It Can Take Decades for Child Sexual Abuse Victims To Put the Guilt Where It Belongs

The case of K.M. vs. H.M. shows how death threats, a willfully non-protective mother, and the victim carrying extreme guilt for having initiated some of the sexual contact and for receiving gifts  from the abuser, are key ingredients for repression, blocking out, and an inability to heal.

The victim in this case was told by her father that disclosing the abuse would break up the family, and that he would kill her if she did.

The child was also given the responsibility to initiate the sexual encounters (which she says she only did to stop him from molesting her younger sister). The victim was also rewarded with pop, potato chips and money.

At one point the victim told a school counselor about the molestations. Her father made her recant both to the psychologist, and to a lawyer for the local school board.

Sometime around age ten or eleven, the victim’s father began having sexual intercourse with her, and during the act with him she would imagine that she was the carpet or a door handle.

When the young girl attempted to tell her mother about the “white substance” on her genitals, her mother refused to see that any abuse was going on and did not help the child. Instead, her mother testified, that when this disclosure took place, she gave the child a book about menstruation.  

After growing older and eventually leaving home, the victim attended meetings for a self-help group for incest victims and realized that her psychological problems as an adult were caused by the incest.

The woman had disclosed the incest to her first husband, and over the next few years, she had three children and in the fall of 1982, the woman and her husband separated because she could no longer tolerate sexual relations with him.

She sought counseling for depression and her marital problems in the spring of 1983, and was referred to a psychologist, Dr. Voss, at the Kitchener-Waterloo Hospital. Dr. Voss read the hospital file on the victim’s consultation with a Dr. McKie in 1973, and the subject of incest was raised during one of their sessions.

However, the victim did not want to talk about the incest and Dr. Voss did not feel it prudent to pursue the subject, in light of his professional opinion that the requisite degree of trust between patient and therapist had not been established to deal effectively with the problem, and because her current problems did not appear to be directly connected to her history of incest.

Later, in 1983, the victim met and married a new man. Shortly after they met, she told him of the incestuous abuse because, in her words, she “didn’t want to lose him and I wanted him to know right away what I had done.” As a result of their discussion, she made inquiries about self-help groups for incest victims and found one in Kitchener.

It was during the course of attending meetings of this group in 1984 that the woman began to recall many of her childhood experiences and to make the connection between the sexual abuse history, and her psychological and emotional problems.

She was only able to overcome her overwhelming feelings of guilt for causing the incest once she came to the realization that it was her father who was responsible for the abuse.

In 1985, at the age of 28, the victim sued her father for damages arising from the incest and for breach of a parent’s fiduciary duty. A jury found that the respondent had sexually assaulted his daughter, and assessed damages of $50,000. 

The victim testified at trial that the abuse began when she was eight when her father, asked her about her knowledge of the female genital and breast areas and the male genital area. It progressed to her father touching her body and telling her that “if he played with her breasts that they would grow big.”

The victim was instructed to leave her bedroom light on when she “wanted him,” and she complied out of fear that he would turn to her younger sister for gratification. Eventually, she turned on the light.

Although she was not certain that having sex with her father was wrong, she knew she did not want him to do it to her any more.

In the opinion of mental health experts, the victim would have been unaware of the connection between the incest and her psychological and emotional injuries until she understood that she was not responsible for her childhood abuse, and until she had assigned the blame to her father.

Although the victim had a constant, if vague, awareness of the fact of incest, the woman repressed much of it and was unaware that her level of functioning was related to those earlier events in her life.

Dr. Mausberg, a psychiatrist retained by the appellant in contemplation of the litigation, testified that the earlier disclosures indicated some awareness of the incest and its consequences, but it was not until the appellant began therapy that she could make a connection between the two.

Although there may at times have been an intellectual awareness of the correlation between cause and effect, the appellant did not have an emotional awareness of the connection.

In other words, she was unable to assess her situation rationally. Dr. Mausberg also stressed the great feelings of guilt engendered by the appellant’s perceived role in instigating the sexual contact by turning on the light, and how she came to believe that this was part of growing up.

Even as she came to realize how untrue this was, she still felt responsible for the abuse. His clinical assessment was that the appellant was suffering major depression resulting from the incestuous activity that occurred from childhood into adolescence.

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Source: K.M. Appellant v. H.M. Respondent and Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund Intervener Indexed as: M.(K.) v. M.(H.) File No.: 21763. 1991: November 8; 1992: October 29. …Present: La Forest, L’Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, McLachlin and Iacobucci JJ. Prepared and published by LexUM in partnership with Supreme Court of Canada. 
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5 Responses to It Can Take Decades for Child Sexual Abuse Victims To Put the Guilt Where It Belongs

  1. Little Nel says:

    Sex coupled with violence was a real fear that I experienced in childhood, so I avoided sexual situations for fear of potential violence after the fact. I became hyper-vigilant in that regard. I spent a lot of time and effort guarding and shielding myself from another attack because I believed that I was at fault.

    I didn’t know that rapists and abusers were cunning manipulative people who sought out powerless children to victimize, so they wouldn’t get caught and prosecuted.

  2. Little Nel says:

    Melissa, we are taught that death threats and violent abuse are coupled with sex when we are raped and deprived of air and struggle gasping for our breath.

    The fear of not being able to breath while the molestation is taking place caused me many sleepless nights of anguish. The death threats were an added terror to me because it reinforced my guilt and fear.

  3. melissa lee says:

    It took me 10 years of weekly healing sessions to uncover the death threats and the violent abuse such as, pillows over my mouth and choking while being raped,and the death of my father, before I could fill in all the details of my fathers molestation and rape of me, and the many others after him that molested and raped me too…

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