Abuse hides in plain sight

November 23, 2014

Consider the shocking recent stories of Bill Cosby and Honey Boo Boo. We assume those we see in the public eye to behave in line with their public images. In situations like these, when we discover that abuse was occurring, we often discover that there was coverup and fear by the victim of revealing the truth. Victims feel ashamed. They may be threatened by their abusers.

Victimization is often a pattern. Abusers and those who allow abusers to cover up are living their own negative and dangerous patterns.

The Honey Boo Boo situation sounds incredible, yet this terrible pattern is not unusual. We see similar patterns in child welfare court on a regular basis. Child sexual abuse involving a parent who is not protective recurs in certain families. It is not uncommon for a parent to fall in love with a child abuser and to allow the abuser into the family home, as well as to allow the abuser around the children. The more unusual thing is that this time it came to light. Abuse often hides.

The Cosby example is an illustration of this principle. I’ve heard people ask why now – why are the victims coming forward now?

The answer is that victims are afraid to reveal their truth, abusers often bully, abusers often blame the victim, abusers often threaten the victim that coming forward will lead to dire consequences. Sometimes, abusers even bribe to maintain silence. Victims are afraid, victims are ashamed to be victimized, victims are afraid to be re-victimized, victims are afraid of retaliation, victims live a private hell of personal distress. They came forward now because there are others and because this provides safety and lessens fear.

Perhaps surprisingly, studies show that victims are often re-victimized and even that prior victimization is a risk factor for recurring victimization. Victims were often abused first in early childhood – and then re-abused. Protecting their parents and blaming themselves is a standard behavior on the part of child victims – in part because children need their parents for survival. In addition, denial is perpetuated because dissociation and avoidance are common physiological responses to trauma in the brain.

When it comes to abuse, maintaining silence is a recurring theme. The rest of us are often clueless, except in unusual cases when the truth is revealed.

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