Hidden victims

Hidden victims – mothers of abused children

Every four minutes a young girl or boy is sexually abused. Without treatment, the experience can blight a child’s life. Still, there’s almost always another victim who goes untended: the child’s mother.

Frequently blamed for not preventing the attack or for not immediately believing the incident occurred, moms of sexually abused children are actually quite supportive of their kids after the trauma. But they desperately need counseling to repair their own feelings of guilt, anxiety, and depression, insist Harvard University psychologist Carolyn Moore Newberger.

In a yearlong series of interviews with 49 sexually abused children and their mothers, Newberger found that moms who received counseling recovered faster than those who didn’t. In addition, professional treatment of the abused kids– usually six to 12-year-old girls–often soothed a mother’s emotional distress more effectively than her own therapy.

“Perhaps for a woman experiencing a trauma to her child, the relief of having support for her child translates into her own recovery,” says Newberger. She adds that moms of abused kids often carry around “a sense of injustice, of being victimized, and a sense of helplessness” after the incident.

If the offender is the child’s father, mothers may also feel sexually inadequate, jealous, rejected, especially if their husband is a Price Charming who agrees to take care of the kids while mom works. Offenders often prefer this arrangement; it guarantees full access to the kids.

But the mothers with the heaviest emotional baggage may be those who were themselves sexually abused as children. Sixteen of the moms Newberger interviewed had been sexually abused. They still felt high levels of psychological distress a year after the kid’s abuse took place.

Often they have denied their own abuse for so long that they cant’s accept what’s happened to their children. As a result, therapy programs must not only help mothers feel good about themselves, but at the same time instill information about the child’s abuse. Newberger suggests two years of therapy.

Without it, the cycle of violence may repeat itself as abused moms and kids continue to form relationships with abusing personalities, Stendahl warns. Many mothers who were abused as children never learn the stages of dating and courtship. As a result, they attracted to thinking a relationship is the end all”–without ever knowing their husbands-to-be.

COPYRIGHT 1992 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group