In most cases these psychotherapy patients reported similar types of memories of the molestation:
1. Were molested multiple times over many years,
2. Kept the information secret even as adults.
3. Reported that the perpetrator was either an adult family member or a close family friend.
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4. Reported that there was no violence or threat during the molestation.
5. Remembered that the molestation did not necessarily involve full vaginal penetration but remembered their genitals being rubbed under their clothes and penetration with fingers.
6. Remembered some feeling of pleasure while the abuse was happening.
7. Many times the sex abuse began as early as age five.
8. Many but not all of these people came from homes dominated by domestic violence and abuse, alcoholism and divorce.
Many of these now adult women also shared similar types of problems and difficulties in their personal lives that brought them to treatment. Interestingly, the memories of the abuse was not the catalyst for seeking psychotherapy. Here are some of the shared problems and reasons for seeking therapy:
1. Long histories of unhappy and conflicted relationships with men that ended in failure.
2. These histories often included being with men who were abusive although they were reported to be "great lovers sexually."
3. Deep feelings of depression with suicidal ideation often set off by a recent failed relationship.
4. Within the context of an intimate relationship they often displayed sudden outbursts of anger and rage.
5. Amazingly, they reported feelings of guilt in connection with the abuse primarily because of the memory of genital pleasure.
6. Few of these women really believed they were able to control the events in their lives.
7. Many were shocked to learn, in psychotherapy, that they have every right to feel angry at the perpetrator. In one of these cases the woman sheepishly stated that she was happy to hear the he died. Learning that those feelings and thoughts were perfectly all right came as a great relief.
8. Many of these women reported sexual difficulties. These difficulties ranged from not being able to achieve orgasm to engaging in casual sex with strangers while exposing themselves to sexually transmitted diseases and personal harm.
What is truly insidious about the sexual abuse of children is that they are strongly motivated to want to please adults whose care they depend on. In the cases where the pedophile is a member of the family or a close family friend, children are very vulnerable. They want to feel loved, accepted and approved of. The pedophile exploits this vulnerability without any regard to the harm they are doing.
The fact that this type of sexual abuse is non violent greatly complicates the mental health of the individual as she enters adolescence and adulthood. The fact that the perpetrator was a family member or friend and there was no violence, contributes to the confusion and guilt felt by so many of these survivors.
The reasons why these women experience interpersonal difficulties is due to the fact that their trust was violated at a very young age. Family instability and drug addiction did not compensate for the sexual abuse.
I do not know the actual statistics of sexual abuse committed against girls and women. However, generally speaking, the numbers are horrifyingly high. As a psychotherapist, father of two daughters and a member of civilization, this topic troubles and worries me greatly.
If you are a survivor of child abuse of any kind, help is available. In addition to psychotherapy, there are self help groups for women who experienced the same or similar traumas.
Your comments on this crucial issue are strongly encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD
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