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#312237 - 11/29/09 03:30 PM Why didn't you tell?
Hauser Offline

Registered: 11/12/05
Posts: 2963
Loc: United States
I know that this topic has been covered, but I felt the need to explore it once again, and to hear the varying responses from others here.

I've come to believe that MOST of us who chose not to disclose to our parents did so because of lack of proper parenting (teaching children to be assertive and directly instructing them to tell their Mom or Dad if someone tries doing anything they don't feel comfortable with, etc.)

In my story , the one time as a child that I tried to disclose turned out to be a tragic mistake. (disclosed to my 11yo brother and his friend who made fun and laughed at me instead of offering any kind of sympathy or support.) This kept me from ever disclosing again for almost 30 years. In that time, my life went no where, directionless, meaningless, just numbing out with drugs and alcohol was all I looked forward to.

ANYWAY, my point is that if I was TOLD what to do, this all could have been avoided, which is tragic to me, so much lost potential. Sigh.

Back to the subject in general. What *I* would like to know is, WHY is it that something that is now taught in kindergarten classes (CSA awareness) was blatantly missing in my generation. Seriously, CSA has ALWAYS been around, right? So, why is it that only 30 years ago, it was not considered outrageous for a hardly-known neighbor to invite someone's son over for a "camping trip" or even to take him out for dinner?

1978 = "What a nice man, of course you're welcome to take my 9yo son camping with you"

2009 = "What? You've gotta be kidding me! You must be a perp, stay away from my kids!"

Why is it that when something like this is tried nowadays, eyebrows are immediately raised and parent's defense shields are set on maximum and an immediate answer is a "NO"?

What were my parents and their generation missing in this department? Did they live in some kind of Leave-it-to-Beaver fantasy land where kids, in particular boys, never get sexually violated? What is their excuse? That they didn't hear enough public announcements about CSA?

Just wondering why some many of us fell through the cracks, so to speak.

#312241 - 11/29/09 03:55 PM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Hauser]
dave39 Offline

Registered: 08/25/08
Posts: 3
Loc: USA - MO
the adults around me were working on putting their own problems together - and fixing them i thought if i were to tell it would risk my family and my dad would blame my mom and mom would blame my dad for allowing it to happen- i knew that is how it would play out even at that age - so i never told

#312247 - 11/29/09 04:39 PM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: dave39]
Freedom49 Offline

Registered: 12/31/07
Posts: 2724
Loc: Washington State
I never told anyone because it WAS my dad. I tried to tell my mom a couple of times which I have mentioned here on the site somewhere. The first time she changed the subject and got busy doing something else. Again I never told anyone else because of the shame of it being my dad and the fear of what would happen to my family. Alan, it was a different time back when I was a kid. It was not talked about. Everyone involved in this sort of thing victim and perp, Siblings, any relative would all be tainted by the disclosure and shamed. Appearances were more important.

So I kept silent. Secretly going along with the charade.

It is just what you did back then.

#312249 - 11/29/09 04:48 PM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Freedom49]
AndyJB2005 Offline

Registered: 11/14/06
Posts: 1249
Loc: Minnesota
I guess I'm unusual but I never knew anything was wrong until it was over, so I never knew I had to tell. Sex and abuse just wasn't something anyone explained to me where I grew up.

I always felt icky feelings but because of my dad and the situation, I guess I just put up with it for some reason to make him happy (and get stuff). Sigh..

I hear a lot of guys say different, though. :-\

Life's disappointments are harder to take when you don't know any swear words. -- Calvin (Calvin and Hobbes)

#312254 - 11/29/09 05:47 PM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: AndyJB2005]
WalkingSouth Offline

Registered: 08/30/05
Posts: 16270
Loc: Waldport, Oregon
Why didn't I tell? It wasn't safe to tell! The adults of my generation and particular subculture pretty much had their mind made up about sexual activity between anyone who was not married. It was wrong and it was evil and anyone participating in same needed to be disciplined.

It don't take no rocket scientist to figure that one out. A preschooler is more than capable. Just sitting there keeping your mouth shut is a far better plan than getting whipped with a belt till the welts rise. The sex felt a helluvalot better than that. No idiots among this group. We did what was required to survive as best we could.

"Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting 'Holy Shit! What a ride!'" ~Hunter S. Thompson

#312293 - 11/29/09 11:15 PM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: WalkingSouth]
Riley Offline

Registered: 01/11/09
Posts: 599
Loc: USA
I heard something today on tv. It talked about the sociology of our culture in the 40's and 50's. In the 50's when the soldiers returned from WWII they tried to create a sense of normalcy that never truly existed, hence the Leave It To Beaver, suburban sprawl type generation. Perhaps a very similar situation occurred in the 70's. I wasn't around, but my picture of the 70's include alot of drug abuse among the younger crowd and the parents having no idea, many of which served in Vietnam and Korea. So maybe, yes, they did live in a fantasy land where that sort of thing never happens. I don't know just a theory.

As to why I didn't tell, its a tough question. When I was younger my perp always convinced me to not tell, plus I never really felt I was being truly wronged. Sure I felt uncomfortable, but I always felt uncomfortable, I couldn't even fathom a world where I was comfortable. As I got older I think it just came down to not trusting anyone to not tease me about it and tell everyone I know. In my head it was easier to put up with my brother then to put up with everyone I know. Even to this day I may do something to stop it, but that would definitely not involve telling people.

#312297 - 11/30/09 12:02 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Hauser]
LC Offline

Registered: 07/31/09
Posts: 31
Loc: Canada
I didn't tell because even though my abuse only happened over a weeklong period there was pictures and even a video taken. During that week everytime I had to call home he always stood over me with a camera. This image is still the most vivid image of my childhood. Then when i became an adult it had been so long that I wasnt able to look objectively at my past and connect the dots between the abuse and my behavior. It took me completely breaking down my entire life with addictions going to rehab and finally disclosing it 17 yrs later that i felt safe and fed up enough to tell.

I really dont think that I would have disclosed at any other time in my life anyways. Great post though, for me and my family it wasnt any different in 1992 then it was for you in 78

#312301 - 11/30/09 12:15 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: LC]
Ornias Offline

Registered: 08/13/09
Posts: 310
shame, feeling also at fault..

but i don't think its different now then it was in the 70s but i don't know i didn't grow up in the 70s, but maybe its changed some for the females, im not sure about the males because there is still that people will think im gay, that something is wrong with me, im less of a man, or maybe thats just only in my mind, i don't know...

its not easy to hide all this damage inside,
and ill carry it w
ith me until i'm not alive.

#312304 - 11/30/09 01:00 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Ornias]
Casmir213 Offline

Registered: 05/14/09
Posts: 851
Loc: Northeast, USA
*************Trigger Warning**************************

That was one memory that I completely lost conscious access to until 13 years later when I was 20 years old. When a parent is the perp and you're only 7 years old, there's no one to tell, except maybe the other parent. And fortunately, because of the circumstances of my abuse I had the opportunity to tell, and I did. And the very next day I had already begun to block the memory out of my mind, so when my father "apologized" for what he had done I hardly knew what he was talking about. I felt blamed for what happened to me because my mother hollared at me for having been in the bed with my father to begin with, even though she allowed me to sleep with him. So, actually it was both of their faults, not mine.

It would have been better if, instead of being blamed for being there with my father, my mother would have come to me and said plainly and compassionately that what happened to me wasn't my fault, and that it was my father's fault.

Edited by Casmir213 (11/30/09 07:58 PM)
I see recovery as a lifelong journey rather than a final destination, a journey, though, which can have many successes along the way.

WoR Alumnus - Hope Springs, OH, October 2009

My avatar is the farmhouse at the Hope Spring, OH WoR. It's a nice place.

#312311 - 11/30/09 01:34 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Casmir213]
Dusty Boy Offline

Registered: 11/15/08
Posts: 280
Loc: Australia
The parents told me that if a kid goes near a man like that it is the kids fault, when an old man (the dirty old man sterio type)asked me to come into his house to look at his marbles I knew what he was referring to and ran away, but was scared to say anything to the parents cos I would get another stern letcure and not a good boy.


Edited by Dusty Boy (11/30/09 01:36 AM)

#312323 - 11/30/09 02:46 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Dusty Boy]
Jim1961 Offline

Registered: 03/10/09
Posts: 1201
Loc: Pa, but likely traveling...
Why I didn't tell (caution not PC):

- Because I did not think of it as being abused, "just" bullied
- Admitting to being bullied is admitting to being weak
- Disclosing the details would reveal that I was the worst thing a boy could be, a faggot
- My dad (who I only saw on sundays) would see me as weak/defective
- My mom who spent most of her time at the bar would not care or be mad at me

***** Caution triggers ******

After he assaulted me the last time in the woods, I took matters into my own hands and fought him the next day in school (7th grade). I did not see him again until college.


Loneliness is a power that we possess to give or take away forever. -Yes, Starship Trooper

My Story

#312364 - 11/30/09 01:04 PM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Jim1961]
AndyS87 Offline

Registered: 12/12/08
Posts: 306
Loc: sorry, but I don't say on the ...
I didn't tell because for a while I didn't think there was anything necesarilly wrong going on. For the first two years, I wouldn't really call what was going on with me sexual abuse or molestation, it was more like kids just playing. I was 6 when it all first started, so my cousin (perp) was 8 or 9. For those first two year, it really wasn't anything too crazy. He exposed himself frequently, but again, lots of kids do that. I also didn't think anything of him fondling me, although the two of us really didn't touch each other at all for a while. By the time I had gotten into 3rd grade the stuff that was going on seemed a bit stranger to me, and went from the point where I didn't think anything of it to the point where I knew something wasn't right. That was when he would pester me to allow him to go down on me until I said "fine", and then after the broke that barrier down there really wasn't much left for him to do.

The last time there was anything physical was when he tried to sodomize me (which I agreed to, I was in 4th grade at the time and firmly believed that men couldn't have sex with men. He had asked me, my sister, and his sister if any of us wanted to have sex with him. Well, on top of all the other shit that I had put up with by then, and figuring that men couldn't have sex with men anyways, I went after my sister and other cousin said no).

He never penetrated me cause it felt uncomfortable when he tried and I asked him to stop, so he did. He then had me try it on him, and that didn't work because I couldn't get an erection. Years later though I realize how scarring that moment was.

Anyways, I ended up telling my parents after a health class in fourth grade, maybe a couple of months after everything went down, where we were learning about the different ways people get AIDS or HIV. Sure enough, sodomy was up there, and not long before that class one of my friends on the bus had told me that men COULD in fact have sex with men and how they did it. I was already horrified by that because it brought what was going on with me into full realization. Then with the AIDS thing I thought I was going to have AIDS and die, and as you can understand when you're 9 years old this can be a bit traumatic. I spilled the beans that night at dinner, but I guess for years my Dad forgot and my Mom thought that I had said that we were "just playing doctor". I didn't fully disclose after that until after my high school graduation to a few close friends, and then things went from there, my ignoring the issue, my breaking down mentally, and then my entering therapy. It all started just about 5 years ago now.

#312367 - 11/30/09 01:42 PM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: AndyS87]
Ken Singer, LCSW Offline

Registered: 08/24/00
Posts: 5781
Loc: Lyons, CO USA
Great question. In fact, it is the entire chapter 7 from my book (coming out next month).

Sneak preview.... most of the answers in here came from MS discussion board posts over the past 6 years or so.

Chapter 7

What Kept You from Telling?

Survivors have different reactions to the question of what kept them from telling someone about the abuse at the time it was occurring. For some survivors, it is an opportunity to explain why, and tell how difficult it was to confide in someone about what had happened to them. For others, it sounds like a judgment, as if to say, “You should have told someone” or “There must be something about you that wanted the abuse to take place (or to continue.).”

As one survivor said about the question:

The first time a therapist asked me why I didn't tell, I got really angry and it created a barrier in our communications. While all he said was, “Why didn't you tell?,” what I heard was a judgment. I took from him an implied: “You should have been able to tell unless you were weak or, if you didn't tell there must be some reason, such as you wanted the abuse to continue.” I know these aren't implied in your question (nor were they implied in his). And perhaps his intent was to make me confront that part of me that was judging myself.

Is there a difference in the way the questions “what kept you from telling?” and “why didn’t you tell?” sound to you? “What kept you from telling?” implies that there was some obstacle or reason why you could not tell – something kept you from disclosing the abuse. “Why didn’t you tell?” sounds more judgmental and puts responsibility on you for not doing what others may think you should have done.

Your reaction to this question is a good example of how an unstated message from the abuser creates a trap for the victim. It’s not that the abuser consciously thinks out how to make this dialog run in the victim’s mind, but somehow the message comes across to the survivor that he could have or should have told or otherwise protected himself. Many survivors beat themselves up years later; they feel they “should have” or “could have” said or done something to protect themselves or someone else.

Barriers to Telling

PLEASURABLE FEELINGS. For many survivors, the physical or emotional aspects of the abuse may have been pleasurable. Our bodies respond to touch, whether this contact was asked for, wanted, or not. One survivor wrote, “I didn't tell because it felt good and so I believe it was my fault and inside I have a fear I must be gay.” The emotional “goodies” that can accompany the abuse, such as attention, nurturance, acceptance, friendship, gifts, and “love” can be some of the needs the survivor is trying to meet, even though they come at the price of “consenting” to the sex.

It is not unusual for some victims to see the abuse as having more rewards than negative consequences, at least at the time. From the child’s perspective, the abuse may feel physically pleasurable, and/or the emotional connection that comes with it may be positive. A young child does not have the emotional sophistication or life knowledge to discern the difference between sincere affection and being used. Eventually, the negative aspects of the relationship come out, and the child no longer wants to participate but feels obligated to continue the sexual parts of the relationship. After all, the abuser now has information s/he can use to coerce the survivor’s compliance. And besides, some survivors reason, “I’ve done it all these other times, why should one more even matter?” If the abuse felt physically pleasurable, or the abuser met some emotional needs for the survivor, the survivor may feel that he consented, or that in a sense he prostituted himself for physical, material or emotional reasons.

Another survivor stated:

I didn't tell anyone because I was ashamed. I was so desperate for the attention of a strong male in my life. He befriended me ... so I thought. He gave me the physical and emotional attention I had been craving as a twelve-year-old. I was willing to do anything to keep his attention and affection. I didn't realize the cost or how dirty I would feel at the end. That was my first lesson in relationships...I still struggle with what that taught me.

In a situation like this, the child had emotional needs that were met by the abuser. His relationship with the abuser was so important that at that time the boy regarded the sexual abuse as something valuable for him. The tragedy of these kinds of relationships is that if the abuser had taken the sexual part of the relationship out of the equation, the childhood memories of the adult survivor today would be very different. He might have had a fond recollection of an adult who took the time to be a friend to a boy “desperate for the attention of a strong male.” Instead, that boy and the man he has become have dealt with the consequences of the sexual abuse for many years.

COERCION. Many survivors were kept from telling because of pressure by abusers. The abuser first got the boy to engage in sexual acts, and then made him believe that he “consented” and was equally guilty, thus ensuring his silence. Or the abuser may have made an implied or overt threat of social or physical harm to the victim or to a family member or pet to make sure there would be no disclosure.

By legal definition sexual abuse is never an act of consent. According to Gail Ryan, an internationally recognized expert on sexual abuse, consent has four elements that must be met for an action to be seen as consensual. [FN #] [FN Text] See Ryan & Lane (1991).[End FN Text] The parties 1) must understand what is being proposed without being tricked or confused; 2) they must know what the standard is for the behavior in the culture, family and peer group; 3) they must have an awareness of the potential consequences for self and others; and 4) they must know that they are free to participate or decline participation without fear of pressure or negative repercussions. These elements are derived from standard medical consents that have evolved over the years. In the Revised Report from the National Task Force on Juvenile Sexual Offending (1993) two additional conditions were added: the decision is voluntary and mental competence is required to truly give consent.

Even if a child – say age 12 – agrees to be sexual, when the other person is more than (depending on state law) three or four years older than he is, there cannot be legal consent. And regardless of age differences, there is no consent when a sexual abuser uses force, coercion, bribes, tricks, threats, etc., or when the victim is asleep or under the influence of alcohol or drugs and cannot make an informed decision.

Coercion is sometimes obvious, as in the case where force, threats or weapons are used. However, many survivors don’t recognize that some of the more subtle techniques used by abusers are also coercive. Take the example of someone who provides gifts to the victim. Although the victim willingly takes and perhaps enjoys the gifts, it is not truly consent when the abuser is really manipulating him and the boy recognizes that if he refuses the abuser’s advances there is a possibility that the “friendship” or gifts will end.

Many abusers seek out emotionally needy boys, and when an abuser gives such a boy time, attention and gifts in exchange for sex, he is exploiting those emotional needs. I’ve worked with many abusers who had an emotional connection to their child victims. The non-sexual aspects of their relationship could have been mutually beneficial, but the sex contaminated it. One abuser I worked with performed oral sex on an 11-year-old boy whom he had known for years. To some degree, he had become a surrogate father figure for this boy, who did not have a relationship with his biological father. They did “guy things” together, and he could have been someone the boy would likely have remembered as a friend and mentor. However, once the relationship became sexual, the good things he did for and with the boy were negated and their nurturing value was totally lost.

Force or the threat of force is obviously coercive, but an implied threat is more difficult to call. If an older sibling has hit or hurt his younger brother in the past, he can generally make the younger one flinch by merely making a fist and pretending he is going to hit him; the younger has been conditioned to expect the blow. The older one may not even need to raise a fist, but can merely give a look that intimidates the other. That would be an example of implied threat.

Adults can intimidate the child by the same implication of force. Since children are literally dependent on adults for survival from birth until they can fend for themselves, the loss of that parent’s support and care may be seen as a matter of life or death. The child may think, “If I don’t do what s/he wants, I will be abandoned.” The situation is still a coercive one, regardless of whether the threat is stated, implied, or just an assumption of the child’s.

At times, the coercive element is based on blackmail. In some cases, the victim has actually done something that a sibling or adult used to blackmail him into sexual acts. More often, the blackmail is the threat of exposure after the abuse takes place. One survivor writes:

In the beginning, I really didn't understand what he was doing when he was molesting us. I was too young. Later, when I was older and understood what was going on, I was intimidated. One thing he had done was to take pictures of my brother and me. I remember that made me incredibly ashamed. I had terrible fear that someone would see those. I don't believe he ever threatened it directly, but he alluded to those pictures many times.

Many survivors have been photographed or videotaped, and the fear of public exposure can be a primary reason to keep silent. A survivor who apparently enjoyed the sexual encounters with older boys and men told me he recently saw a couple of pictures on the Internet that one abuser took of him nearly 30 years ago. His adult reaction was shock and shame rather than his childhood acceptance of being photographed.

Another survivor experienced a number of direct and indirect threats, which, he said, forced him to cooperate with the abuser. The perpetrator had shown him his gun and suggested that he would tell the boy’s uncle that the boy was sexually interested in his older female cousin. This was a combination of implied threat (the gun) and direct threat (exposure of “locker room talk”).

Because the penis becomes erect when stimulated, whether the person wants it or not, the victim’s physical response can be used in the blackmail. Another survivor describes this kind of entrapment:

All my perp said to me was, “If you tell, everyone will know that you were fucked by a man.” Added to that, after he raped me, he gave me a blowjob and I had an orgasm. He then told me, “See, you must have enjoyed it or you wouldn't have cum.” Don’t think that didn't mess with my head. Needless to say, I didn't tell a soul for 31 years. And to this day no one, including my parents and brother, knows about it.

LACK OF KNOWLEDGE. Some victims are too young to understand what is happening to them. They may be under the impression that the sexual abuse is normal or just a way that a parent, caregiver, sibling or relative expresses his or her love. Because some aspects of the abuse may be pleasurable to the child, he may equate this with love or consider he is playing a game. The younger the victim, the less likely it is that he will be able to comprehend that the abuse is not “normal.” One survivor said:

I'd have to say ignorance kept me quiet. I was very young when it started, perhaps four. It was not violent back then. I accepted it like you'd accept snow in winter. And I actually thought ALL Dads did this to their boys. I don’t know if he planted that thought, or I came up with it.

There are many reasons why children do not disclose sexual abuse. The answer to the question, “What kept you from telling?” in this situation is simply that the child did not know that the behavior was wrong. Or the child may simply not have the language to describe what is happening, especially when an abuser invents fanciful names for the activity or for the boy’s genitals and his own.

FEAR OF DISBELIEF. Some survivors were kept from telling because they didn’t think anyone would believe them. The abuser may have told the victim no one would believe him, or implied it, or the boy realizes that the adults in his life generally treat him as if he were making things up. Some boys do invent wonderful and sometimes terrifying adventure stories as part of exploring the world; that’s a normal part of growing up. It would be natural for a boy to apply adult reactions to those harmless stories to any potential attempt to disclose sexual abuse.

Adults in the boy’s life may also react out of denial, refusing to believe that an adult in their lives would behave in such a manner. The end result is the same: the victim feels – usually with good reason – that no one will believe him.

Other Issues Around Disclosure

The issue of disclosure is an emotional one for the survivor. Because the abuser is almost always older, bigger, stronger and more knowledgeable about sexual matters, and often has power over the victim, no direct threats may be needed to ensure the victim’s cooperation or silence. However, after a while, most children figure out that there is something wrong with the sexual activity and recognize it as abuse. Sometimes their continuing silence is based on fear of retaliation by the perpetrator. The threats may be explicit or they may be implied, or they may be totally in the victim’s mind. Fear of not being believed also keeps some children silent. There may be a fear of exposure as a victim, a belief that he will be labeled as homosexual, a fear of being removed from the home and sent to live with strangers or to jail, or a fear of failure of being a man/boy in the eyes of others.

So, why then do boys or adult men still keep the secret to themselves even years or decades after the abuse has ended? Why are they silent even when the perpetrator is long gone or dead?

One answer can be found in examining the effects of trauma. Trauma, by its very nature, can be upsetting even after the events have long passed. In some instances, one effect of trauma can be amnesia. A person who has been in a terrible car accident may have little or no memory of what happened. The injuries resulting from the event may be present in the form of scarring or a limp, for example. But even though the survivor of physical trauma may carry reminders of the accident, the person might have no recollection of what happened during the trauma or soon afterwards. At the same time, however, the trauma may be remembered subconsciously and can affect the person on an emotional or psychological level. For instance, the person in the car accident just described may have a fear of cars or driving in the snow (if it happened during a snowstorm). The fear may be at a minimal level, such as having “butterflies” when driving in snowy weather, or it can have a profound effect that may involve complete avoidance (“I won’t get into a car if the forecast is for snow.”).

Another way to look at the effect of fear on someone who is traumatized is to consider this example: when a survivor I’ve been seeing was about 11, an adult stranger had assaulted him. The child had carved his initials on a park bench and the man approached him, told the boy he was in trouble, and directed him to follow him to a nearby apartment building, where the man told the boy to take down his pants and then molested him. He demanded and received the boy’s telephone number and told him that if he disclosed what happened, he would report him to the police for defacing the bench. Although the grown survivor, now in his late 40s, knows that he did nothing that would have justified the abuse, even taking into account his “crime” of carving on the bench, he has until recently kept the abuser’s secret. In this case, there is an additional intrusive and coercive element with the phone number. The perpetrator actually called the number later that day, summoned the boy to the phone and repeated his threat.

Although adult logic and rational thinking means that we “know” the boy could have told someone what happened without realistic fear of repercussions from the abuser, the traumatized child is rightly fearful at the moment. However, years later, when the boy-victim is now an adult survivor, he finds it very difficult to talk about the abuse with his wife and his brother, the two closest people in his life.

Repressing Memories

Repressing memories is one way to survive trauma. A survivor recalls:

When I was 17, they put me on Prozac. The two times I was asked about the possible “something” (abuse) I denied it. I wasn't lying... I really didn't remember and didn't believe that “something” happened. I was just depressed and suicidal. Once I went to therapy as an adult, however, my symptoms were too difficult to ignore and we started to work with the few memories I had. But even then, I held onto the belief that “if I couldn't remember everything, then it didn't happen.” Or rather, how could I say that something happened if I couldn't remember it?

Another survivor always knew something happened to him when he was 10, 11 or 12. He knew a teenaged boy who was a stranger anally raped him but he had no idea of how old he was at the time. The memories were somewhere in the back of his mind. It was only when his own son turned ten that the abuse issues resurfaced, although he still does not know exactly how old he was or some of the other details of the assault.

Complete recollection of trauma may be too difficult for the survivor to deal with. I’ve seen a number of survivors who have split off sections of the abuse and have partial, but not total memory of what happened. Some survivors don’t know the identity of the perpetrator. He may remember a shadowy figure coming into his room at night and doing sexual things to him. His emotions are appropriate for describing the act (in other words, he is not emotionally numb when recounting the experience). Or he may have a block on the details of what happened to him, so he recalls that his grandfather, for example, came into the room but he can’t remember what happened. Or, he may have complete recollection of what occurred and who did it, but his telling of the events is without any emotions or feeling, like he was describing what he had earlier for lunch.

This is one way the brain can reduce the impact of the trauma. By dividing the experience into these areas, the person can have some, but not complete, memory of the events and they are not as upsetting as a total recollection.

Sexual abuse may result in physical injury, but most times it is traumatic on an emotional level. Being able to talk about what happened, receiving appropriate support and being believed are essential to managing the trauma of sexual abuse. But because many, if not most, victims are unable to talk about the abuse right away (or ever, in some cases), the support may not be forthcoming. So the survivor carries around the story of what happened in his head, where it can be revisited many times. The survivor can run “tapes” through his mind about what he could or should have done. He then re-experiences the fear, pain, confusion, guilt and other negative feelings over and over again.

Because the victim was likely smaller, weaker and less knowledgeable about sexual acts than the abuser, the initial message that comes across in the victim’s perception is, “I am weak, helpless, can’t protect myself, don’t understand what is happening to me,” etc. This perception is probably accurate at the time, for those who were abused as children. After all, children are physically smaller than adolescents and adults; they are indeed physically weaker and generally less sophisticated or knowledgeable than the abuser.

I have frequently heard adolescent and adult survivors blame themselves for not fighting back or escaping from the older and bigger abuser. Intellectually, the survivor can acknowledge the size differential; however, on an emotional level he is still that smaller child. Even when the survivor becomes an adult and his abuser may be older and even frail, the size differences still have a powerful but irrational emotional hold on the survivor. “So,” I often ask the survivor, “if you met him today, do you think you could kick his ass if you had to?” Most survivors know they could “kick the abuser’s ass” today, but, emotionally, they may still feel like that weak and helpless boy.


The intimidation that the abuser uses when the victim is small and vulnerable can have a profound effect for many years. This effect is what behaviorists call conditioning. Most of us are familiar with the high school bully who has punched a student on the arm as the victim passes him in the hallway. He later walks by and cocks his arm back as if he is going to hit again. The bully doesn’t have to actually hit the victim but can get him to flinch. The flinch is a conditioned response waiting for the blow that may or may not come.

Abusers often condition the victim before, during or after the abuse. Especially in the case of sibling abuse (but also in parent/caregiver-child relationships), there may be physical violence that creates a message for the victim even before the sexual abuse begins. When a younger sibling has experienced being hit by an older sibling, he may be conditioned to accept the sexual abuse because he has experienced violence at the hands of the older sibling.

Intimidation can take place during the sexual abuse. Although some abusers maintain that they would not cause physical pain and have stopped their sexual activity when the victim showed distress, many of them do not really consider the feelings and emotional distress of the victim. They may believe they would have stopped if the victim asked them to (and I’ve heard corroboration from victims that the abuser listened to their protests), but many victims say nothing and the abuser takes their silence as “consent.” Because of prior conditioning, such victims believe that asking the abuser to stop would either invite more mistreatment or would be ignored, so they might not even tell the abuser to stop. Often, the victim mentally removes himself from the situation and dissociates (that is, he is there physically but his mind goes elsewhere).

Conditioning by way of threats can also affect disclosure. After the abuse, some abusers threaten the victim to maintain his silence. The threats may be specific about physically harming the victim, or they may be general in nature, leaving the victim in fear of being hurt or killed. The abuser may likewise threaten to kill the victim’s pet or relatives. To the traumatized victim, such threats seem entirely believable, no matter how outlandish they may be. Or, the threats are in the child’s mind and he believes something bad will happen if he discloses, even when there is no direct threat by the abuser.

Psychological Intimidation

The threats do not have to be of a physical nature. Many survivors are either told directly by male abusers that they will be exposed as “gay” for “participating” in the sexual act, or survivors may assume this could happen. It is perfectly fine to be gay or bi-sexual, although in some parts of society prejudices still exist. It is not ok to sexually abuse anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. So when the abuser calls the victim “gay,” he is unfairly playing on fears of the victim and using intimidation on the confused child.

When an abuser has intimidated a child victim through fear of social condemnation, intellectually, the adult’s mind can respond with, “Well, whose idea was this? Who initiated the sex? Who directed what took place?” Unfortunately, the child does not think like this and assumes that he will be exposed and ridiculed with no consequences for the abuser because the abuser is the adult or older person. In a child’s experience, adults rarely get blamed when something bad has happened, and children often do. This mindset often accompanies the child into adulthood, even beyond the point of rationality.

Many survivors are warned they would not be believed if they told anyone. One survivor wrote:

My gang rape, early on in the cycle of abuse, was discovered by my headmaster at the boarding school. And I eventually told him what happened to me and who the older boys were. But he believed them and not me, and I got caned for being a troublemaker and lying. I was eleven and he was the most powerful person in my world at that time. Was I ever likely to trust anyone else with this secret? No way! I hung on for 31 years because I feared more rejection, more humiliation. It took me 25 years to tell my wife, and by that time I was so screwed up I didn't know if she'd believe me. I was also thinking that people would (if they believed me) wonder why I took so long to say anything, especially my wife. Would people think I was making excuses for my dysfunctional behaviors? I thought they would.

Some abusers use the fear of loss or leaving as a means of ensuring silence. When there is a nonsexual component of the relationship between victim and abuser, the victim may remain silent because he fears losing that person from abandonment (going to jail, moving out of the home) or loss of love.

Another survivor wrote:

My stepfather (first perp) threatened me and my mother. His biggest threat to me was that if I said anything, they would take him away. And he was the only father I knew. I loved him, or so I thought. My own dad had left when I was 2. Maybe that was why I didn't want him to go. Even though I was so young (3-8), I still feel guilty about not saying more than I did.

For this survivor, the fear of abandonment was real. His biological father did abandon him. His stepfather was important in his life and the fear of losing another parent, even one who was sexually abusive to him, was enough to keep him silent.

Although many abusers themselves have grown up in dysfunctional families and often were victimized in childhood, the families of victims are sometimes dysfunctional in ways that allow an abuser access to a child. One survivor who had this experience wrote:

My abuse ran from age six to fourteen. It started right after my dad died, and my mother invited a local minister and teacher into the family. She had little interest in being a mother to begin with, and even less after my dad passed, as she was quite depressed. She handed our care over to this minister. And my brother and I didn't know what was going to happen to our family.

He was a strict disciplinarian with a quick temper, and he used this small stick to hit my brother and me. Later he'd occasionally hit me with bigger things, but it's that small stick and his tirades I remember most. It really stung and I think it instilled fear in me so that even as I got bigger, the fear stayed. At the same time, he worked hard to isolate us from others. We weren't allowed sports, music or friends because he had convinced my mother these things were evil – that they could lead to illegal drugs. Instead, we got a lot of home Bible study.

Any time I would fight with him, he'd just accuse me of being worldly or joining the “drug culture.” In the beginning, I really didn't understand what he was doing when he was molesting us. I was too young. Later, when I was older and understood what was going on, I was intimidated.

The control that some abusers have over the victim and the family can go to extraordinary lengths. Isolation breeds secrecy and fear, which are instrumental to psychological intimidation. That man not only had control over his victims through standing in for an absent father, but he also had the power of a religious connection as a minister to enforce his demands.

One large family I worked with early in my professional career had a father who was so controlling that he created an “in house” orchestra. He did not allow his nine children (some of whom he sexually abused) to take part in extracurricular activities at school and controlled their time and activities by buying musical instruments so they could practice and play under his direction at home, without interference from the outside world. He believed the less time the children had outside of the home, the easier it would be to keep the abuse secret. Since he could not keep them from attending school, the disclosure was eventually made to a trusted teacher by one of the children and the abuse was revealed.

Family dysfunction can help create the conditions, like the emotionally or physically absent father, that allow abusers into the child’s life. It is almost as if child molesters take courses on how to identify and abuse children. Once an abuser finds a child who is emotionally needy and vulnerable to seeking an approving adult’s attention, setting the child up to be molested can be a simple task.

Family dysfunction makes it difficult or seemingly impossible for the child to share the secret with the non-offending parent. Likewise, if the environment in the home is such that anything of a sexual nature is not discussed, the child may find it too complicated to talk about what has happened. Another survivor writes

Some victims have a very real feeling that there simply is no one that they can tell due to the dysfunctional nature of their home life. That was the case in my own family, in that I knew there was no way that I could approach my father or mother with that kind of news. The sexual abuse was more tolerable than the reaction I know I would have received from them.

And years later, the possibility of disclosing the abuse may still be thwarted by the adult survivor’s perception that he will not be believed.

Blissfully retired after 35 years treating sexual abuse

#312369 - 11/30/09 02:18 PM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Ken Singer, LCSW]
jbh8 Offline

Registered: 10/29/09
Posts: 94

Edited by jbh8 (02/20/13 09:01 PM)

#312554 - 12/01/09 09:11 PM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Hauser]
kidneythis Offline

Registered: 11/09/09
Posts: 1558
I did tell, and was punished for it until I was driven into myself and became mute and unwilling to have contact with anyone.
Once again when I got home I told that first night back and was forced back into bed with my brother and told to shut up.

Telling has always cost me because I never got to learn how to get justice before the conditioning started. The cost is inflicted by people in general who for whatever their reasons don't want to face what was done or how much harm it caused.

As Mark Twain once quipped, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

#312585 - 12/02/09 02:07 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Dusty Boy]
nltsaved Offline

Registered: 08/27/08
Posts: 933
Loc: Kc,Mo
i agree with you that parents should have known what the F!@#~ was going on. How could anyone not? my Conclusions are that they had a generation of it going on in their family and their families families and it just grows and grows , it lays dorment in the family and no one ever gets help . people are very good at hiding things take us for example we hid why did we hide is your ? . some break the cycle and watch there kids like a hawk hence the now 2009.we are that generation that stood up and says enough is enough , let a mother F1$!1!!~@#~ try , they will not have a chance to try. because we have told our children what is proper and improper. WE are Freaking soldiers and should be locked up in a padded room some were but we are not , we are fighting through this and winning might i ad because we stood up and continue to stand !!! silence is no longer an option we no what silence does , and we will stand for what our parents should have been standing for!!!

Video of me telling my story
you are not alone never were
Why i hate Religion but love Jesus

#312602 - 12/02/09 04:24 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: nltsaved]
ericc Offline

Registered: 01/05/08
Posts: 1986
I think in the past there was more naivety about things and maybe more trust. Maybe I am giving too much benefit of the doubt to the adults back then, but I don't every remember being talked to about this stuff in the 1970s and 1980s growing up. In my case it involved a peer and after he broke me down and got me to participate in what he wanted to do I am sure I figured I was a cohort in what was going on. And I suppose in a way I was, though I didn't want to do these things and only relented when I couldn't figure how to make his pressuring stop.

In high school I started getting into all sorts of trouble. In the two years between just before the start of my junior year and before I headed off to college (and I am glad I was allowed to go to college because I may have never changed if I never got away) I bet I got taken into custody half a dozen times and had a total of a dozen or so run-ins with the authorities. It is not as if I wanted to be a bad person or wanted a reputation as a trouble-maker. I was just acting and reacting and knew no other way to survive. Reason I bring this up is because I had to have some court-ordered evaluations as to what was going on with me. My mom told me I was asked if I had ever been abused. I answered no (though I don't remember being asked this, or really much of the evaluation for that matter); I was told I probably just had some anxiety issues from what my mother has said about it all. I just don't remember having remembered what happened to me those years, and that was stuff you just didn't "forget". I'm still confused on if I repressed it all but I don't remember having any recollection of what took place through high school. When I did remember it knocked me on my tail so obviously something was going on there. Heck, even if I had been aware of what took place I wouldn't have known to see it as abuse. Once I did remember all I wanted was for it all to go away and disappear; talking about it was the last option I would have considered at the time. Of course I became an emotional stuffer more so than I already was at that point.


#312635 - 12/02/09 10:44 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: kidneythis]
sono Offline

Registered: 07/19/09
Posts: 1069
Hey Guys,

I did tell...many times as a matter of fact... but what was I telling?

I first told two personally important teachers from grade school. I didn't tell them in a direct, "please help me" kind of way. I just recall telling them what was going on in my life. (upon reflection now, that probably isn't quite accurate but I didn't have too much objective child psychology under my belt at that time!!)

I had just finished grade school at the beginning of that summer. By the end of it, I was this man's thing. I told them probably about a few weeks after it started. They freaked out and drove me around in one of their cars for privacy and gave me the third degree...who, how much, what had we done, had I been tested for an std and so on.

They then really gave me the stern lecture on what I was doing, and how irresponsible it was of me to get involved in something like that. I instantly was to blame and at fault for this disgusting thing I was doing in their minds. It was clear to me then that I really was a piece of shit for seeking this out and doing it. Next came the directive...break it off NOW or they would take matters into their own hands with the authorities.

Needless to say I freaked. This was about 2 months after the John Wayne Gacy thing hit the news. To those of you unacquainted with that story, he was a man who had murdered a large number of guys around my age at the time 13 (many I guess it turns out were street kids, known to have engaged in prostitution) and hid their bodies under the floor boards of his house, in the backyard and so forth.

I instantly pictured a national news story with me as the boy prostitute at the center of it...6:00 pm news with my picture all over it. Well, I managed to lie convincingly enough so they would leave me alone. In retrospect, I don't think they wanted any more to do with it in reality either.

My wife really hates these women. She says, if she had been one of those teachers, she would have gone right to my perp (they knew him) and told him in no uncertain terms to knock it off and they would be watching. She says she then would've made sure I got some counseling. My wife's a take charge kind o' gal!

The impact of that incident was to enforce the idea in my head that it really was my fault...I had asked for it, was continuing to ask for it and deserved it. It also made it clear to me who I could trust and who not.

By the next time I told someone, I had a different story to tell. I was a member of his cult...and had been brainwashed. I was in this unconventional relationship, but boy was I lucky...he gave me everything you could want and then made me special, cool and adult. And of course the most important thing...unconditional love. Ah, it was great to be an adult at 14.

He had a good plan, my perp did. He got me so convinced of and indoctrinated to his version of things, that there was nothing to tell.


the family
the perp

#312636 - 12/02/09 10:47 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: kidneythis]
LilacLouie Offline

Registered: 07/02/09
Posts: 377
Loc: Utah
When I told people, they didn't believe it.


#312660 - 12/02/09 04:59 PM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: LilacLouie]
Geeders Offline

Registered: 09/03/08
Posts: 1901
Loc: Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
Until this past March, I would have responded that I didn't tell. Like some who have written previously, I didn't know it was wrong. As a kid, how is something that felt good at the time considered to be bad. This question still preplexes me at times.

However, all that changed last March. In the months leading up to March I was leaning on my oldest friend for some support. He knew the perp, and knew something wasn't right. But in those months I assumed he was feeling guilty because I got abused, and not him. So I invited him to a T session, where de dropped the bomb. I did tell him, back then, what was going on. I have no recollection at all of ever telling him, but he says I did. And that as a kid himself at the time, he didn't know what to do with it. So he carried that for 38 years or so without telling anyone. He's been beating himself up over this, knowing now that I was on the brink of loosing my mind last fall, wondering now as an adult, if had said something earlier, would I have been as messed up now.

I was stunned for sure. And really saddened to learn that this person I have known since I was three, my oldest friend to whom I could and can say anything, my best man at my wedding, and for whom my second son was partially named, that my abuse could have touched him in such a hidden way. And that for 38 years, like me, he kept a secret.

This legacy of abuse. It is cruel, and has no soul.


My name is Jim
WoR Mysthaven 2008, Level 2 WoR Alta 2009, Kirkridge 2010, 2011, Oprah 200 men

#312690 - 12/02/09 09:41 PM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Geeders]
catfish86 Offline

Registered: 10/27/09
Posts: 832
Loc: Ohio
That is a complicated question. Ken, that is an impressive chapter on this topic. Well written and thorough. It will help in my own ongoing efforts to stop beating myself up.

I was 8yo and my brother was 10yo. My dad's brother had been harping that us boys needed to be raised by a man and my mother was a bad parent (an older sibling had drowned in a pool and my drunk, divorced dad had just died). We didn't know him but were taken by him for a 3 week summer visit to his farm in the mountains. On that trip, he took us off the highway down some country roads to "pee". We three guys whipped em out and did our business, he raped my brother. After we got back in the truck, he informed me it was my turn on the next stop. When it was my turn, I screamed and cried. He told me to shut up, I wouldn't. He smothered and choked me to quiet me. My 8yo mind comprehended I was passing out and going to die, then he peed in my butt and stopped. I had no frame of reference for what he was doing to us. Later, a highway patrolman pulled us over since my uncle was falling asleep at the wheel. During the stop, the trooper shined his flashlight directly on me and said, "Son, you don't look too good, are you OK?" OK, everyone chime in here with, idiot SAY SOMETHING. I remember my uncle's eyes (only facial feature I can ever recall) boring into me. I remember thinking, what do I tell him, what was it he did, he peed in me, Mom put him in charge shes gonna be mad if I get him in trouble, hes gonna kill us all... "I'm fine sir, just tired."

For the next weeks, my uncle nearly killed both of us several times and I decided it was better to please my uncle than anger him. I became quite good at blow jobs real quick because if I did it well, he wouldn't shove it in and I found calm moments for actually initiating the other because he would be actually gentle if I did and that would hurt less. He would also be nurturing if we were "good" and I wanted a dad REALLY bad. My brother remained defiant in the abuse and called me a little faggot because "you like it". My uncle killed animals on the farm who befriended us, even making us participate in the killing. He also played russian roullette by putting a bullet in a revolver, spinning it and pointing it at our heads as he abused us and would pull the trigger if we made any noise.

Our mother eventually joined us and snuck out the back door with us in the middle of the night. She knew he was abusive but thought it was just beatings. She didn't ask and we didn't tell. We all kind of agreed that if we just didn't think about it, it would go away. I literally remembered the trip there and the return but nothing of what really happened until 34 years later. Even then I kept it inside for a week or two until my wife discovered I was obsessively looking up information on child rape, kidnapping, child porn, etc. and thought I was a perp. I had also went from hypersexual to unable to perform. This led to a doctor visit, a second disclosure which thankfully the doc made me see the need for therapy. Unfortunately, my uncle died 15 years ago and will never be punished. When he died at 64yo, there were underage boys living in the home under his care. A relative told me recently that he collected them like stray cats. I pray to God nobody died because of my not saying anything. My brother killed himself at 40 after the parents of a 7yo girl found out he had sex with her.

Basically, pure unadulterated fear. I kick myself to this day for what he continued to do. Sorry for the triggering post, this is one issue that is very painful for me to deal with.

The ironic thing is in college as a social work major, I became aware that very prominant signs indicated significant and violent CSA but counseling could never reveal it. The only memory I could pull up at the time was a little boy, age undetermined curled up in a ball in a lot of pain and wanting someone to love him real bad. I now know that was an 8yo boy curled up on the floor of a pickup truck.

Edited by catfish86 (12/02/09 09:50 PM)
God grant me
The Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.

#312729 - 12/03/09 02:46 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: catfish86]
Clockwise Offline

Registered: 03/03/09
Posts: 304
Loc: Pennsylvania
Great post Ken! Thanks.

This I an interesting question and one I don't think I've ever truely asked myself. I've thought about it but never really examined and thought about it.

I was abused by my older brother when I was really young - around 4 or 5. From what I remember it only happened once and all that happened was him letting me play with his penis. Why didn't I tell? Well, there are a lot of reasons: 1) I was only a little kid and didn't have the vocabulary or mental capasity to understand what happened, 2) it was fun. Yes, at 4 or 5 years old playing with my (aprox.) 14yo brothers penis was fun. I remember smiling at him during the "play," 3) for a long, long time I had forgotten about it. I think I remembered when I was around 9 or 10 (curiously around the time I started masterbating) but even then I didn't see it as anything bad or abusive, 5) (I think this is why I haven't told anyone in my life now) I love my brother and I don't want to do or say anything that might ruin our relationship and 6) (something I still battle to this day) I'm still not fully convinced it's abuse since I wasn't forced or penetrated or threatened or any of that. Plus it only happened once from what I remember.

Well, that's why I didn't/haven't tell/told. I hope you guys can understand it.


Edited by Clockwise (12/03/09 02:48 AM)
Yet another 24 hours.

#312744 - 12/03/09 05:37 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Geeders]
jls Offline

Registered: 03/06/09
Posts: 1142
I never told anyone while it was going on, nor for sometime after. I have since but I am very selective about whom I disclose to. I'm not in a relationship right now but in the future I wonder how would I go about telling a woman I care about? Forgive me but dislcosing a history of sexual abuse can be a bit of a bombshell. JS

Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

#313005 - 12/05/09 03:47 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: Dusty Boy]

Registered: 11/30/09
Posts: 30
Loc: Tennessee
In my case it all came down to how I was raised. And what I was always told how a "man" should be. Since both my mother and step-perp were my abusers, there was no sense in telling them. My step-perp used my love for my family as a weapon. At 10 years old I didnt know any better. I was told flat out that If I sisters, grandmother...anyone I cared about would be killed. At 10 you dont ever think "Nah he's bluffing!" You just dont take the chance! From the time my father left till that slime moved in I was always told I was "The Man of the House" and I had to protect my family at any cost! Heavy thing to lay on a child...but there it was. And I took it literally! Which was why it was so easy for him to use my love against me. He took away my responcibility...then he took what little power I had and crushed it!

I couldnt tell my uncles. They were the ones who always told me that men having sex with men was sick, queer and perverted. At 10 I didnt know there was any distinction between force or freewill. All I knew was the acts being done to me were wrong and grasped the only definitions provided me. I had no frame of reference and no context to place them other than these things I was fed. I accepted them as "gospel". My mind could not grasp that they might differentiate what I was going through as being different from what they told me. It was too stark a contradiction in my mind. And that made it unrealistic to tell them.

Also came what I've often referred to as "The Man Myth". This was the underlying theme to not only my growing...but to my abuses. Men dont cry! A Man can handle any pain! A Man doesnt ask for help. Men...dont air their dirty laundry in the streets! It took me along time to realize that it was all bunk! Even my uncles used to beat me then look me in the eye to make sure I didnt cry! The idea was to toughen me up as if I were a Spartan Child being measured and weighed to either be accepted or disgarded.

Did I become tough? Some would say so! I know of at least one person who learn it's lethality. Am I proud of that? No...that is a part of my soul I will never ever get back. Did it help me survive. Yes...but only when I used it to my advantage and as a means of survival.

Why didnt I tell? I never knew I could...Until I met a man who had walked that mile in my shoes. Who shared with me his pain, his dark secret and his strength. He was no therapist, no shrink...he was a lowely orderly in a psych ward who was watching me and could tell there was another like him. He recognized my pain, my dark secret...and he knew my strength. He was the first person I told...and the first man I cried in front of in over 30 years!

Edited by MADcHATTER (12/05/09 03:50 AM)
“Religion is for people who are afraid of going to Hell...Spirituality is for those of us who've already been there”

#313022 - 12/05/09 09:00 AM Re: Why didn't you tell? [Re: MADcHATTER]
behindthewall Offline

Registered: 07/28/08
Posts: 126
Loc: US

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