Saturday, January 24, 2009

Guilt: A Reason for Silence

Guilt is not only a common feeling of sexual abuse victims and survivors, it also is one of many reasons why they remain silent about what happened to them.

According to, guilt is “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined”.

There are several reasons why sexual abuse victims feel guilt. Three main reasons are they did not stop the abuse from happening, they did not tell anyone and some feel responsible for what happened.

In movies, sexual abuse or assault is typically portrayed as a distressed victim who is screaming, biting, kicking, etc. their attacker. Through this effort to freedom, the victim causes enough commotion to cause another person to hear what is going on and come to the victim’s aid. Unfortunately, this is not always the real life response to abuse. Most victims disassociate themselves from their own bodies in an attempt to block their minds from realizing what is happening. This could be seen as ignoring the problem. However, the victim later feels guilty because they feel that if they only would have screamed, bitten, or kicked their attacker, the abuse would have ended sooner.

If a victim is being attacked by someone they know, they are less likely to cause commotion. Most victims do not want anyone to know, especially if the attacker is a friend or family member. Victims seem to view this as a way of protecting the family from future feuds or emotional and/or physical division.

In my experiences of sexual abuse, I did not attempt to cease the abuse because it took place only a bedroom wall away from my sisters’ bedroom. I constantly thought of what would happen if I alerted them and realized I probably would have been too embarrassed to face them if they ever found out. In addition, I did not try to stop the abuse because I was a fragile 110 pounds, while my attacker was at least 250 pounds. I felt guilty because I believed I allowed it to continue to happen.

Many victims feel guilty for not telling anyone what happened at all or sooner. Victims blame themselves because they feel they had many opportunities to tell, but were too fearful to do so. Often, they are unsure of who to trust and are nervous about the result.

In my case, the man who molested me was a well-respected Baptist pastor, who knew more people in the community than I felt I knew in my whole life. I just was not sure they would even believe me in the decision between the “man of God” or the teenager who barely passed and excessively talked through Algebra class in high school. Ultimately, I felt that no one would take my side.

Victims tend to feel responsible for their abuse or attack, especially after a combination of not stopping the actions of the attacker and not telling anyone. However, it is important that victims understand guilt according to Invisible Girls, authored by Patti Feuereisen, a practicing psychotherapist and pioneer in the treatment of sexual abuse for teen girls and young women:

“If you are the victim of incest, please understand that your father didn’t start molesting you because of anything you said or did. He did it because he is a sick person with a totally warped idea of right and wrong. He tried to pull you into his demented reality. He undoubtedly planned how to get into a sexual situation with you. It was not your fault. You had no choice. This goes for other types of sexual abuse, too.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment!