Even When a Child is Being Sexually Abused By Their Parent, They Often Do Not Display Any Fear, Or Desire To Run From That Parent

This article articulates my childhood, and it is explained by an Israeli mental health expert. I find this to be an incredibly validating article for me.

It is saying that the more severe the sexual abuse, the more likely the child will accommodate the perpetrator, develop shame, and display seemingly normal behavior to the outside world.

In my opinion, this research also explains how people who have repressed all, or most, of their sexual abuse history, have done so because they suffered more severe, prolonged abuse –and in many cases– the victim accommodated the sexual acts, developed deep shame for that, and was then motivated to repress the abuse.

“When a man in Israel was accused of sexually abusing his young daughter, it was hard for many people to believe — a neighbor reported seeing the girl sitting and drinking hot chocolate with her father every morning, laughing, smiling, and looking relaxed. Such cases are not exceptional, however. Children react to sexual and physical abuse in unpredictable ways, making it hard to discern the clues.

Now Dr. Carmit Katz of Tel Aviv University’s Bob Shapell School of Social Work has found that when parents are physically abusive, children tend to accommodate it. But when the abuse is sexual, they tend to fight or flee it unless it is severe. The findings, published in Child Abuse & Neglect, help explain children’s behavior in response to abuse and could aid in intervention and treatment.

“All the cases of alleged physical abuse in the study involved parents, while we had very few cases of alleged parental sexual abuse,” said Dr. Katz. “More than the type of abuse, it may be that children feel they have no choice but to endure abuse by their parents, who they depend on for love and support.”

Disturbing data

About 3.5 million cases of child abuse are reported in the United States every year. Similarly alarming situations exist in many other countries. Abused children often suffer from emotional and behavioral problems, which can later develop into sexual dysfunction, anxiety, promiscuity, vulnerability to repeated victimization, depression, and substance abuse.

Israel is not immune. In 2011, trained Israeli authorities interviewed more than 15,000 children following complaints of abuse. Previous research showed that half of children do not disclose anything in interviews, even when there is evidence of abuse.

Dr. Katz analyzed a random sample of 224 of the interviews in which children provided allegations. Roughly half the cases in the study involved allegations of multiple incidents of physical abuse by parents, while the other half involved allegations of sexual abuse.

Dr. Katz found that the children responded to the abuse in two general ways. In physical abuse cases, the children tended to be accommodating — they accepted and tried to minimize the severity of the abuse. On the other hand, children reporting sexual abuse tended to fight back. But when the alleged sexual abuse was severe, the children tended to act like physical abuse victims, accommodating the abuser. Older children, they found, were more likely to fight than younger ones. But surprisingly, the frequency of the abuse, familiarity with the abuser, and the child’s gender did not significantly affect how the children responded.

Accepting the unacceptable

Dr. Katz says the study teaches an important lesson when it comes to parental physical abuse.

Just because children do not fight or flee their parents does not mean they are not being abused.

Children need their parents to survive, and in some cases, parents love, care for, and support their children when they are not abusing them. Under these impossible circumstances, children often feel their best option is accommodation. In one interview in the study, a child said, “Daddy was yelling on me because I didn’t do my homework, so I told him I am sorry you are right and brought him his belt.” There were many similar examples.

The study may underreport children who accommodate sexual abuse by their parents, Dr. Katz says. Out of the 107 interviews in which children provided allegations of sexual abuse, only six involved a parent.

Most of the cases of sexual abuse in the study were severe, and children tended to respond by accommodating their abusers. Previous research showed that children who accommodate their abusers are more likely to harbor feelings of guilt or shame, which may deter them from providing allegations.

Accommodation, then, may actually be the dominant response to both types of parental abuse.

The findings help make sense of the testimonies of children in abuse cases. This could help prosecute abusers and provide better intervention and treatment to abused children. Dr. Katz would like to see future studies dealing with children’s encounters with clinicians following abuse and how cultural factors affect children’s responses to abuse.”


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11 Responses to Even When a Child is Being Sexually Abused By Their Parent, They Often Do Not Display Any Fear, Or Desire To Run From That Parent

  1. L.Day says:

    Hi Alethea,
    I just starting getting flashbacks of my father sexually abusing me. I don’t want it to be true. But I am accepting that the visions are there for a reason. It is difficult. Do you recommend any post to read on your site that may be helpful? If it is in my memory, it has validity…right??? Just need to hear it from someone. I was cleaning up a used doll ( I was putting soap on her lips with my finger) Then my brain felt like it scanned for a person and I effortlessly & automatically said my fathers name out loud. I was shocked or stunned! It was as if my subconscious mind knew the truth or that it was him. I took a break and continued later. I rubbed soap on my dolls upper thigh and I felt a flushed feeling of someone come over me and it was my fathers presence again. I felt a lot of anxiety, weak, shaky, knots in my stomach, freezing, clenching in my upper shoulders, nervous, fear and a wind knocked out of me feeling Thanks for any response.
    Haven’t been on your blog in a while, working with a primal therapist.

    • Alethea says:

      Hi L. Day,

      What you describe sounds legitimate and should be dealt with so the effects of it diminish and eventually disappear.

      Be careful with primal therapy. If primal therapy takes a client back when they are not prepared, it could re-traumatize the person, and make them go a little nuts. I hope this therapist has lots of experience and does not try and push you into dealing with things, or scare you into re-living something…in order to bring it out.

      The therapy I do allows the past to come out in MY time, at MY pace, without any prompting.

      The SC mind should be dealt with gently and gradually.

      • L.Day says:

        What you describe sounds legitimate and should be dealt with so the effects of it diminish and eventually disappear.
        (((((Thanks! I appreciate you saying that. I want to be believed.

        Be careful with primal therapy. If primal therapy takes a client back when they are not prepared, it could re-traumatize the person, and make them go a little nuts.
        (((((Thanks again. I will be very careful. I am experiencing a lot of trauma as I try and speak about the flashbacks. I for sure don’t want re-traumatization. I will remember what you have said as far as it must come out in MY own time, at my own pace and without prompting.
        The SC mind should be dealt with gently and gradually.
        (((Glad to hear that. I sensed that–due to sensations I experienced when I thought of telling my mom what dad has done to me. I had very bad fear, dread, and extreme tightening in my chest. Later that day I even said, dad probably hates me cause I am not keeping the secret. Funny thing—I never called him dad until flashback of him sexually abusing me. Anyhow…thanks for you response Alethea. I value your opinion. You have more insight on how to heal than anyone I have encountered. Have a great weekend and more!

        • Alethea says:

          L.Day, it sounds like you are yet too fragile to undergo telling your mother. Telling your mother so soon could create a lot of re-victimization symptoms if she denies, lashes out at you, or calls you a liar. I would wait until you are strong enough to handle any negative reaction she may have.

          Is you father still alive?

          • L.Day says:

            Thanks for the reminder Alethea. I will not be telling my mom anytime soon. I am afraid it may cause her health problems too. She is in her 70’s. But at the same time, I want her to know. I may be overreacting about the health problems. She knows about my older sister being sexually abused from 10-16 by my father.
            I always wondered how you were able to call your father–“Father”. Now I am doing it. I guess I had no memory of him and now I do—although it is bad memories. Confused some….
            Is you father still alive?
            (((((No…He has passed on many years ago.

            • Alethea says:

              L.Day, if your mother is already aware of abuse and has admitted it happened to your sister, then your chances of her being open-minded are much greater. Do not worry about her age. Unless she is in poor health, I would not worry about age 70, she can still be sharp-minded.

              My father died when I was 12.

              • L.Day says:

                Hi Alethea,
                Thanks for your comment. I can see things much clearer now. It never occurred to me that she may be open minded due to admission of my sisters sexual abuse. Thanks! As far as me worrying about her age, I can see that I was overreacting or imagining the worse now. She is in good health and she still has a sharp mind.
                I want to disclose the sexual abuse– when I am ready–and your comment gives me peace of mind. I did not know that your father died when you were 12. I read a lot of your blog, but I missed that. You have overcome a lot! P.S>I will not let my father being gone hinder me saying what I need to say or feel to heal. Have a great day and more!

  2. Little Nel says:

    “I want men to be men, and women to be women. I like the good sides of each sex…I like the strengths of each sex.”

    I agree, Alethea.

    I know that I had to be ‘”hyper-alert” in childhood in order to fend off would be “attackers.” I had a “tom boy” persona that helped me to be “unsexy” or “unattractive” to would be abusers. I never wanted to appear to be “easy” for someone to take advantage of in a sexual manner ever again.

    Deep inside I craved the “comfortableness” of womanhood and I was drawn to the masculinity of of strong men.

    There is nothing more powerful on earth than a testosterone charged man who understands his place in God’s plan of creation. I was fortunate to marry one of these strong leaders.

    • Alethea says:

      Yes, I LOVE strong men too, but I love to embrace my femininity.

      “I don’t mind living in a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it.”

      ~Marilyn Monroe

  3. PDD says:

    Didn’t know how else to send this to you, but thought you might this link interesting. I’m sure it has pertinence to male child SA. http://www.upworthy.com/theres-something-absolutely-wrong-with-what-we-do-to-boys-before-they-grow-into-men?c=gt1

    • Alethea says:

      Dear PDD,

      It is a very good video. I personally know a man who was raised to “not be a baby” told to “man-up” and “don’t cry.” He then joined the marines and was further abused in the same way, only this time, under penalty of death. Watch the film, “Full Metal Jacket.” This man told me that the marines is ten times worse than that film in real life. The man I know cannot cry, cannot express himself, cannot expel his true feelings….and he has had serious anger issues because of this. He has healed a lot of that, but he is still working on himself.

      The only thing I am hesitant about, is the video being shown in a world where society encourages, celebrates, and normalizes homosexuality. I hope this video is not seen as saying that men should embrace femininity in order to counter this mental conditioning. Men are men for a reason. They are biologically, psychically, and mentally different from women for a reason. I want men to be men, and women to be women. I like the good sides of each sex…I like the strengths of each sex.

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