother or siblings if she discloses about the abuse.
The child then feels the responsibility for her family’s well-being. She feels that she needs to “sacrifice” herself in order to keep her loved ones from harm.
If the father is the abuser and he is the breadwinner in the family, he can also threaten the child indirectly. He will tell her, for example, that if she reports and he has to go to jail, they will starve and stop going to school because nobody will support them financially.
Fear of Being Blamed and Not Believed
One of the biggest fears of children — and there are a lot of instances where this is justified — is that they won’t be believed when they tell about the abuse.
The perpetrator could be someone who presents a good reputation outside. He acts like a model father, for example, or is a highly respected member of the community.
The abuser tells the child that no one will believe her, and oftentimes, the victim feels that this must be so. If the child does disclose and is dismissed by her caregiver as merely fabricating, it will certainly plant in her mind that the abuser was right, and there was nothing she could do to stop the abuse.
Sometimes, too, the child fears that she is to blame for what happened.
“You should have stopped me,” the abuser could have said. With their limited capacity to understand, the children would be convinced that the sexual abuse was their fault.
Fear of Being Shamed
Victims know that what is being done to them is not right. They feel bad, dirty, and they are full of anger.
If they tell, then other people will see them as dirty too, and avoid them. For abused children whose solace is with friends and other people, the thought of being seen as dirty and shameful is enough to make them silent.
Fear of Remembering
For a lot of victims of sexual abuse, one coping mechanism they use is dissociation. They pretend that it is not happening to them, that it is happening to someone else.
If they report to authorities, they would be forced to tell every single detail, again and again, not only to the police and the social worker, but to the court as well.
The mere thought of revisiting memories that they have desperately wanted to bury in their minds forever is enough for a lot of victims to decide to just keep silent, hoping that they would someday forget about it.
When a Child Discloses of Sexual Abuse
When a child discloses, she has already gone through a lot to reach that point. She has perhaps weighed all the pros and cons and finally arrived at the decision to stop whatever was happening to her.
Thus, one’s reaction to the child’s disclosure is very important. Accept what the child is saying, never judge, and never make any promises regarding keeping the abuse a secret. (Read: Handling Disclosures of Child Sexual Abuse)
If the mother shows a less than supportive reaction, know as well that she is going through a difficult process. (Read: Why Mothers Don’t Support Children Victims of Sexual Abuse)
One of the ways to stop sexual abuse is to talk about it.
Once children know that it is all right to tell, they may be able to stop the abuse sooner, or even before it happens.
This was originally published in Suite101.com. It was taken down upon my request. Sources of data were from documents in the Women’s Crisis Center Manila. I regret to say I wasn’t more scientific in noting references.