Family members can have a hard time believing that someone they know, love, and trust can sexually abuse. When ten year-old Ronnie learned from his mother that the uncle he idolized had sexually abused his own daughter, Ronnie ran into his bedroom, slammed the door, and yelled, “You’re lying to me.”
Many family members refuse to believe child victims, blame them, and do whatever it takes to protect perpetrators. Most come around eventually, but the typical initial reaction is disbelief.
Annie, eleven, was sexually abused by her father for several years. She said, “I don’t blame people for not believing me. I could hardly believe it myself. He’s such a nice guy.”
When a court social worker told Loretta that her husband had sexually abused her daughter for four years, Loretta described her reaction
I just didn’t believe it. She [the social worker]says, “Is there anything I can do for you?” I says, “I didn’t even want to be sitting in this room. I just want to get out of here. I just want to get away from it. I don’t want to believe it.
Eventually, Loretta came to believe it happened. Her husband admitted the abuse immediately, spent a year in the workhouse, had work release, and received 20 years probation. With a great deal of therapy and pychoeducation, the family pulled itself back together. They had a supportive family system that pulled along with them.
Child sexual abuse affects the entire family, and, the entire family requires empathy and education. Once the shock wears off, child and family recovery can take years.
The key to recovery is a great deal of education about children sexual abuse and supportive therapy and counseling for the whole family. Perpetrators must leave the family and can only return after they have had a great deal of therapy, have been accountable before the courts, and a board of professionals approve their return to the family. Typically, perpetrators can only return if they take responsibility for their sexual abuse and have completed treatment successfully.