Not only do the victims of childhood sexual abuse have to deal with shame, hurt, and betrayal, but all too often they must also suffer alone. Considering 90 percent of sexual abuse occurs at the hands of a close friend or family member, children find it difficult to place the blame for their abuse where it really lies — on the shoulders of the perpetrator.
The perpetrator weaves a complicated web of deceit and uses an arsenal of emotional weapons to twist facts of the abuse around so that the child is made to feel at fault. Abusers will mask the abuse as punishment or they will entwine the abuse together with expressions of love and affection. They may even manipulate the child to initiate incidents of abuse. Since children cannot truly understand the power play and the control that the perpetrator has in these situations, all too often they blame themselves.
Sex offenders have a special ability to identify and exploit children's vulnerabilities. They know that younger children are especially vulnerable because they often lack the language or knowledge to understand or tell others what is happening. Plus, children who rely on the offender for care, love, affection, or other things will also be vulnerable to the demands of the abuser.
The Process of Grooming Children
No child ever, ever asks for abuse, period. But all too often, an offender will manipulate the child to put him or her in a relationship in which the abuse can happen. Abusers play on a child’s vulnerabilities by using a complex system of emotional manipulation that includes:
Abusers take deliberate steps to establish a relationship of trust, spending time with the children, listening to them, treating them as “special,” or perhaps giving compliments, presents, or favors.
The offender will isolate the child, whether it’s from the child’s family or, in the case of a parent who is abusing, from the non-offending parent. The offender may use the child as a confidante, sharing special secrets. Statements like “ours is a special love that others wouldn't understand” contribute to a climate of secrecy and alienation for the child.
Offenders use “normal” situations and exploit these to abuse. For example they may use touching as a game or introduce sexual touching as “accidental.” They are likely to blur the boundaries of ordinary affection so the child is confused. This often occurs around the child's normal bathing, dressing, and bedroom routines. The offender may engage the child in his or her own bathroom behavior or use talk about sex and sexual jokes to also blur boundaries about it.
Keeping the Victims Silent
Not only do abusers plan, scheme, and execute strategies to groom children to participate in sexual activities, but their carefully crafted manipulation is used to keep their victims quiet. Because the child has been groomed for the abuse, he or she won’t tell out of guilt, shame, embarrassment, or somehow feeling complicit.
The abuser will continually assure the child of the “rightness” of what they are doing, through statements such as, “This is a way we can show we love each other,” “I am teaching you,” “It's not doing any harm.” By constantly telling the child the acts will not hurt him or her, the offender makes the child feel complicit in the abuse. On the flip side, children may be threatened by the offender or told that other family members will be hurt if they tell. Once again, it’s an emotional power play — and the child is always the loser.
For more information on abuse and how to find help, visit our abuse resources page.