Read an Excerpt
The Basics"This has been the year of sexual abuse. Once it started opening up, it's been everywhere around me."
"I have to keep reminding myself, 'This isn't personal. This is what happens when someone is healing from child sexual abuse."
"There's a part of me that would like to have a wife who has it all together. I'd come home and she would be there, looking all refreshed, carrying a tray of cookies and milk. Instead, she comes out, looking bedraggled, and has a memory to tell me about. She's not June Cleaver."
"It's just too big to go 'poof' and make it better."
What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is a violation of power perpetrated by a person with more power over someone who is more vulnerable. This violation takes a sexual form, but it involves more than sex. It involves a breach of trust, a breaking of boundaries, and a profound violation of the survivor's sense of self. It is a devastating and selfish crime.
The most important thing in defining child sexual abuse is the experience of the child. It takes very little for a child's world to be devastated. A single experience can have a profound impact on a child's life. A man sticks his hand in his daughter's underpants, or strokes his son's penis once, and for that child; the world is never the same again. As a partner, it's crucial that you believe the survivor and learn about the impact abuse can have.
Child sexual abuse includes a broad range of experiences. Girls and boys are abused by fathers, mothers, stepparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, grandparents, familyfriends, foster parents, neighbors, teachers, Little League coaches, rabbis, ministers, religious counselors, psychiatrists and other doctors, therapists, police officers, camp counselors, neighborhood kids, and strangers. Sexual abuse can begin in infancy, childhood, or adolescence. It can be a one-time experience or something which happens repeatedly.
Some abuse is of a covert nature and doesn't involve physical touch. A young girl is developing breasts and as she dresses in the morning, her father watches with a sexual interest, making lewd comments about her body. A young boy tries to go to the bathroom, but his mother is always in the room, asking the boy if he masturbates and how. A football coach insists on seeing his players naked before they can make the team. He makes crude, suggestive remarks about their penises. These are examples of abuse where the perpetrator does not physically touch the child. But they are traumatic nonetheless.
Children are fondled, raped, french kissed, forced to perform fellatio and cunnilingus, forced to watch sexual acts, and made to have sex with each other. Sometimes abuse is couched in "'gentle" cuddling or touches; other times it is violent, coupled with beatings or torture. Ritual abuse, a particularly horrifying form of abuse, involves severe physical, sexual, and psychological abuse of children by organized groups of perpetrators. (For more on ritual and cult abuse, see page 132.)
Children both hate and love their abusers.
If you're not familiar with some of the horrible crimes perpetrated against children, you may find it hard to believe these things. Part of working with survivors (for me) and living with a survivor (for you) is that we have to accept the fact that human beings are capable of such atrocities.
If you haven't been abused yourself, particularly if you grew up in a "good" home, it may be difficult for you to believe that people molest, torture, and sexually abuse children. It may take time for you to fully accept the survivor's experience. Yet it is a powerful thing to do. Being intimately involved with a survivor makes you take in more of the world. When you let yourself feel and really see the sickness in the world, you also see more of its beauty. You no longer live on the surface. You have to go deep. When you're involved with someone who is fighting back and healing from abuse, you join in a struggle that says yes to life. As one partner told me, "If it hadn't been for this, I never would have woken up."
How is it going to affect me to be involved with a survivor?
To answer that question, you have to consider two things: where you are in your relationship and where the survivor is in terms of dealing with the abuse. If you're already in a long-term committed relationship with a survivor, and he's just beginning to look at issues of childhood sexual abuse, you're in a very different position than someone who's starting a brand-new relationship. Generally, the longer you've been together and the more history and commitment you've built, the better equipped you'll be to deal with the stresses involved in facing the abuse. That's not to say a new relationship with a survivor can't work out; it's just that it's usually harderthere's less of an investment in the relationship to back you up when things get tough.
If the survivor in your life is just starting to deal with the abuse, you're probably facing years of fairly volatile change. Healing is slow, and the beginning is often the hardest. If, on the other hand, you're with a survivor who's been dealing with these issues for years, you'll be able to benefit from the growth and clarity he's already achieved.
No two survivors are alike, and only you know the inside of your particular relationship. One thing is clear, however. The more open you are to the idea of a relationship being a place in which to challenge yourself and grow, the more successful you'll be at being involved with a survivor. (For more on coping with change in relationships, see page 48.)Allies in Healing. Copyright © by Laura Davis. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.