The False Love Between Victims and Sexual Abusers

“There are pictures of everything except the fondling and the oral sex that my father forced me to perform for him”

~ Joyce Allan

Many victims of child sexual abuse are disbelieved because the child was captured in photos showing the child smiling with their abuser.

I have seen photos of children, who were severely abused for years, and whose perpetrator has confessed –photos where the children are smiling with their perpetrator.

Colleen Stan with the man who kidnapped her, tortured and raped her for years as a sex slave

Colleen Stan hugging the man who kidnapped, tortured and raped her for years as a sex slave

Children often love their abusers as well as hate them. Both children and adults feel several different emotions about a person or situation at the same exact time. More pointedly, child sexual abusers are not committing the abuse every minute of the day. Sometimes they were riding a bike with us, or building us a dollhouse, and once in a while… they made us laugh.

No one knows what pain lurks behind a photo. Children live in the moment, and it is usually during a vacation or family celebration that someone has a camera ready.

In my case, I clung to my father because my mother was cold and distant, showing no affection or love for me. On the contrary, the woman who called herself my mother wanted me dead.

Until my early thirties, I kept a loving image of my father in my mind because as a child, my soul could not handle that both of my parents hated, abused, and betrayed me. I gravitated to my father and convinced myself that his form of “love” and attention (the sexual abuse) was better than having none at all.

This kind of idealization is the child preferring the illusion instead of accepting what parent truly was. It’s sort of a “denial via fantasy.” There is also trauma bonding, and of course, dissociation.

Many victims speak of a positive relationship with their perpetrator. In one study, over half of the victims expressed love for their abuser.

The following case of two young girls, who were being sexually abused by their father for years, provides a good example of the victim’s need to create a fantasy relationship with their perpetrator.

In this particular case, both girls were exposed to pornography and were made to play sex games with their father. One of the girls told her mother but the mother didn’t take any action and the abuse resumed two weeks later. The oldest daughter eventually told a teacher.

The father was convicted and sentenced to life, plus sixteen years. After he was incarcerated, both girls began to write love letters to him –despite the fact that the oldest daughter was repeatedly raped by her father. The girls even begged the court to let him go..

Law enforcement authorities often cannot get the truth from the victim, and the child will often lie to protect the abusing parents. Children will sometimes defend the abusive parents, even to the child’s death.

Melissa Salcedo was a victim of enslavement by her mother. She was not permitted to go to school, she was choked, she suffered beatings, was kept in a closet, and was forced to drink toilet water. The abuse lasted seventeen years, beginning at birth. Experts said it was one of the worst cases they had ever seen.

While standing in court on the day of her mother’s sentencing, Melissa, with choke marks and scars still visible on her neck, said to her mother “I love you. I miss you. I hope that when you get out we meet again.”

Former FBI agent Kenneth V. Lanning has consulted on thousands of cases involving sexual acts inflicted upon children, and was an expert witness in both Federal and State courts on child abuse matters. Lanning says many child victims remain silent or deny the abuse when it is discovered.

Children most often deny abuse because of extreme fear and guilt. Even if the abuse is discovered, the child fears no one will believe them.

Sometimes the child knows they will not be protected and sense that they will be punished or removed from the home if they tell the truth. Children know very well there are consequences for revealing abuse within the family –punishment by the family itself.

For some children, they deny the abuse because they like being special and feeling pleasure with the perpetrator. Some children feel like ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ with their abuser, and the child often loves the abuser enough to defend him or her in court and later in life as an adult.

To read more on Colleen Stan (The Case of the Girl in the Box), click here.


Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Child Abuse, Jennifer J. Freyd, Harvard University Press, 1996,
Does Incest Hurt Worse Than Grief? Cendra Lynn, Ph.D.,
Close to Home, Mark McGwire Foundation for Children and Big Year Productions, Vanessa Roth and Alexandra Dixon Producers, Discovery Health Channel, 2002
Behind the Playground Walls: Sexual Abuse in Preschools, Jill Waterman Ph.D, Robert J. Kelly Ph.D, Mary Kay Oliveri MSW, Jane Mc Cord, Ph.D, 1993, The Guilford Press page 242
Dissociation, Repression, and Reality Testing in the Countertransference, Jody Messler Davies, Memories of Sexual Betrayal: Truth, Fantasy, Repression, and Dissociation, Jason Aronson Inc., Edited by Richard Gartner, Ph.D, pages 60-61
Arts and Entertainment Channel, Investigative Report’s, L.A. Detectives, Juvenile Investigations Team “A Dangerous Mom”.
Source: L.A. Times 5/16/00 “Mother Gets 9 Years in ‘Slave’ Abuse Case”
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, page 58
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5 Responses to The False Love Between Victims and Sexual Abusers

  1. KevinF says:

    Excellent article, Alethea. My experience of growing up in a household of abuse, hypocrisy and lies was that I assumed all adults were liars and every family was like mine. In most cases, abusive parents will have friends who are abusive and hypocritical like them and this will often be the child’s main experience of adults.
    There’s more information available to children now about everything but, for myself, I didn’t know or realise until I left home in my late teens that a lot of families were actually different to mine.

    • Alethea says:

      Thank you Kevin.

      Actually, a lot of adults ARE liars. People lie all the time. They lie about big things, small things, and lie to themselves. But I know what you are saying.

      The truth is though, most families are dysfunctional. Many did not have incest or severe abuse, but most had some kind of abuse, drug alcohol addictions, verbal abuse, abandonment, lack of love, neglect, heavy fighting etc etc.

      Peace and all my best,

  2. KJ says:


    I don’t know if this is the right place but I could use some advice. My step-dad has all the warning signs of a pedophile and I think he has chosen my niece as a victim.

    He has been called a narcissist by all my relatives because he has not missed a day at the gym since we’ve known him, which is about 15 years. He makes jokes about sex that aren’t appropriate or funny, has been caught with several profiles on porn sites and my mom complains that he wants to have sex several times a day, every day. She said he complains when she sleeps with underwear on and she now regularly sleeps in a separate room.

    He is a high school teacher at a bad high school, and has been a sports coach for girls softball and golf for close to twenty years. Right now he coaches varsity girls golf. He has been suspected of multiple affairs and deletes every text message and phone call in his cell but my mom has looked at his records online and can see there are phone calls and text messages every day. He keeps strange hours, he always comes home later than he has an explanation for but only by an hour or two.

    My sister has a ten month old baby and she and the baby’s dad have been fighting a lot. She struggles with depression and has been dropping off the baby with my mom and step-dad. I noticed that my step-dad has taken an especially strong liking to the baby and it’s strange because he hates my sister. I don’t think they have ever spent a day alone because they have so little respect for one another. It’s great that he likes the baby but he does this thing where they go into the bathroom alone and she sits on his lap in front of the mirror and they go through the drawer. There are a lot of random beauty products, key chains, and other junk in the drawer. I’ve seen him take her in there three times in a weekend and go through the same drawer. Once he came out and said “she likes the soft brushes” another time he seemed nervous. Me, my mom and my sister were watching a movie and he came out of the bathroom talking quickly and pointing out things in the movie that were unimportant. It seemed like he was only talking as a distraction.

    I don’t know what to do. I confronted my sister about my feelings and she got really angry. I told her that it was just a feeling and she threatened to kill him. I had to completely lie and tell her I was over reacting and that it was a big mistake. That was three days ago and I’ve been reading about it and matching up more signs. It’s like a puzzle where all the pieces fit. My mom mentioned that he is someone who never takes blame for anything he does just earlier today. Tonight while we were watching tv I tried to talk to him about different things on tv and the only time he was interested or receptive was when I brought up how pretty someone was. He talks about his students that way too, like a teenage girl gossiping about looks.

    It’s honestly hard to give a flipped description of him. He’s very kind, good looking, 60 years old, my mom says “he helps a lot around the house”. Other than that I have always gotten a weird vibe from him. Years ago one of my sisters friends was in his class and complained about inappropriate sexual stuff he said.

    My question is, what is the best way of going about finding out the truth? I suspected him of being nervous and asked him “do you like this movie?” and I’m afraid he may have caught on that I thought he seemed nervous. I’m starting to realize that he seems very secretive when before I thought he was just polite. From what I’ve read this stuff only gets worse but I can’t talk to anyone in my family without more evidence. That sounds terrible but it’s true. More than anything I don’t want my niece to get hurt but at this point there’s nothing I can say that will convince my mom her husband of 15 years is a child molester. It’s just a feeling I have but everything adds up. At this point I’m praying that one of his students or one of the girls on his team comes forward. Is there a breaking point with this? Can pedophiles go their whole life without molesting anyone?

    Any advice helps

    • Alethea says:

      Dear KJ,

      It’s wonderful that you are reaching out.

      First off, someone who has not missed a day at the gym for 15 years needs to be removed from your list because it can be indicative of so many things, including the need to feel better about himself, or a need to feel healthy. Other people labeling that as “narcissistic” could just be some kind of resentment over someone caring enough about their health that they go to the gym every day. Many people resent those who care about looking nice and being fit.

      Sexual jokes from a man are normal, but inappropriate ones, or too many is a red flag.

      Being addicted to porn sites is a problem. The pornography is probably driving him to want to have sex several times a day. Porn can program the mind -especially a man’s mind- to want sex MORE, and to do what they are watching in the pornography.

      It sounds more like he is having affairs than sexually abusing anyone. But how old is your sister’s child? The man you are describing sounds like a man that would sexually abuse a much older child, not an infant.

      That said, her sitting on his lap in the bathroom is strange. Not okay.

      I have to be honest, your sister needs help. Depression can be serious, and if she threatened to kill him, then there is a possibility someone sexually abused her in childhood.

      i have always cautioned people that until they have 100% proof, they need to just ask simple and non-offensive, generic questions of the mother or parent who you suspect has a child being abused.

      Making outright accusations, or stating a belief without proof can result in serious problems for everyone –usually the problem affects the child and the person who said something.

      If he is 60 years-old, and still watches so much porn, and still wants sex several times a day, that is a red flag too.

      You cannot find out the truth without using intelligent discrimination. You need to be very careful. Don’t go poking around too much because it could backfire on you. The best advice I can give you is to leave it alone until you have something substantial to speak about. Until then, you risk alienation from everyone, and risk pushing your niece right into his arms. When the person molesting a child is accused without proof, the rest of the family often sides with him. You could lose all contact with your niece if you are not careful.

      There is a difference between pedophiles and child sexual abusers, who abuse teenagers. You are describing a man who sounds more likely to be a “situational offender” not a “pedophile.”


      Please read the link below:

  3. susashushan says:

    Great post, Alethea. In my case, dissociation played a huge part in this, and still does. Parts of me continue trying to attach to a perpetrator even though he has died.

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