How to raise a victim of childhood sexual abuse
Just for a moment, let’s completely ignore the tragic cascade of underage child abuse victims themselves acting out the same behaviours on other minor family members or peers where the perpetrator really is as much a victim as the the one being abused.
Have you ever tried, even for just a few seconds, to step inside the mind of the most hardened adult sexual offenders and imagine what they need to see in a child to begin taking steps towards victimizing him or her? Is there a pattern? Why would they target one child and completely ignore another?
(And, yes, fair warning: This is going to be an incredibly dark post that is going to trigger anyone who has even remotely been exposed to sexual violation. I wish it didn’t have to be such, but, unfortunately, sometimes the truth that sets people free is just, innately ugly…)
To most of us, the child that a hardened predator ignores and the child they target look nearly identical. The acts of abuse, they look purely random.
Sadly, most popular media seems to support this error. Read publications from the purity movement and other fundamentalist publications and they mostly blame the child or manufacture absurd spiritual explanations. Read publications from victims groups and they mostly sound like diatribes against a twisted world flooded with as many predators as there are males and strongly support the idea that nearly everyone is a victim in some way – also clearly not an accurate picture of anything but the soul shattering depths of pain the victims of such are carrying.
Reality is, the right questions are simply not being asked – mostly because they are so ugly and painful to ask. And, when the range of possible questions becomes limited, then the grasp of complex problems always becomes simplistic leading to answers that generally do more harm then good.
So, as horrible, dark and ugly as it is, we really need to step up and ask the question:
Just how does a parent raise a child to ensure that every child abuser in the country can spot their child a mile away and come running?
Let’s look at seven key steps you can take to make sure your children have a bulls-eye painted on them for the whole world of hardened predatory individuals to see:
(1). Never hug your kids:
Every human being was created with a God given need for touch. Psychological testing has shown us that this longing for touch (Usually termed skin hunger) is present in all of us and can easily be scientifically measured. Those studies further showed that, if the deprivation is severe enough, infants will physically die from the lack of human touch and affection.
So, in keeping with the advice of the former Surgeon General of the United States to not hug children, one of the best ways to ensure your children become a target for a sexual predator is to tell yourself all sorts of stories about affection just making your children weak, play into your own discomfort with the developing sexualities of your children and avoid touching them if at all possible. The less affection you show your children, the more likely they are to feel desperate for any physical touch.
Eventually, even though their hearts scream in horror at the degrading indignity of the touch of a sexual offender, their bodies will so long for touch they will put up with it just to feel some semblance of human contact and affection. Given that the abuser is, almost always, a trusted family member or respected authority figure, it’s rather easy to understand why the need for touch so often wins out…
(2). Master the fine art of legalistic, fear-based discipline:
An ancient shepherd carried two key tools: An expensive crooked rod used to steer and rescue sheep and a staff used as a weapon to defend the sheep from wild animals (imagine the long staff in Robin Hood movies.) The rod was never used to hit sheep – it was too expensive to break. “Sparing the rod,” never had anything to do with hitting anything. Scripture simply isn’t about beating children.
Psychologically speaking, we also know that fear based discipline only works while the threat is hanging over your children’s head anyway – and basically does nothing to develop self-management skills in our children’s lives. But, it also has another key impact: It makes your children afraid of authority.
Spankings are an excellent child rearing tool – if you are looking to raise a victim of sexual abuse. Children who are afraid of authority and have been consistently treated like they are bad and rebellious are so easily convinced that whatever has happened to them is their own fault. Children who believe that abuse is their own fault usually feel so much shame and guilt about being abused that they will tell no one about it – and, thereby, allow it to continue.
And, even more importantly, it ensures that your children will not even talk-back to the sexual predator much less scream or physically fight back – which makes his or her life so much easier…
(3). Deny them decent sex education:
Sex education, contrary to popular belief, nearly always diminishes teen sexual activity. The greater the knowledge about and access to contraception, the lower the curiosity about and drive to explore sexuality – especially at dangerously early stages of development – and the higher the willingness to do so in a safer manner. Furthermore, sex education almost always comes with clear instruction about sexual abuse as well as teaching regarding good and bad types of touching – which further reduces confusion in the child and increases the willingness to speak to authorities or parents about such.
So, if you are looking to raise a victim of childhood sexual abuse, then, above all, make your children feel like social outcasts by keeping them out of sex-ed classes at school – and definitely don’t start teaching them at home about human sexuality as soon as they are old enough to understand the terms (Like, age 6yrs of age). Nothing matters more then the feeling of discomfort with your children learning about things you believe to be sinful or the illusion that knowing about something is sure to make your child up and do it.
Especially, never teach them about broken expressions of sexuality and make sure they implicitly understand that, should anyone long for healthy sexuality, they must be just as evil and twisted anyway. Teach them that those are just things we don’t talk about in this home (or anywhere else) so they really will have no idea what healthy human sexuality actually is nor how to discern the opposite of such.
Thus, when a sexual offender starts doing things to them, they will be completely confused, feel horrible about how their bodies, inevitably, respond to touch and will grow ever more silent and powerless in the face of this sort of ruthless intent believing they are, themselves, responsible for it and must have wanted it.
And, by then, they will have not developed the vocabulary to discuss what is happening to them with adults – which only leaves a further barrier to exposing sexual abuse.
(4). Link their entire worth in relationship to their virginity:
Obviously, sexuality is a precious gift that was intended by God as a means of creating deep, permanent and emotionally secure attachment for life long relationship with another. While treating sexuality as a cheap commodity to be sold to the lowest bidder clearly doesn’t benefit anyone involved in the transaction, fear and shame about being sexual is never how the opposite is effectively taught.
Little works better at the task of setting a child up to be fully devalued through sexual abuse then teaching a child that their only worth in relationship is dependant on not yet having experienced roughly 20 square inches of genital tissue being rubbed together. Further teach him or her that bartering virginity into a choice of a worthy lifetime partner is the essence of marriage and how the world should be.
Then, also teach them that, should they not be virgins, that they will forever be outcasts and will likely have to settle for any sort of treatment or partner in the future – or just a lifetime of rejection from, “Good people.”
Make no distinction between sexual expression of their own choosing and that which is forced upon them by another and thus further ensure that the first experience of abuse leaves the child feeling so worthless that the abuse actually seems like exactly what he or she deserves.
(5). Maintain closed lines of communication:
From the earliest moment of birth, we are hard wired to seek connection and our brains are innately programmed to receive and process language from long before we attempt to form our first words. We instinctively fear being alone and nothing makes anyone feel more alone then being with those to whom it is impossible to speak.
So, if you are looking to raise a target for sexual exploitation, then nothing leaves a child more vulnerable to being manipulated by a cunning predator then being unable to talk openly with his or her parents. You can dress it up in the garb of taking a stand for what is right or, “Rightly dividing the Word of Truth,” or any other rationalization you prefer but always make sure your children feel talked down to, lectured, treated like they are ignorant and stupid – and that you are completely incapable of entering their world.
Make sure their opinions are continually discounted, overreact to every swear word they utter and come down hard on every immature thing they do. Say no to as many of their longings as you can and never ever let them win any argument such that they start to live a life of sneaking around and hiding things from you. Then, punish them harshly for all of the above as rebellious and defiant evil-doers.
Not much makes someone who would harm your child happier then knowing your child’s heart is filled with anger at you, that he or she believes that you are utterly impossible to talk to and can not be trusted with the fragile things of their heart.
(6). Teach your child all-encompassing sexual and body shame:
We were made in the image of God and that, most definitely, also includes our bodies. Walk through any museum – the numbers of sculptures and paintings of the beauty of the human form will always vastly outnumber those depicting animals. Our bodies not only reflect that beauty, they were also designed to reflect the central capacity for connection and attachment God innately possesses and such is nowhere seen more clearly then through our genitalia.
So, if you are seeking to render your child powerless in the face of sexual predation, then never refer to your child’s genitalia by their proper names – instead preferring slang terms (the more derogatory the better) – as they teach your child that their bodies and sexuality are fundamentally contemptible and further normalizes the (already culturally implied) messages about the acceptability of people, especially men, using others sexually to prove dominance.
Make sure you scream in horror and tear the sheets off your bed to cover your body when your child bursts in on you while changing. If you catch your younger children masturbating, make sure you freak out, punish them hard and tell them that their genitals are dirty. If you catch your older child masturbating with erotic materials, force him or her to go talk to your Reverend for confession of sin, prayer and/or an exorcism to ensure that the shame is multiplied.
By making normal sexual exploration and curiosity seem abhorrent and sexuality, in general, seem exploitive, you will have effectively crippled your child’s ability to differentiate between safe and unsafe touches and rendered your child unable to see beauty in his or her sexuality such that the actions of an offender will seem normal.
(7). Instil huge religious guilt in your child:
Christians should be among the most free people on the planet. No other faith on earth has ever suggested that God requires nothing of you for Him to love you and give up everything for you. That should, in and of itself, be enough to cancel both religion and guilt/shame itself.
Religion, shame and guilt, then, are incredibly effective at rendering your child a target for exploitation. Never expose your children to a God who loved us so much He came, once and for all, to cancel sin, set humanity free from shame and guilt and entice us all into intimate conversational intimacy with the God of the universe – to say nothing about erasing fear from passionate, loving relationship with each other.
No, instead take them to a church where the first half of the sermon is on why it’s preached from the King James Version and the last half mostly orbits why God hates you – and wants you to burn in hell. Tell them terrifying stories about how sexual sin is the worst of the worst and how they likely can never be forgiven for some of it.
Make sure they get trapped continually trying to confess that which Christ already dealt with once-and-for-all and soon they will feel so unacceptable that you will forever cut them off from that still small voice of guidance inside which may be the very last warning for your child to fight back and/or run before the utterly unthinkable happens.
Do the above seven points faithfully, and you will raise a child that will delight the heart of of those whose greatest sense of power and control is derived from actions that destroy the hearts of children.
So, yes, the above is ugly. It makes me want to go and take a shower from writing it – I can’t imagine reading it feels much better…
Why write it then?
It simply has to be said. (Really, I’ve been writing this in my head for the last twenty years or so. It was going to come out eventually…)
Over the years, I’ve encountered so many, many examples of how to do parenting so completely wrong sold under the heading of, “Raising moral children.”
This week alone, I’ve been pointed at yet another Fundamentalist Evangelical guide on the subject of raising, “Sexually pure kids.” Normally, I just try to ignore them. (There are simply too many thousands of them littering the internet to pay them much attention.)
But this time, I just can’t ignore it – because it came by way of someone who, as a very young child, had her heart so deeply damaged by an incredibly skillful family member who knew exactly who he was looking for and exactly what he was doing as he systematically groomed her – and then used her for his sexual pleasure.
Her family checked off all but one of the above and another client, last week, experienced a different 5 of 7. It’s not even remotely surprising.
We mostly seem to act like childhood sexual abuse is simply a random mystery that happens to some children (much like a lightning strike) or, worse yet, is something the child brings on his or her own self.
The truth is, it’s nothing of the sort.
Vulnerability to a sexual offender in a child does not happen by accident. It occurs as a direct result of parenting and other childhood formative experiences (Sunday School for example) that shape a child such that they become desperate for touch/love, deeply afraid, throughly shamed, constantly guilty, hugely misinformed/ignorant and burdened with false pictures of a god who makes them think the above is normal.
And, it’s not difficult to do the opposite of the above seven points. Actually, it’s incredibly easy – once we become willing to turn away from the ugliness of fundamentalist ideology and towards the beauty of real relationship based spirituality.
Or, to put this all in incredibly simple terms: You can have a fundamentalist religious control system in a low emotional engagement home or you can have your children safe from sexual exploitation.
But not both.