When children are sexually abused, they think the abuse is their fault. In their own words, children say what sexual abuse means to them. It’s time to pay attention to what they say. Otherwise, child sexual abuse will go on and on.
Children have a lot to say about their own sexual abuse. Their stories show that they are aware of the power that adults have over them, and they are afraid to resist. They are taught to obey adults or older people, especially people with authority, such as parents, grandparents, teachers, babysitters, and social service professionals. They dread consequences if they refuse to obey. Children often think that sexual abuse is their fault. They think they were supposed to have been able to stop the abuse. Unfortunately many people blame them, too.
Children know little about specific sexual behaviors and may lack the vocabulary to talk about sexual abuse, but they understand taboos and shame associated with sexual abuse and sexuality. Many understand the consequences for themselves and for their families if they tell others that they have been sexually abused. In some cases, their fears are unfounded, but in many others, they have reason to be afraid.
Children Believe They Must Obey
Children think they have to obey persons in authority. Randy, ten, was sexually abused by a teenage boy who was her babysitter. She thought she had to do what he said. He told her, “Go to the bathroom.” She said, “I went to the bathroom.” He jumped out from behind a shower curtain, pulled her off the toilet, placed her on the floor, and sexually abused her.
Olivia, eleven, abused between the ages of five and eight by a man who was a father figure to her mother and a grandfather figure to her said, “I thought there were laws about adults and children.”
Lisa, nine, abused from the age of three to age nine, said of the abuser who was her grandfather
He was big. I was little. I had to do what he said.
Vickie, seven, refused to go home for supper when her brother and sister went to get her in the park. She told them, “I’m waiting for someone.” She was waiting for the man who had sexually abused her twice. She said she waited “because he told me to. I listened. I was small.”
Children Think Sexual Abuse is Their Fault
Many child survivors blame themselves for the abuse, even when they recognize that the perpetrators forced them. Lisa said
My grandfather forced me. He unzipped his pants. He put his hand on mine and put my hand on his penis. He held my hand there until he was done. I took my hand off when he let go of me.