At first I didn’t quite get her meaning and I thought she must have been thinking that I had been a victim of physical violence. So I clarified that the abuse had been sexual – my father to me. But she know. She hadn’t misunderstood at all.
I was stopped dead in my tracks then, with the realisation that people – including her – actually think that victims of child sexual abuse go on to become perpetrators of sexual abuse to their own children.
That is the most vile and abhorrent thought I think I have ever had.
Statistically this is rarely the case. We do tend to see a correlation between people who are raised in an environment characterised by inappropriate levels of violence who then have a reduced capacity to distinguish between what they hated and what they then carry forwards into their lives, but for victims of child sexual assault no such clear connection exists.
Firstly, the majority of familial sexual abuse occurs towards females. Secondly it is primarily (though obviously not always) a power situation involving a dominant male over a subordinate female scenario. For this to be repeated in the following generation there has to be a major role reversal that just doesn’t commonly take place.
The problem most survivors actually encounter is not with a propensity to repeat the abuse perpetrated on them but is a two-fold problem with failing to identify abusive situations.
It is extremely common for victims to find themselves in abusive relationships as adults. This is partly due, I believe, to a failure on our parts to identify abuse as abuse. It is so normal to be treated poorly that we tend to feel comfortable with those who do not show us respect, or even common courtesy. Many of us find ourselves unwittingly living with men who have the same capacity to hurt us and our children as our fathers or step fathers did.
We do not become the abusers we continue to be the abused.
The second problem we tend to experience is that we feel so much shame about the abuse we experienced as children that we do not get the help we need to recover. And it is in part due to comments and attitudes held by seemingly intelligent people like me aforementioned friend that keeps us living with this sense of shame.
Here is the truth. We were victims then and we make ourselves victims again now.
We must find the courage to admit when we have chosen abusive relationships. We need to understand why we did and we need to find the courage to say enough – we deserve better and so do our children. The cycle of abuse has to stop here – not because we perpetrate it but because we allow it to be perpetrated upon us.
And we need to understand that we have nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing.
These are the ways the cycle of abuse continues, these and only these.