Michael Abrahams | The double victimisation of childhood sexual abuse victims
It had been a routine Thursday for me. I performed surgery, worked at my office, ran a few errands and was on my way home when I got the call. It was one of my female friends, and she was distraught. "Have you seen the headline in THE STAR (our most popular tabloid) today?" "No, I haven't," was my reply. She went on to tell me that the lead story was about a widely circulated video, showing a child, who appeared to be about five years old, performing fellatio (oral sex) on a man. The headline boldly stated, 'Child gives man blow job'.
The video was very disturbing, and the headline in the newspaper did not help, as it sensationalised the issue, reporting what the child did to the man, when, in fact, what the clip depicted was the sexual abuse of a minor. My friend was beside herself. Her visceral reaction indicated that the incident had transported her to a very dark and desolate place emotionally. She had been triggered. She broke down as she told me that when she was a little girl, about that age, she found herself in a similar scenario.
A 17-year-old boy who lived next door, came over to her house and forced her to perform the act on him in the bathroom. Her father came home to find the boy walking out of the room. When his daughter followed, and he realised what took place, his subsequent actions inflicted a wound on the child, that to this day still festers. He blamed her for what happened and proceeded to 'discipline' her by giving her a beating. And it was no ordinary beating. He thrashed her with a wooden carving of a man's head.
So, what about the boy, the perpetrator of the abuse? Not only was he not punished, but when he later returned to the house with his brothers (yes, he was allowed back in) her father pulled down her panty and proudly showed them the black and blue marks on her buttocks as evidence of the 'lesson' that she was taught.
The child was devastated. Not only was she violated, but was also blamed for the assault. She describes her subsequent years as being very turbulent, with much time spent displaying aggressive behaviour while trying to deal with her pain.
Both girls and boys suffer from sexual abuse. Similarly, the perpetrators may be male or female. In most cases, it is men who are the aggressors, with girls more commonly being the victims. As a result, most of the anger and scorn is directed at male perpetrators. But what needs to be highlighted is the fact that in many cases, women are just as guilty, as it is not uncommon for male sexual molesters to be enabled or defended by women.
My friend went on to tell me of a further incident that occurred when she was 12 years old. She was staying with some relatives at their house, and went to bed with her cousin, another girl, who was two years her junior. During the night, the boyfriend of another cousin, an adult male, entered the room and lay on top of the girls and began to fondle them. The 10-year-old raised an alarm and tried to awaken her cousin beside her, but was unsuccessful, and fled from the room. When my friend woke up, she saw finger marks in her hair gel, as well as hair gel on her vulva and in her vagina. When she reported the incident to her older cousin, and told her what her boyfriend had done, the child was dismissed and accused of lying. Yet again, she found herself being a victim of abuse. But instead of receiving empathy and justice, she was judged to be a troublemaker.
She is now in her 30s and lives with chronic depression. She has attempted suicide on more than one occasion and is doing the best she can to heal. But it is a struggle.
Unfortunately, such situations are common, and over the past couple of decades I have amassed a formidable collection of such tales. Another female friend of mine told me recently of a similar story. When she was about eight years old, a teenaged neighbour came over to her house and tried to rape her, but she was able to push him off. When her brother told her parents what had transpired, she was rebuked by her father and given a flogging by her mother for being "bad". Like my other friend, she is a pretty woman, and admits that she cannot bear to hear the song 'Murder She Wrote' by Chaka Demus and Pliers. The song was being played while her father was scolding her, and the line 'Pretty face and bad character' stood out, and she identified with it, feeling dirty and ashamed. As was the case with my other friend, nothing was said to the male perpetrator of the criminal act, and there were no consequences. Also, like my other friend, she too battles depression and has attempted to take her life in order to escape her misery.
The blaming and shaming of victims of child sexual molestation is an egregious, but common practice which leads to devastating sequelae on different levels. Not only does this type of behaviour affect the victims directly involved, but it legitimises predators and makes such cases more difficult to investigate. As a result, the sexual abuse of our children continues, with justice not being served in the overwhelming majority of instances. Not surprisingly, sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes.
We must educate our boys regarding their sexual urges and what to do with their erect penises. It is an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it is necessary. They must understand from an early age that having sexual urges does not mean that they must be satisfied, and that if they seek satisfaction with another person, it should be when they are at appropriate age, and must never be with someone who is too young or is unwilling or unable to consent. Similarly, girls must be taught how to dignify their sex drives as well. Most importantly, a child must never be made to feel that she or he is to be blamed for such a dehumanising assault.