Archive for Child Sexual Abuse

Forgiveness: It’s a Process


You read a lot about forgiveness these days. Some experts advise us to let go of anger and hurt. I understand forgiveness differently. In my opinion, you can’t will yourself to forgive. Forgiveness is a process.

Two Roman Catholic priests who teach Focusing, Peter Campbell and Ed MacMohan, call this premature attempt to forgive process skipping. You can’t grunt up a change in how your body carries a situation, they say.

That’s certainly my own experience with forgiving my parents. I knew enough to listen to and be compassionate with my rage for my mother, the non-offending parent who failed to protect me. My only regret is that I hadn’t reached a place of forgiveness before she died. In recent years, I feel only love and caring for her. That happened on its own. I didn’t have the power to make it happen.

Gradually, I just noticed I was feeling differently about the adults who betrayed my childhood innocence.

These days I tend to remember the good acts of my father and his father, my grandfather. They weren’t just perpetrators. They were both much more. My father is still the man who patiently taught me to drive a car, and so much else. My grandfather is still the old man who waited for me to walk with him to the public library each week. Those are good memories.

Forgiveness, then, is something that just happens as long as we allow all our feelings the space they need. Suppressed feelings spring up somewhere else in our lives, harming our bodies and interfering with our relationships.

What’s your experience?

I welcome your comments. Please share your thoughts.

Sorry to Upset You, But…

on the swing

We need everyone to face the fact that one in four females and one in six males is sexually abused in childhood. Otherwise caring, responsible people often say to me, “Oh, I don’t want to hear about that. It upsets me.” Well, I’m sorry, but child victims in your neighbourhood need you to be aware of this national epidemic.

If you don’t want to be involved in preventing child sexual abuse, you are on the side of the perpetrator. Yes, that’s true. All the perpetrator asks of you is that you look the other way.

Child victims need you to notice and get involved. They need you to educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse. They need you to be courageous enough to phone your local child protection services.

  • Prepare yourself. Have the number of your child protection services handy.
  • Educate yourself about this crime against our children.
  • Believe the statistics. They’re conservative estimates.
  • Don’t let your denial put more children in danger.

Jennifer Freyd – A Hero for our Times

In a therapist’s office in the 1990’s, a young woman client was asked if she’d been sexually abused as a child. The client, a psychologist and newly appointed Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, was startled by the question. No one had ever asked her this before. She said, ‘no’, but returned home and shook for the next two days.

Her name is Jennifer Freyd. Her parents, Peter and Pamela Freyd reacted by joining Dr. Ralph Underwager, founder of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Peter and Pamela become the organization’s executive directors.

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation claimed that the helping professions were planting memories of child sexual abuse in the minds of patients and clients. Thousands of affluent parents with grown children looked to the Foundation to safeguard their retirement savings from lawsuits being brought forward by their grown children who claimed to have been sexually abused by them when they were vulnerable children. These people, now adults, were no longer powerless.

The Foundation suffered some setbacks.  In 1993, Underwager embarrassed the organization by publicly stating that it is “God’s will” that adults use children for sex. Members of the Foundation’s board of directors were physicians previously employed by the CIA in mind control experiments. Their names include Dr. Martin Orne and Dr. Harold Lief.

1993 witnessed heated arguments over the question of recovered memories. At a mental health conference in Michigan, Jennifer outed her parents.  Her parents countered by explaining that their daughter was suffering from a brain injury!  This is the young professor who was a productive researcher into memory and who wrote her respected book, Betrayal Trauma. Her book puts forth the theory that it is the huge betrayal that forces children to forget abuse by the adults to whom the child’s safety was entrusted. She doesn’t sound like someone with a brain injury!

In the 90’s many therapists were afraid of helping clients who presented as victims of child sexual abuse, fearing being attacked by the Foundation for planting “memories.” Thankfully, science saved the day when brain imaging revealed the physical changes to a traumatized brain. No helping professional could cause these invisible wounds.


There’s No Such Thing as a Bystander

  • Anyone witnessing or knowing of child abuse is forced to take sides. You’re on one side or the other. There is no such thing as a bystander.
  • All the perpetrator asks is that we look the other way and do nothing.
  • If we “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil” we help the perpetrator.
  • The victim, on the other hand, needs much more. The victim needs us to get involved, to feel the pain and disgust, to take action.

Judith Herman, in her classic book on psychological trauma, Trauma and Recovery, explains that the perpetrator will do everything possible to discredit the victim. The perpetrator thrives in an environment where people still can’t believe such crimes happen to children.

That’s why we have to keep telling our stories. We need to be brave enough to inform those that claim such things don’t happen  ….. that Joe Smith wouldn’t do such a thing…. that one if four girls and one in six males is sexually abused before the age of eighteen.

What can YOU do to help the victim, not the perpetrator?

Please leave your comments below.

Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery, Harper Collins, Basic Books, New York, 1992

A Perpetrator Apologizes?!


I’ve read books about other’s journeys towards healing from the effects of childhood trauma.  I have read about other’s experiences in confronting their perpetrators.  So far, I have not read one story about a confrontation with the perpetrator that has gone in accordance with the survivor of childhood trauma’s wishes.

So I’m now questioning whether it’s actually realistic and possible for a survivor of childhood trauma to ever get the apology, the acknowledgement, the recognition or the peace that they seek and undoubtedly deserve through confronting their perpetrator with their truth (March 23,2014 blog post)

Is it never possible to get the perpetrator to confess? Almost never? Never? Under certain circumstances?

Many years ago in my practice as a trauma therapist, I worked with a family where the father admitted he’d sexually abused his daughter when she was little. The man’s wife stood by him as he expressed his guilt and sadness for the harm he had done to their child, who was now an adult. Part of the therapy was coaching him in telling the victim he was sorry: that he was the only guilty party and that he would do anything in his power to ease her burden.

Now I’m writing a novel. In this fictitious work, the heroine turns out to have been sexually abused and is dealing with her father. I didn’t plan to have the plot revolve around child sexual abuse, but fiction has a way of writing itself. My characters have come alive and, in a way, have taken the story out of my hands.

In 2010, I published my memoir, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist: a Memoir of Healing and Transformation. The memoir is not fictitious. It’s a very personal account of my own experience as a victim of child sexual abuse, filtered through my professional experience as a trauma therapist.

In the piece of fiction I’m now working on, (tentatively entitled Miranda’s Secret) I had Miranda’s father inform her that he’d sexually abused her. It just didn’t ring true. I’ve had to change the plot and tell a story of Miranda gradually realizing the truth about her childhood and her family. That’s the way it happened for me and for hundreds of clients I’ve had the honour of accompanying on their healing journey.

Except for the one example in my practice years ago, does anyone know of similar cases?

I need your help. Please let me know your own experience in confronting – or not confronting – your perpetrator.  Use the space reserved for comments following this post.