Nothing could have prepared me for the devastation I experienced when my five year old son came to my husband and me to disclose his abuse. Although I understood his words, my emotions could not handle what I was hearing; it was so horrible I wanted it to be a mistake. But the rational side of my mind recognized that the situations he was describing were beyond his knowledge and experience. He did not know the terminology for oral sex or sodomy but was able to describe in detail what was done to him and the acts that he was forced to perform.
Perhaps I was ignorant, but I always envisioned the perpetrator of a sex crime as an adult or a teenager. However, my son was accusing another child, seven years older than himself, as the abuser. He was a family member and our families were extremely close. The families saw each other all the time. We took vacations together and we celebrated birthdays and holidays together as a family. The accused's mother was my sister-in law ; we shared our life's experience, joy and pain. [Note: It has been over twelve year's since disclosure. My sister-in-law is now deceased and the perp who is now an adult is a drug addict.]
When we approached the other family about the abuse, they first were quite alarmed. However, this didn't last long as the retreated behind the wall of denial. They were insistent that my son was mistaken and that the older child was innocent of the accusation.
At this point, I had to step back and investigate this matter more deeply. The other family's insistence that we were looking in the wrong place as to the source of the abuse forced me to ask my son more questions. After all, it was very important to me as a parent to know who the perpetrator was so that I could prevent the abuse from happening again. In addition to asking questions, it prompted me to begin a review of the literature to gain another perspective. However, my probe did not produce another perpetrator, nor did a review of the literature make me believe that a five year old could make up such detailed accounts of sexual activity.
My son's disclosure was gradual. Each new piece of information brought more grief as I came to the full understanding that my son had been violated at such a tender age. My mind was taken over with thoughts of what he endured; I could think of nothing else. In my private moments, I cried my heart out. There was no joy or pleasure to be found in life. Other times I walked around like a zombie and went through the motions of life. I wondered if I could ever return to a normal thought pattern or ever feel happy again.
Coupled with the grief I was experiencing over my son's loss of innocence was another intense feeling. There was a rage growing inside of me. I was so angry at the perpetrator that I had violent thoughts ranging from wanting to pummel him to wanting to kill him. I could care less that he was a child; all I could think of was what he had done. Somehow I was able to maintain control and not act on these thoughts. Acting upon them would only have caused further destruction to my family. It was something that I had to remind myself of often because these thoughts would not go away. Having these extremely violent thoughts was causing me to question my sanity.
The only reprieve I experienced from this emotional burden was when I was working. There was so much to do at work that I was forced to focus on the demands of my job. It was the only part of my previous life that remained intact.
In additional to my emotional pain, our family's reaction to the situation caused me additional grief. I knew that in the past sexual abuse was a family secret that was never discussed and that often the victim was not believed. However, this is the 90's and people are more informed about sexual abuse and knew that kids seldom lie about this. It is more likely that they would not tell anyone about the abuse because of feelings of shame or embarassment. So I was totally unprepared for the refusal of some family members to discuss the circumstances and the total denial of the situation by others.
Their reaction infuriated me. The damage that was done was enough. Now there was a re-victimization of our child and our family by how they were treating us. Suddenly we were being blamed for " slandering the perpetrator and ruining his life." We were told we were not the victims but he was the victim. We were accused of coaching our son in pointing his finger at the boy and influencing his description of events. Other times we were told that our son was confused about who did these things to him. It went on and on, but the possibility that our child was telling the truth was never a consideration.
When we tried to confront the situation and make them see there might be some truth to what was said, it was just thrown back in our face. It did not matter to them that my son had no reason to make up this sort of "lie". It did not matter that we were always there for each other during times of crisis. It did not matter that we had no desire or reason to cause the perpetrator nor his family pain in their lives. Once the abuse was revealed, all of the closeness went out the window.
For those who refused to talk with us or take sides in the matter, I only had one message: "TAKE SIDES, NEUTRALITY HELPS THE OPPRESSOR, NEVER THE VICTIM. SILENCE ENCOURAGES THE TORMENTOR, NEVER THE TORMENTED." (Unknown)
It was becoming apparent to me that a large part of the support system that had been in my life was suddenly not going to be there during the major crisis of my adult life. By this time, my son and I became involved with the Stern House Child Sex Abuse Program at Kingsbridge Heights Community Center in the Bronx. This was going to be a transitional period for us; the counselors Ann Friedman and Emily Segal were going to become our source of strength and hope.
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