Reconnecting with an old friend recently, she shared with me the fact that she believes she was a victim of sexual abuse. This happened over the span of several years, long ago when she was a pre-teen. The memories are vague, but still haunting. She believes the extent of the abuse involved inappropriate touching as well as exhibitionism but is not sure whether anything more happened.
Her dilemma was and still is, the fact that she never reported or addressed the abuse. In retrospect, she regrets not doing either. Her life has been adversely affected for years, especially her romantic relationships.
Why did she not report it at the time or over the years? There were many reasons. At least in her mind.
She Said, He Said
At the time, she didn’t think anyone would believe her, especially her parents. The abuser is a family member, an older sibling who could do no wrong in their parents’ eyes.
The Victim Loves her Abuser
As they both grew up, the chances to report the abuse just seemed to slip away. There was never a good time. When she was old enough to recognize the abuse for what it was and how it was affecting her life, she didn’t know how to proceed. First off, she didn’t want to upset her aging parents with the shocking allegations. Then she didn’t want to ruin the abuser’s marriage, then his children’s lives. The list goes on and on.
She Felt Guilty
As a preteen at the time of the sexual abuse, she really didn’t know any better. Although his actions made her uncomfortable, was this normal behaviour? If it was wrong, why did she permit it to happen over and over again without speaking up? Who could or should she tell? These were the days well before Google and the internet.
She Thought She Could Live With It
She figured if she didn’t talk about the abuse, eventually, she would forget about it. Unfortunately for her, the suppressed feelings never quite went away, remaining bottled up for years. She never confided in anyone. All of her memories from those years remain quite vague, a fact that makes her wonder what really happened. Is her lack of memory a defense mechanism where her brain has blocked out the details?
Fast Forward to Today
These days, sexual abuse cases are prevalent in the courts. The Me Too movement has arrived. Many are legitimate, albeit ancient cases. Others are not so believable, unprovable, sometimes merely vengeful cases. The latter are reported (created) for attention or defamation. It is great that legitimate victims have come forward and their abusers punished. However, we are living in a messed up world when the person accused of abuse turns out to be the victim.
We now know though that sexual abuse does not necessarily include intercourse. It is more about the power the abuser has over the victim. Is this surge in reported sexual abuse cases because women are braver today? Or because society has realized and accepted that abuse of any kind is unacceptable?
So, what should my friend do? Continue to keep quiet? Confront her abuser? Report the abuse even though fifty years have gone by? What would that accomplish after so many years, other than rip her very extended family apart? What is the statute of limitations on sexual abuse? Is there one? She had lots of questions that I could not answer.
I could only listen as she vented, realizing I don’t know how I would deal with such a traumatic dilemma. I suggested therapy with an expert on such cases to help her weigh her options.
8 thoughts on “Reporting Sexual Abuse, the Dilemma”
You are a good friend to listen and to refer her to a professional. Your post may help others to reconcile with abuse from years gone by.
I tried, felt quite useless
Sometimes, being a good listener, and not passing judgement is more help than you know. This was obviously a very difficult topic for her to delve into, uncomfortable to hear as well. You can’t “fix’ what has gone on, but you allowed her to get it off her chest and in the light. Professional help is really the best advice. holding someone’s hand and just listening is very important.
I can relate so much to this post. I was abused as a child by a friend and then later on I was abused by my ex for fifteen years. I have since reported him because we were grown adults and by reporting him I am protecting the next woman in his life even if nothing comes of my case. As for the childhood one… I’ve been in specialist sexual abuse therapy and I’m learning. I think the child that abused me was first abused themselves and the cycle continues. I don’t blame that person for what they went through, I am sad that they inflicted it on me too. I couldn’t report that person but I might one day reach out and ask them if they are okay, if they managed to overcome their trauma, if I’m ever brave enough.
I have a feeling it’s much more common than anyone knows. Sounds like you are on the right track! best of luck!
Firstly, thank you, having a friend like you was the first step to getting help your friend needed, having someone just take the time to sit and listen and not pass judgement or make the usual comment sucj=h as why didn’t you say something is massive support. I was a victim of abuse in my teens, while my father was at home dying of cancer and my abuser was my football coach. I never spoke about it to anyone, until one day, I could no longer deal with it on my own and I knew if I didn’t get help there was only one way it would end, I would have taken my own life, so in 2017 I reported it to the police, they in turn put me in touch with a fantastic charity called New Pathways who supported me right upto court, which took over 3 years due to Covid, and a few other things, in july of 2021 my abuser then aged 71, was found guilty on 6 out of 7 charges and sentenced to 11 and 1/2 years in prison and signing the sex offenders register for the rest of his life when he is released. Tell your friend I admire her courage, she has taken the hardest step, which is admitting it happened, I am now almost completing my course of counselling for the trauma caused by the abuse, I am dianosed PTSD and CPTSD and now see myself as a survivor not a victim, there was no physical evidence, as by the time we got to court almost 40 years had passed since my abuse, but tell your friend, she can get the help first without reporting to the police, and then, when she is feeling stronger, she can decide if she wishes to take the legal route. I am now 54, and run a blog and podcast series calles Surviving The Traumam Of Abuse tellingmy story and trying to raise awareness of the help that’s available and how to access that help so victims do not have to suffer for decades in silence like I did, as silence is an abusers biggest victory. Please check out my blog and podcast, it’s on WordPress http://www.survivingabuse.co.uk and contains helpful tips and contact details based on my own experiences over the last few years of going through the court system and the counselling service. I hope your friend is ok, and gets the help she needs, she will be listened to, she will be believed and she will be supported, I give you my word on that
thank you so much! I will pass on the advice and info. Best of luck to you moving forward!