Some studies suggest that it is not so much the suffering or fear which causes dissociative amnesia (repressed memories) for trauma and child sexual abuse, but the result of the child’s need to continue a relationship of attachment with the perpetrator in order to survive. 1
This was my experience (coupled with many death threats, and terrifying incidents as a child).
Survival attachment is demonstrated in the case of eight year-old Shasta Groene, who, in 2005, along with her nine year-old brother Dylan, were kidnapped by a convicted pedophile.
Joseph Duncan, who was just released from prison, took Shasta and Dylan for sexual purposes.
Duncan kidnapped the two children after murdering Shasta’s 13 year-old brother, her mother, and her mother’s boyfriend by bludgeoning them to death with a hammer. Shasta and Dylan did not witness the murders, but Shasta heard their screams, and Duncan told Shasta what he had done to her family.
Duncan raped both Shasta and her brother repeatedly for seven weeks. Duncan then killed Dylan and kept Shasta under his control. 2
Just prior to being rescued, Shasta was caught on camera in a convenience store with her rapist.
The video taped footage was aired on television. I watched the video in amazement as Shasta walked into the store with her tormentor, and saw how she was allowed to wander freely in the store. She did not alert anyone to her situation, nor did she look as if she didn’t belong to her kidnapper. Shasta folded her arms as if she was cold, but no one could tell that the eight year-old was with a man who so violently killed her loved ones, and who was raping her on a constant basis.
Shasta looked at people in the store, but only as if wondering whom to trust. Shasta decided that no one would be trustworthy because she ended up leaving the convenience store with her perpetrator. Shasta felt that her survival depended upon the man who had kidnapped and was raping her.
Joseph Duncan was captured after a waitress recognized the little girl while she was sitting in a restaurant eating food with Duncan.
Shasta displayed the exact behavior of an incest victim who believes that he or she is totally dependent upon the very person who is molesting, raping, or torturing the child.
Like Shasta, the child of incest is forced to bond with the person who is causing them so much pain and terror because the captor—be it the father, mother, or a stranger—is also the person providing food, shelter, and emotional needs for the victim.
Children need affection and they will usually accept it in any form, and for many incest victims –even if it is in the form of the sexual abuse.
Shasta could not reach out for help in that convenience store or in the restaurant, nor can many victims in an incestuous situation. 3
The child who is imprisoned by her rapist father, or step-father, only knows that he is the one whom her survival depends. The child must rely on the person committing the monstrous acts, especially if the mother is a facilitator, if there are threats of death, or if the child doesn’t know if anyone will even believe or help them.
In cases of repressed memories of incest, the disbelieving family members, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and friends of the perpetrator are often heard commenting, “If she was being abused, then why didn’t she tell anyone?”
Shasta provides the answer.
Shasta was with a total stranger –a stranger who had killed her entire family and was raping her every day, yet Shasta had ample opportunity to alert someone in the convenience store and in the restaurant, but she didn’t.
Why would anyone think that a child could easily turn to find help outside the home when they are being sexually abused by the parent that they love, have a blood-tie with, and a familial bond with?
Unlike Shasta, many victims of incest are not believed. This aids in repression.
Shasta was believed because authorities rescued her while in the clutches of a convicted pedophile who confessed to the crime. She was examined by medical technicians and physicians. In addition, trauma counselors and other professional authorities verified that she was raped several times.
In cases of incest, where the memories were long ago shoved aside in order to exist, the adult survivor has a much harder time convincing people that their father raped was a rapist, and that the mother did not stop the abuse, or that the mother also sexually abused the child. In addition, the adult survivor’s memory is frequently up against a well-dressed father and a tidy, polite church-going mother.
Shasta will likely remember that she had been kidnapped, raped, and traumatized. She may not recall all of her trauma and may even block out a portion of the ordeal, but she will retain the knowledge that it happened to her.
Unlike the vast majority of victims who completely repressed being sexually abused in childhood, or as a teenager, Shasta has access to professionals and extended family for her to express her feelings to. People believe her, she has proof on record, and Shasta has been interviewed in recent years.
Shasta was allowed to speak about what happened to her, and she was able to openly grieve, both of which are vital to healing and remembering.
The vast majority of people who suffer from discontinuous memory of childhood sexual abuse, were not rescued. Many were threatened for months, years, or decades to remain silent. For others, it was quietly implied, or outright demanded with threats, that they had to keep the secret. Those who did try and disclose the abuse were largely disbelieved or disregarded. They were unable to express their feelings to anyone, and they carried the secret alone.
People who completely repress memories of sexual abuse usually had no medical records, photos, or other documents to refer to. Some victims had a mother or other family members who told them they must have “misunderstood” what happened. Or they were openly blamed, ridiculed, or scolded for “telling lies.” As they grew into adulthood, these survivors often continued to love their abuser and often heard others praising him. Subsequently, the victim also came to believe that the person who tormented them couldn’t possibly have done such a thing, and the sexual abuse and trauma is wiped out from consciousness.
The child of incest must not only attempt to physically survive, but they also need to create a fantasy world in order to make up for what they are not receiving from their parents.
The need for love is a natural instinct in a child and most victims of incest simultaneously love and hate their perpetrator. If the abuser and his accomplice are the only people available to provide that love, then the child is forced to mentally abandon the ugly side of their abusers and develop amnesia for the trauma being inflicted.