Disturbing Dynamics of the Victim/Perpetrator Relationship

“Why do we not hear the truth? Because we do not speak it.”

 ~Publilius Syrus

There are numerous complicated and uncomfortable dynamics involved in child sexual abuse. One of the most difficult facts for adults to comprehend, is that the child is not always against the attention the abuse brings or the physical pleasure it can create; and when the sexual acts have already been introduced by the perpetrator under the guise love, the child often asks for more.

Sexually abused children often respond positively to the attention that goes along with being molested because children require love and affection.  The grooming is often in such a way that the child has no idea they are a victim until they have become one. They might continually go back to their abuser because they don’t understand it’s abuse. All the child knows is they are receiving affection and that it feels good.

Another uncomfortable fact is that, occasionally, victims will only disclose the abuse to an authority figure out of jealousy when the abuser turns to a younger sibling, or when the abuser finds a ‘better’ victim.

If the first victim catches the abuser with a sibling or another child, the jealousy can overwhelm them. The victim can become enraged over the feelings of betrayal because they thought they were the only one receiving “special love” from the perpetrator. The child might experience deep confusion and can feel as though their abuser is cheating on them. The primary victim might reveal the molestation to an authority figure, out of anger, not to protect themselves or the other child. Former FBI agent and expert in the field of child sex crimes, Ken Lanning, says “They disclose because the abuse has ended, not to end the abuse.”

One survivor told me that she did not reveal the incest until she realized that her father had been visiting her baby sister’s room as well. She distinctly remembers that it was only out of jealousy that she told an adult. She still struggles with self-hatred and cannot forgive herself. This kind of experience can leave an abuse victim with decades of repressed guilt and shame.

Children commonly engage in the sexual abuse in order to obtain gifts, money, or affection. Studies also show that children, who are being traumatized, may grow attached to the very person who is terrorizing them. They do so out of a natural need for protection and comfort when there is no other source for these vital human needs. Victims can form strong emotional ties with their tormentor, even to the point of marrying their captors, having sex with their kidnapper, or paying their perpetrator’s bail.


Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis for Law-Enforcement Officers Investigating the Sexual Exploitation of Children by Acquaintance Molesters, Fourth Edition September 2001, Kenneth V. Lanning, Former Supervisory Special Agent Federal Bureau of Investigation, Copyright 2001 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, pages 56-59
The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma Re-enactment, Revictimization, and Masochism, Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Volume 12, Number 2, Pages 389-411,
June 1989.
This entry was posted in Child Abuse, child molestation, child sexual abuse, repressed memory and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Disturbing Dynamics of the Victim/Perpetrator Relationship

  1. ocean says:

    i am 39, have been in therapy my entire life, and still am confused about my feelings for my father. i have a lot of guilt about enjoying the ‘abuse’. i know intellectually that it was wrong and i knew it then. that’s why i felt so alienated. no one understood that i wanted that attention from him and i was too ashamed to admit it. i only felt ‘traumatized’ when he chose another child over me. it still makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me. i hardly ever relate to abuse stories because the victims always talk about feeling victimized, while in some ways, i felt like the perpetrator. i know i can’t be the only person who experienced this. i just never hear much about it, it’s such a taboo. any advice on this would be greatly appreciated.

    • Alethea says:

      I wrote an entire article on this subject but did not personalize it by revealing this about myself. I am trying to find the article for you (it’s on my blog) but I have to run now and can’t get back to my computer until later tonight. In the interim….know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE in your feelings and that countless children, including me, have experienced this. I will get back to you as soon as possible on this.

      Be in peace, you are not alone and there is NOTHING wrong with you.

      • Alethea says:


        I am so silly. I did not check to see which article your comment was from. I reply to comments from the main dashboard of my blog, not from the article, so I did not see that the article you commented on was the one I was looking for!

        So sorry. I am not usually that dense. 🙂

        Please stay in touch, I am hoping to write another article on this subject.

        • ocean says:

          thank you Alethea, i really appreciate your fast response. i found your blog while looking for stories i could relate to after a frustrating emdr therapy session. i’ve been feeling more than ever like ‘damaged goods’. i have never had a healthy relationship with a romantic partner, and have always craved love from men to the point of feeling like nothing else makes life worth living. right now i’m single and it’s really hard.
          my father molested me when i was very young, about 2-4, i think. he was never violent and did things that were pleasurable. he was such a charismatic man, children all loved him. getting such special attention made me feel, well.. special. my mom wasn’t married to him, she was a single mom and extremely emotionally neglectful. i’m not sure how and why i outed him, but when i did he was so angry and quickly moved on to a family friend. he made it very clear that i was being punished and would never be special to him again. he showered her with gifts and attention. that rejection was the trauma. from then on i looked at men sexually and invited that kind of attention. i have been molested by four men including my father and maternal grandfather.
          i am trying so hard to heal from all of this, but i have been trying for many years. i think i’m finally realizing that i have to stop looking for a partner, no matter how much i want one. i see my friends in loving intimate relationships and i feel like a tragic case. there are just layers and layers to it all, ugh. but your bravery in addressing such taboo and icky topics is very encouraging. bless you for that. if you have any other articles or posts you can recommend that i might relate to i will greatly appreciate it:)

  2. SurvivorSunshine says:

    My dad hypnotized me from who knows what age to take advantage of me sexually. I’m pretty sure from recent graphic body memories that he hypnotized me when I was visiting him for summers and school breaks then sexually abused me. I always felt so much anger to the point of rage, extreme hurt and resentment when others (including my ex-husband) told me about their sexual abuse but I could never remember my own abuse. I thought I was just feeling empathy for them. I doubted anything happened to me but deep down I knew I had all the symptoms of being sexually abused. My therapist would ask me to explore those feelings but I would focus on the sexual abuse of those closest to me. Somehow, I was only friends with or involved with other victims. 9 out of every 10 people I knew admitted they had been abused.

    It wasn’t until I dated a guy a fews years ago that physically reminded me of how my father looked when I was a child that the memories started to resurface. I even asked my maternal aunt if she ever had an idea that my dad was abusing me and she said she did. WTF?! And NO ONE did a thing. It all began to make since why my mother was so threatened by my relationship with my dad. She was jealous of more than just me being “Daddy’s Little Girl”! And he encouraged the jealousy in a perverted attempt to demean her. I left at 15 to go live with him but ended up being cast off to his sister and mom (who I also think had an idea what he had done to me). I think he even abused his own sister when they were younger. My maternal and paternal families are so dysfunctional and sick.

    There’s so much more to my story but thank you, Alethea, for allowing us all to share. Your blog has really helped me get through all the denial I was conditioned to feel all these years. Now I just wish I could get my little sister to face up to the TRUTH about our family.

  3. maribeth merton says:

    I am sixty-five years old, was molested for years by an evil stepfather, starting before the age of two. My mother died two years ago, still believing that I made it all up, even though the man himself called to apologize. He thought he should do it so he could be a “religious” man. He blamed it all on booze, but wonders how I could still blame it all on him. My life was changed forever, and I still have flashbacks. What hurt even more is to have my mother and my two brothers believe that nothing happened. My mother knew…

    • Alethea says:

      Maribeth, you are not alone, and I can validate everything you say and feel.

      Your mother knows damn well it happened and that it was HIS fault. But if she admitted that, it would mean she would have to actually take responsibility and feel the guilt for having not protected you. It was more comfortable for your mother to pretend it didn’t happen.

      I know how painful that is; I live with your situation every day of my life. However, I now live with it, without the pain, because I have finally learned how to not be affected by other people’s denial and dysfunction. I have learned that, I cannot react to what my mother and sisters do, say, or think about me. I have symbolically cut that emotional umbilical cord with them.

      But I can nearly guarantee you Maribeth, that your mother AND brothers KNOW that it happened. As Marilyn Van Derbur once told me, “Denial is a given in incest families.”

      • Alethea says:

        One more thing Maribeth, Survivors of Incest Anonymous is an organization that has helped me in many ways. Their little pamphlets (cheap to buy) can be purchased online. They have all different topics. Their newsletters sometimes offer help or words of wisdom.


        Start at this page above for the pamphlets, and you can click on the list at the left of that page for more individualized topics, and they run only about a 1.50 each. There are titles like, Family Dynamics in an Incestuous Family, and Grieving the Loss of the Ideal Family (formerly So Long, Norman Rockwell).

        There are many many pamphlets, and each has a lot of information. It ALWAYS helps to know you are not alone.

        • Alethea says:

          I just found the link to receive their newsletters via email:

          “Would you like to receive SIA’s quarterly newsletter for free by email, along with announcements of SIA events and news? If so, please join our low-volume, announcement-only email list at: http://www.siawso.org/list

          Your email address will be kept strictly confidential, and you can unsubscribe at any time.”

      • Alethea says:

        I have explained it in my two manuscripts, but I have to find a way to publish them.

        The process of cutting that emotional umbilical cord is a combination of many things, one is, the kind of therapy I engage in…which teaches a person to sort of ‘reprogram’ their mind to stop yearning for the love, affection, and protection, of their sick and dysfunctional bio family members –that is, the need from the child’s perspective and the child’s emotions.

        If I ever get my manuscripts published, I will send you copies.

        • Alethea says:

          Just for clarity, the “reprogramming” I mentioned above, is done in the subconscious mind, at the same level as the original event (there is no space and time in the subconscious mind), and it is done so the person sees themselves taking power over their family. They then tell the family members everything the child had wanted to say, and then the person replaces (in their mind) the parent or sibling with the perfect image of the perfect mother/sibling/father. The perfect image can be of themselves as grown healed adults, or an angel, or Christ, or a character from a film that is strong and powerful, yet protective and loving.

          But this has to be done at the subconscious level.

    • little nel says:

      “called to apologize…He thought he should do it so he could be a “religious” man.”

      He didn’t admit how he hurt, used, abused, and invalidated you? What a fucking asshole!

      He didn’t offer to pay for your therapy or tell your mother what he did? He didn’t offer anything else, except an insincere apology so he could be “religious?” What a fucking jerk!

      He knew what he did was wrong but he didn’t offer any remedy or proof of his sincerity? All he wanted was to be “religious?” And his past wreckage of your life was interfering with that?

      • maribeth merton says:

        Apparently he was able to forget the things that still flash back in my mind and memory, but he wanted to make things right for himself. The only thing that I cling to is the belief that he will pay for his evil actions in another life after this one. It seems only fair since he never had to account for his actions here, and even succeeded in turning my own mother against me, too. No, he did not offer to pay for anything therapy-wise. The biggest surprise was when he called to apologize, he also apologized for when we lived on Guam, and said that it was entirely the fault of his drinking too much. Guess what? I was only seven then, and did not remember that far back. My mother then told me (and later denied it) that I begged her not to go to work and leave me with him when I was only two years old! I blew the whistle when I was thirteen; it stopped the overt sexual molestation, but he used verbal and physical abuse, jealousy, and control over me for the rest of the time I lived there. I ran away every chance I could. Thanks for letting me vent. It still hurts inside here inside my heart.

        • litle nel says:

          Abusers almost always pit the children against each other and pit the mother against her own daughter to ensure continuation. Divide and conquer, not a new concept.

          That monster step-father, who called to apologize for religious reasons most likely wanted to make sure that you stayed silent and wouldn’t disrupt “his agenda.”

          There is no cure for a man like that!

      • Alethea says:

        Little Nel, I know of many cases of men who admit what they did, but that’s it. They won’t go any further. They won’t attempt to make amends, or to pay restitution etc. Marilyn Van derbur’s father admitted privately to her that he did it. He told her, ‘had I known how it would affect you , I would not have done it.’ But then he denied it publicly, and gave tons of money to the “False Memory Syndrome Foundation.”

        • maribeth merton says:

          My abuser left my mother when I was twenty-one and married a girl who was younger than my brothers. He had a family with her, two daughters who now exhibit classic survivor symptoms. He then left that woman and family, to live with a thirty-four year old. The man is eighty years old! I am wracked with guilt for not telling his “new” family about his perversion, but if my own family did not believe, I am pretty sure that new wife would either. I wish I would have told them, though.

          • litle nel says:

            I called the new “brides” in the family to be aware that my father was a perpetrator. I warned them about his preference for little girls and his method of grooming.

            • maribeth merton says:

              The new (very young) woman in his life did not want to talk to me at all back then, and I am sure would not have believed a word I said. I still wish that I had tried, though, because the guilt is now smeared all over me…again for something I did not cause and probably could not have stopped. I know that I couldn’t stop it for me.

            • Alethea says:

              “I called the new “brides” in the family to be aware that my father was a perpetrator. I warned them about his preference for little girls and his method of grooming.”

              ((((((Clapping))))) Yea, Little Nel!

        • litle nel says:

          Marilyn’s father is as evil as they come. He would have done “it” because he didn’t care about anything but himself and his sexual gratification.

          • maribeth merton says:

            I believe that the guy who said he would not have done it if he had known the heartache it would cause is not only evil; he is a liar fooling only himself. He did it because it made him feel good; to hell with his daughter or anything else. I still really have a hard time with forgiving these people. I saw a lawyer, Andrew Vachss, once on Oprah, and he said forgiving is impossible. He believes that evil, pure evil cannot ever be forgiven and should not be. If I forgive him, I feel like I won’t carry the anger that I have used to survive. I need to hate him and all the men like him in our world. I live in UT and wish I personally had known Josh Powell. He did not even deserve to go out in a fiery explosion after attacking his poor babies with an axe (we all suspect he attacked them in other ways, too). I would have liked to push him into one of the many open mine shafts we have here, in the dead of winter. I would make sure to hear him hit, and then I would walk away smiling…just like he did to his wife who wanted to protect her little boys. UGGGGGHHHH

            • Alethea says:

              I have seen Andrew Vachss a few times, and corresponded with him once.

              Only the victim has the ability to forgive perpetrators, and it is their choice, and will, to do so, or not.

              No one else can dictate whether a person, even a child rapist, should be forgiven or not. That is between the soul of the victim and God.

              I have been working on myself psychologically for 16 1/2 years. “Psyche” literally means “soul.” My psychotherapy work has literally been “soul work,” and I have learned that true healing, pure healing, cannot be done without forgiveness. But forgiveness is NEVER synonymous with remaining silent about being abused or allowing others to step on us. Absolution does not mean that a person must uphold or adapt to a lie, or cater to the denial system of those who hurt us, or to those who protected the abuser. Forgiveness also doesn’t mean becoming a people-pleaser, being superficial, or allowing someone to further abuse us.

  4. little nel says:

    “Children commonly engage in the sexual abuse in order to obtain gifts, money, or affection.”

    I saw this with my step-sister and father. She received “special privileges” along with those other things. Because of my refusal to participate in the abuse, I was held up to ridicule and scorn.

    My defense was to step up my efforts to over achieve in school. It was the only thing that I could control. She hated me all the more because I stubbornly would not show any hurt or discomfort when targeted at home.

    School was a place of safety for me. I received a lot of acceptance and attention there. It became a source of discontentment for step-sister as she tried to keep up with my progress.

    She complained a lot that I excluded her from my school activities, which was true. It was my way of punishing her for having sex with dad. I got a lot of satisfaction from succeeding in school that made her more jealous and uncomfortable.

    I think that it escalated her need for love and affection.

    • Alethea says:

      Once again Little Nel, thanks for being so brutally honest with yourself and on my Blog. Your honesty helps others to not feel so alone in their feelings. There are many silent readers of my Blog –people who just don’t comment, but I know that your comments help them.

  5. I never knew the jealousy aspect of the abuse.

    My sister and I had to share rooms all of our life until I paid rent at home at 16 and got a lock on my door.

    She would always copy me and want to wear my makeup, steal my clothes, and was a bully to me. She stabbed me in the head with a pencil when we were growing up and has always taken advantage of me, lied to me, stolen from me, and spread lies about me to others in the family. I could not for the life of me understand how she could be so hateful to me. I was first in line every night…

    It is no wonder we don’t have a relationship. He ruined our whole family, we had the fake thing going for many years so his daughter could grow up with a father. I didn’t know anything about this but that I had suppress everything, my physical, emotional, and mind all had to be suppressed. Otherwise I would be put in foster care and not have a family, and as a grown up we were never allowed to talk about this stuff. He is moving out tomorrow from my property.

    That is how attached and compassionate I had been. A christian all my life I just martyred myself for my half sister who also doesn’t give a hoot. She got a completely different childhood and I was happy for her. I was protecting her, I thought. No, she didn’t even have to do household chores while the rest of us had to clean her room and so on. We were the stepchildren and we were told we didn’t have any rights as children. They could do anything to us until we were 18 then we had to leave and work hard to pay them back for our childhood that cost them money.

    Boy, you hit a chord. Wow. I could not understand the sibling rivalry but now I do and it makes me sick. God Bless anyone who has suffered from this and I hope they have the strength and the means to get that person as far away as possible. My day of freedom begins Friday!!!

  6. little nel says:

    What happens when you forgive your abuser(s) after years of therapy?

    It has taken me a lifetime to be able to forgive my abusers and I do not want to forget about all the struggles, effort, time, and things that I had to learn to be able come to terms with that abuse.

    I used to resent the fact that I had to pay for my own therapy. I used to resent the fact that I had to identify my feelings of rage, despair, depression, obsession, low self-esteem…etc. until it changed my life.

    Once I identified those feelings and came to understand them, it gave me a sense of freedom and happiness. I had grown and it made my life enjoyable. The misery had departed in some mysrerious manner that still baffles me.

    Marilyn Van Derber has experienced this also. I love her for all she has done for victims like herself and me.

    • Alethea says:

      I think forgiveness, and clarity about the root of our emotional and physical suffering, are KEY to healing.

      I too have gone through resentment for having to pay for my own therapy. I have since learned to let go of the feeling that “she should pay,” and instead, I remain grateful to God for always taking care of me somehow.

  7. little nel says:

    “She till struggles with self-hatred and cannot forgive herself.”

    I hated myself because when I told about the abuse, I was not believed.

    I still struggle with “not being believed” because I did not produce the evidence or I was not able to communicate it well. I have to keep reminding myself that “denial” is a powerful tool in the mind of the listener.

    I was validated later by a probation officer who looked up my records of Julia Laythrope Hall and found that my abuser was caught and punished. I was not the only child victim of that woman and I shudder to think what might have become of the others.

    • Alethea says:

      I wasn’t believed either, and not being believed is still a huge trigger for me.

      I’m so glad they caught that disgusting woman at that county facility you were in.

  8. little nel says:

    “The grooming is often in such a way that the child has no idea that they are a victim until they become one”.

    I saw this with more than one child, as my father also got my step-sister to include her best girlfriends in the grooming process.

    If it had not been for the sexual abuse and humiliation that I experienced in the county home, I would have been too afraid to defy my father’s demands.

    I had made up my mind that I would rather die than have to endue or submit to that kind of abuse ever again because it was so humiliating, degrading, and it felt so personally violating. The pain of that county home still stung and I did not want to feel it.

    I remember telling a therapist about my reasons for choosing “death” when my father threatened me with, “consent or I”ll kill you” and the therapist stating that, “You had other reasons for choosing death.”

    Step-sister did not feel like I did. She loved the attention and feelings of love that he “bestowed” on her.

  9. Alethea says:


    I posted the sources at the bottom of the article. Everything I wrote either came from those two sources, or from MY OWN EXPERIENCE.


    • little nel says:

      Wow! This is what I saw in the home where I lived with my father. My step-sister fits this type of victim very well.

      I think that my step-sister was “threatened” by me when my father started showing interest in me for sexual purposes.

      I know that she was jealous of me because my father kept trying to include me in the sexual abuse.

      I remember once that he started to fondle my step-sister in front of me and that it turned her on. She was enjoying it until he asked me to participate. I looked at her face and she did not look happy about his offer. She quickly tried to bring his focus back to her and away from me.

      I was sickened by the sight of them and turned my head away looking for a place to hide when they decided to move to a more private spot in the bedroom.

      • Alethea says:

        Little Nel, a big thank you for your honesty. This is the kind of thing that people need to hear. These uncomfortable truths must be acknowledged by society.

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