In their own words, children show how little and powerless they felt when in the presence of adults and older people who wanted to sexually abuse them. They felt compelled to obey and were fearful of consequences if they did not.
Randy, ten, described the teenage babysitter named Hank who had abused her three years before. She still sees him because he lives in the neighborhood. She said
I mean, he’s a super gross-out. He has long hair and sort of a beard, too, like an ape. He doesn’t have any class or anything. He looks like he probably drools all the time. He’s a gag. He’s a gross barf-out.
Randy said she could never forget what Hank did because “I was scared. That guy was really tall. He was scary looking.” Hank assaulted Randy twice. She said
The first day he did the thing in the bathroom with me, and the second day he pulled down my pants and kissed me on the fanny. He’s really sick.
She described how he got her into the bathroom.
He had this puppet. He had it say, ‘Go into the bathroom.’ So I did. I don’t know how he got there before me.
Hank had hidden behind the shower curtain. When he stepped out from behind it, Randy said, “I almost had a heart attack. I was sitting on the toilet.” Hank made no attempt to persuade Randy to cooperate. As he stepped from behind the shower curtain, he said, “Shhh. Don’t say anything.”
Then, as described earlier, he sexually assaulted her. Randy said “he dripped something” out of his penis. She also said she only had her shirt on. Randy protested: “I asked him what he was doing. I said, ‘Get out of here.’ He said, ‘Don’t you dare scream.’”
She had no idea what he was doing. She said, “I was scared.” Randy told her mother right away. The mother phoned the police, and the boy was charged with sexual assault and court-ordered into adolescent sex offender treatment.
Randy was not able to explain why she went into the bathroom when he told her to. When asked if she would have obeyed a six year-who told her to go into the bathroom, she said, “No,” as if the answer were self-evident.
Randy was in the gifted program at school, as was Olivia who was much clearer about why she obeyed the man who molested her. Olivia is the child who thought there were laws about adults and children that children had to obey. She said that meant “Someone older than me I had to obey them.”
She had several other reasons why she did not actively resist and tell her mother. Some of these reasons were mentioned earlier. The abuser told her that if she told anyone he would have to go to jail and that would make his wife unhappy. Her asked her, “You don’t want to make my wife unhappy, do you?”
Olivia gave other reasons that had to do with fear, self-sacrifice, and confusion.
I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. He was doing this, and I didn’t want him to do it. At that stage, I didn’t say ‘no’ to people. I always knew there was somebody who was worse off than I was. He played on that.
He also told her, “Doing this make me feel good. You like to make people feel good, don’t you?” She did, of course. Olivia had some fear about what he would do to her if she resisted, even though she believed he liked her. This is what she said.
He did like me. He was probably senile. I did what he wanted. I felt he would do something to me. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what. I guess I didn’t understand.
The sexual abuse consisted of masturbation and oral sex.
I used to rub his penis outside his pants. I did it right on his front porch. Sometimes he put his hands in my pants and rubbed me. He made me put his penis in my mouth. He did it a lot of times. I didn’t like that.
Olivia thought her mother used to see her with the man on his front porch, “but my mother never said anything to me.” She was too young and too naïve to know what their behaviors meant, except that she did not like them. For two and a half years, whenever this man called her over, she went. One day, she was playing with a girlfriend. When the man called her over, she and her girlfriend went. The man took the two girls into his living room. Olivia said
He had us sit down, and he put his hands in my pants. He said to my friend, ‘Come on over. It feels nice.’ My friend ran out the door.
She talked to her friend about the incident.
I said I was sorry. I knew what was going to happen, and it did. I was scared to say anything to her.
Her friend gave her an idea of what to do:
The next time he started it. I cried and told him I didn’t want to do it. He didn’t do it again.
Soon afterward, she and her family moved from the neighborhood. She visited the man and his wife several ties with her mother. When the man died, she told her mother about the sexual abuse. She said
I figured that he had died. He couldn’t go to jail if I told. I wouldn’t make his wife unhappy if I told my mother.
Her mother was shocked. This man had been a father figure to her for ten years. She arranged for professional help for Olivia, for herself, and for the rest of the family.
Many incidents of sexual abuse do not involve physical violence, but some do. For example, some children witness physical abuse of their mothers. When their fathers begin to touch them sexually, they are afraid to resist. Alberta was eleven when he father first sexually abused her. He told her to take her clothes off. She said
I don’t know why I just didn’t leave. The idea didn’t occur to me….My mother tried to stop him. She got between us. What could she do? He just pushed her away and beat her up.
Her father told her that what he was doing to her was “an everyday thing. People do it every day.” He tried to have intercourse with her that first time. She said
I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t t want him to do it. I wanted him to stop. I hated it.
She did not tell him to stop because “I would get hit with a belt. So I did what he said every time.” While he was abusing her, her father told her
I was jealous of my mother. He said I wanted to have sex with him the way my mother did, but I wasn’t jealous of that. I didn’t even think of it.
Adults can be helpful to children who have been sexually abused if they understand that each child’s experience is unique. Adults must, however, be ready for anything. What children say can be surprising and even shocking. The stories in this book can prepare adults to be open and receptive to whatever children have to say.
Perpetrators Have Sole Responsibility
Perpetrators have sole responsibility for child sexual abuse. Typically, they are older, stronger, and can overcome the children’s resistance through their physical strength, authority, and superior knowledge and experience. They may lie, intimidate, and manipulate children.
Some children have been sexualized by being sexually abused. They may attempt to touch the genitals of others or rub their own genitals against other people. Some teens and adults think these children want to be sexual and are happy to be sexual with the children. If children behave this way, it is the adult’s—and teen’s—job to teach the child appropriate sexual behaviors, not take advantage of children. Other children can be taught to back away from peers’ sexualized behaviors.
Fiona Speaks is a pseudonym of Jane Gilgun who likes to laugh and talk. This blog is a way for me to connect with witty people who like to talk about ideas and how to connect with what's important. To do this, I want to examine and demystify the blocks I see to building connections and community with other people. Join me.