A child is never responsible for incurring abuse. And yet our experience is that, on reaching adulthood, every woman or man who was abused as a child feels that they were to blame. So what are the processes that lead to such a heavy burden of guilt? Our experience points to two main causes of guilt and shame.
Firstly, it is natural human behaviour for a child to innocently demand affection from an adult. Further, it is also natural human behaviour for that child, as it develops, to assert its knowledge that there are favours to be won by ‘pulling the strings’ of affection in others. (How many of us are, in adult years, fondly alleged by one parent to have wrapped the other ‘around our little finger’?) But affection is part of what human-beings need to survive, and are entitled to expect from life. It is an adult’s inappropriate response to a child’s innocent demands for affection that is an abuse. Not only is such a response a criminal offence, and an abuse of the child’s body, it is a cruel distortion of affection, – and love. In later life, such a child will ask themselves time and time again why they ‘went back for more’, not understanding that to them, needing and receiving love and affection was inseparable from receiving abuse.
Secondly, the child sex abuser is no ‘poor lost soul’, with ‘unrequited needs’ and who ‘cannot help themselves’. Rather, such people are very clever, cunning and patient individuals, who know fully and precisely how unacceptable and damaging their behaviour is! Long before a child becomes aware of the wrong to which it is being subjected, a careful ‘grooming’ programme will have commenced. Playing upon the child’s need for affection, the abuser will have responded with – in themselves – innocent gestures – touching, cuddling, washing the child. By the time these gestures become more blatant, they may well be rewarding them with ‘presents’, emphasising the specialness of the ‘secret’ they and the child share.
The responsibility for abusing a child lies wholly with the abuser.