With revelations of sexual child abuse in Penn State, the victims’s stories are validated. They can finally speak out about what happened. In several of my recovery books, I have written about the psychological mechanics of child abuse in dangerous religious groups. Cult child abuse is similar to abuse in any authoritarian organization or family. I speak my mind on the subject in Cult Survivors Handbook, Part II: Abuse Recovery (available at Amazon.com). Following is an excerpt that I offer to the Penn State victims and their families, in the spirit of recovery, healing, and love.
Everyone, even adults, fear sexual molestation. Rape is a violent and frightening experience. It is even more so for children, who know nothing of sex and are too young to understand what is happening to them if someone molests them. It is one of the most unfortunate things that can happen to a child.
Children look up to adults and see them as the embodiment of all wisdom. This is natural because children are dependent on their parents and would be totally helpless without them. It goes against the ideal family archetype to think that something is wrong with the adults, so children tend to transfer the blame to themselves. Self-blame is a powerful element of the defense system, because children who are raised in abusive groups are trapped between hating the perpetrators and hating themselves. These adults are often their primary caretakers. In some cases, the incestuous sex is the only attention children may receive in a loveless environment. Children are naturally attracted to adults and crave their attention. Thus, the victims’ own emotional needs set them up to receive the abuse and think it was their own fault.
Another reason victims may keep the secrets is because they are afraid of being ostracized. Perpetrators warn their victims that revealing the secrets will wreck things for everyone else and make them unpopular. Perpetrators sometimes beat their victims into silence. The perpetrators thus draw their victims into a reality of secrecy, shame, hopelessness, and guilt, where they feel isolated and vulnerable. The child must cope with a self-image that includes sins most adults are afraid to even talk about.
Thus, the most devastating effect of sexual abuse is to force children to deal with unfair, complex emotional issues. Abused children may have overwhelming emotional problems that include feelings of guilt, self-hatred, and broken trust.