Black Women's Health and Happiness

Insights into physical, mental, and spiritual health for women of color.

What Wives of Men Who Sexually Abuse Kids Need to Understand

Denying the truth, and blaming the victim, only prolongs the pain and anger

Other than murder, there aren't many things (if any thing) more heinous than sexual abuse of children and underage youth. Yet, more and more, we hear of cases in which children have been molested, raped and sexually violated by adults they trusted. These 'trusted' persons may be teachers, coaches, priests, pastors, parents or close family members.

What does it do to a child's psyche when they are sexually violated at an early age? How long does the damage last? Is there ever closure? What does it do to their future relationships and/or potential for happy families and sound family dynamics? What damage does repeat hashing of the violations continue to cause?

We know of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in which many priests were discovered to have had sexually molested and violated children. Even after being discovered, some priests weren't dismissed or punished; they were simply transferred to another parish.

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One of the most well-known cases of child sexual abuse was the Penn State Jerry Sandusky case, legally decided by a jury of his peers.

We are now upon the one year anniversary of the Jerry Sandusky trial (June 11-22, 2012), in which he was found guilty on 45 of 48 charges. The lead-up to the trial was painful and difficult to witness from afar, so one can only imagine what those victims--then boys, some now young men--had to endure not only in preparation for the trial, but during the 10 day legal proceeding.

With the verdict, many in the public (some who may never have experienced sexual abuse) felt "this is over; there is closure." But not so fast.

Over the past year, the wife of the convicted former Penn State coach trashed the victims; she said they were "ungrateful" and called them "liars."

One week ago a new report surfaced: The family of shamed Penn State coach Joe Paterno filed suit against the NCAA. The Paterno estate, coupled with some university trustees and former players, are fighting the sanctions placed upon the university, and the expunging of the late coach's winning football record. They take issue with the independent review empanelled by Penn State, and led by former FBI director Louis Freeh.

With this development, once again the victims have to be reminded of the pain and violation they suffered. They also may feel that those who are a party to the case still refuse to accept, own and acknowledge what happened to them, and the pain they undoubtedly continue to feel. These "I don't want to accept the decision and will fight against the evidence" actions only continue to keep raw the wounds that might have, only recently, slowly begun to heal.

While priests don't have official wives (they are "married to the Church"), the Church needs to grasp that children were violated in the most precious parts of their being. Same with the wives of men who sexually abuse children.

Unfortunately abuse sometimes feels like love when it comes from someone who says "I love you" to a child who may not hear that from those who should love them properly as a parent, advisor, coach, pastor, teacher or family member.

But sexual abuse is not only an institutional problem of churches and college campuses; these violations happen all too often in everyday life, in every place neighborhoods.

Recently (May 31) on the Dr. Phil show, there was a segment in which a young woman had tremendous anger, and sobbed as she re-lived telling her mother that she "was being sexually abused by her stepfather." The mother took the word of her husband instead of her daughter. To Dr. Phil, the mother first denied that the daughter ever said anything to her, but later said, "...maybe I just didn't listen."

In defense of the stepfather, a non-molested sister of the violated girl expressed anger and frustration, stating (to the victim), "Isn't it funny that you remember everything and he [the perpetrator] doesn't remember it?" Some people just don't get it.

What wives of abusers, as well as others, need to get is the fact that the taking of a young person's body damages that person, I dare say for life, though coping skills can be garnered and implemented, coupled with true love and support.

Sexual abuse of a child or underage youth causes tremendous damage to that person's yet undeveloped mind and psychological processing. It greatly affects their relationships into adolescence and adulthood. Many have dysfunctional bonding or abandonment issues. They can be confused, not knowing who they can actually trust, and by whom they can and will be protected.

Victims can also develop an inconsistent self-image, not really knowing who they are, or what they are. And many blame themselves for being a part of something that they, on some level, know is not right.

Wives of men who sexually abuse kids need to understand:

1) Look beyond yourself. This isn't about you (primarily). It's about young people who had their youth stolen, their bodies violated, and their psyche advanced before its time.

2) The blinders need to be removed if the facts and evidence are insurmountable. Denial must end. At some point you must accept the truth, difficult though it may be.

3) If the wife knew what was happening (and many times they do, but choose to turn a blind eye and deaf ear), yes, there is some culpability there. Get help to face the problem, but don't add insult to injury by casting aspersions on the victim.

4) At some point, there must be (to use a term usually associated with borderline personality disorder), 'radical acceptance' that 'this'--the sexual abuse--happened, and it happened at the hands of your spouse. If any healing has begun, don't keep tearing off the scab; the wound will never heal. Your pain pales in comparison to that of the victims.

5) If the case is tried in the courts, the slam-dunk evidence is in, and the verdict is rendered "guilty" by a jury of one's peers, it is a must that you come to grips with the facts, even though they may be hard to face. Again, get counseling if needed.

6) If handled in a private manner (i.e., perhaps the victim was able to speak to the perpetrator directly), once the matter has been (satisfactorily?) concluded between the offender and the victim(s), the wife/wives should not prolong the matter by disparaging the victims' names, especially since the victims kept their silence for so long, protecting the family's name. Discrediting the victim is wrong.

In medical and psychiatric practices, or as examples presented in conferences, we may be presented with examples of sexual abuse. I share two scenarios. In one, the violator has never been addressed by her victim. In the other, the "talk" came about under duress:

Case #1: A young man--the baby of 'more than nine' children had an ever-traveling-for-work father, and a tired mother who delegated mothering duties of her youngest kids to her oldest in-home daughters. One of those daughters, when she was nineteen, began having sex with her then nine-year-old baby brother. The sexual abuse continued for three years until shortly after their mother died (when the victim was twelve). The sexual abuse was not his fault, but for sure, he is left to deal with the consequences. That young boy, now a grown man, has had a lifetime of fragmented relationships, immense private pain and major trust and abandonment issues. In fact, he developed Borderline Personality Disorder.

Case #2: A young teenage girl, with an absentee father, was 'taken under the wing' of her prominent pastor who positioned her to be near him at every hand. First the kiss; the "I love you's," and eventually the sex which continued off and on for years.

The victim held the secret for decades; her silence bought the bounty of the offender's family.

When faced with so many reports of child sexual abuse in the news, the girl--now grown woman--sought out her violator: She "wasn't angry"; she just needed to talk to him. In private. But no one would let her. He was being protected. Her requests to his friends (who knew of the illicit relationship) to contact him on her behalf, were dismissed with the words, "well you know [he's] old now." Private letters asking to speak about what happened in days of yore were sent to the offender, only to be intercepted by the wife (who, reportedly, had contemporaneous high suspicion of the affair).

After counseling, the young woman contacted the wife and demanded to speak with the pastor-lover. The tell-all letter was complete with documentation of the 'lovers' travels. When the victim spoke with the violator, and also the wife, the wife told the victim, "well, you were a fool!" Some would contend that the young virginal teen was simply a 16 y.o. girl trying to learn about God when her 42 year old pastor, and the wife's husband, began seducing her. Reportedly, it was the wife's insensitive comments that angered the victim.

Instead of acknowledging the wrong done to the girl, the wife attacked the victim, called her names and even subsequently, proceeded to attempt to discredit the victim to others. (This may still be occurring; I don't know.)

Sticking up for a spouse is mostly understood, but in the face of overwhelming evidence--in a courtroom, or in private discussions--should wives continue to defend their husbands when it is clear they engaged in mammoth wrongs against children?

One can only hope that, in the Penn State case and others about which we don't know, that the wives will stop discrediting the very people who were violated by their husbands. These victims protected their husband's and family name for decades, and only recently sought to speak out. They deserve some end to the public rehashing of such painful violations to their very person and soul. Victims also need to know that if they speak out, that they will not continue to be victimized by the offender's family and friends.

Instead of trashing the victims and continuing to refuse to accept the facts of violation, acknowledgment of the violation, and the wives' apologies would go a long way to aid the healing process.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Melody T. McCloud. All rights reserved. Feel free to share this on your social network pages, with author credit and link to this page: http://bit.ly/11kBQhN Twitter: @DrMelodyMcCloud.

See the latest E-Book: First Do No Harm: How to Heal Your Relationships Using the Wisdom of Professional Caregivers, and, in print and e-book: Living Well...: The Woman's Guide to Health, Sex and Happiness.

US Dept of HHS Sexual Abuse Prevention Programs: https://www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/programs/types/sexualabuse.cfm

National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children: http://www.napsac.us/

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP): http://www.snapnetwork.org/

Paterno family sues NCAA: http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/9322779/joe-paterno-family-join-lawsuit-vs-ncaa-lawyer-says

Melody T. McCloud, M.D., is an obstetrician-gynecologist and the author of First Do No Harm: How to Heal Your Relationships Using the Wisdom of Professional Caregivers.

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