How Do I Overcome Feelings of Shame, Confusion, and Fear of Reporting Sexual Abuse?
Child predators use shame, secrecy, manipulation, and lies to keep victims silent.
Letting go of that shame takes effort, but it is doable. No matter what a predator did or said to make victims feel ashamed, child sexual abuse is never the victim’s fault.
In fact, dealing with trauma by letting go of shame and talking about the abuse are key steps to healing. Over time, survivors can move beyond learning how to cope with sexual assault, to become calmer, confident, self-empowered, and empowering of others.
Survivors can release the shame, leave the shadows behind, and find their voice. When survivors tell their story it helps others to tell theirs. And together, survivors can take their power back, and change the world.
What if People Didn’t Believe Me, or Judged Me Before? How is Now Different?
While sharing stories of child sexual abuse can be one of the most liberating and healing things survivors can do, it isn’t easy. Sometimes survivors choose to tell people who are not ready to hear about the abuse.
Identifying who to tell and in what order can make a big difference as to whether the experience goes smoothly or is made more painful by the reactions of people who might deny the realities that survivors have faced.
In the past 20 years, there have been improvements in how our society looks at child sexual abuse and survivors. While things are not perfect, survivors are believed more and more. Public awareness increasingly expands as people share their stories and the media covers high-profile cases.
In 2018 following the sexual assault allegations during Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation, a University of Chicago survey found that nearly 2 out of 3 Americans believe sexual assault is a widespread problem.
Research shows that survivor stories play a big role in helping people understand how widespread the problem is.
39% percent of the survey respondents reported that they now believe sexual assault is more common than they previously thought. The most frequent factors that impacted their thinking were:
- 70% cited news reports about victims
- 38% cited social media posts from victims
- 30% of people responded that their views were changed when someone they know told them directly about their assault
- 28% said they heard second-hand about victims in their community or friend group
Sexual abuse movements such as Me Too and Times Up have both manifested and accelerated public awareness, especially across social media.
This growth of awareness is also supported by strong, victim-friendly civil and criminal laws such as the California Child Victims Act (AB 218). This law opened a three-year, retroactive window of time for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse to pursue justice, no matter how old they are or when the abuse occurred. The three-year window opened January 1, 2020, and closes on December 31, 2022. This means survivors must file a claim by December 31, 2022.
We believe you. The abuse you suffered was wrong and it was not your fault. As the statistics above show, when survivors speak out, children are safer from the cycle of abuse.
Are you ready to find out what it is like to be believed, cared for, and supported? If you are ready to speak out, be heard, seek justice, or help others, we are here and ready to help.
What if I Didn’t Fight Back or Say “No.” Is the Abuse my Fault?
Child sexual abuse is never the fault of the child. Even if you didn’t fight back or say “no.”
The vast majority of child sexual abuse (almost 95%) is not perpetrated under direct threat or force. This is because of a behavior that predators use called “predatory grooming.”
Predatory grooming is how abusers trick and manipulate a child into thinking that the abuse is “normal” or “okay.” Predatory grooming also serves to shame the child into staying silent about the abuse, sometimes for decades.
Examples of how predators take power away from victims include:
- Lying to victims
- Isolating victims
- Flattering victims with gifts and praise to make them feel ‘special’
- Sharing ‘special’ secrets and seeing if victims can keep secrets
- Manipulating family members to trust the predator, so victims are less likely to be believed
- Blurring sexual boundaries, such as between kindness and sexual acts
- Using drugs and alcohol
- Normalizing pornography in their interactions with the child
- Using their position of power to exert control over the child
Our understanding of predatory grooming—and its horrific effects on victims—has increased dramatically over the past decade. Understanding and identifying the signs of grooming do two things: it helps us identify and prevent potential child sexual abuse and helps survivors heal from the shame that predatory grooming causes.
Decades later adult survivors can still struggle to identify the impact predator’s manipulations had upon them.
If you need help discussing your experience of clergy abuse, our staff has extensive experience in helping victims make empowered decisions and reclaim their power. Contact us for a free confidential consultation.
I Denied the Sexual Abuse Before. Will I Be Believed?
Studies have shown that when asked, a large majority of victims of child sexual abuse will deny that the abuse is happening. When children are interviewed about abuse, it can take two to three interviews before children disclose enough detail for a “complete and informative report”, if they disclose at all.
There are many reasons why a victim will deny being sexually abused:
- Fear for personal safety from the perpetrators or the perpetrators’ defenders
- Fear of being blamed for the abuse
- Fear of ostracism from the community or family
- Fear of being thought of as “gay” in communities that demonize homosexuality
- Fear of causing family members emotional distress
- Out of shame of feeling like they gave up power
- Out of love for the predator
- Because they don’t understand that what happened to them was abuse
- Because of social ignorance about abuse
It is a common reaction to initially deny abuse, and people may wait decades before disclosing it.
This delay in disclosure is one of the reasons that advocates and lawmakers created legal “look-back windows” that temporarily suspend statutes of limitation, such as the California Child Victims Act, so adult survivors can file legal claims against perpetrators and institutions that covered up the perpetrators’ crimes.
If you denied your abuse in the past, it is safe to come forward and report it now.
Please contact us for a free private consultation to explore your options for healing, justice, and for protecting children in the future from ever having to live with any of these fears.
I am a Female. Was it “Clergy Sexual Abuse”?
Girls can be sexually abused by clergy, just like boys can be sexually abused by clergy, or other employees and volunteers, in the Catholic Church.
Child sexual abuse is defined as sexual activity with a child by an adult. Child sexual abuse can also occur when an older child engages in sexual activity with a younger] child under threat or force. The sex of the offender or the sex of the victim is not relevant. Child sexual abuse is a crime.
For many years, Catholic officials have told girls who were sexually abused that they “tempted” the offender, were “precocious” or “promiscuous,” or that the activity was simply not abuse. These are lies told to create shame, blame, and to silence female victims.
In fact, the founder of SNAP, the nation’s largest and oldest support network for survivors of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, was Barbara Blaine. She was sexually abused as a child by a local parish priest.
A 2008 survey of 3,559 respondents showed more than 3% of women who had attended a congregation in the past month reported that they had been the object of clergy sexual misconduct at some time in their adult lives.
The same survey showed that “In the average American congregation of 400 persons, with women representing, on average, 60% of the congregation, there are, on average 7 women who have experienced clergy sexual misconduct.”
It is possible that these numbers are higher. Since 2008 there has been a significant increase in public awareness supported by survivors coming forward and sharing their stories through social media. As survivors feel more confident in coming forward, we expect to hear many more stories from women, and for there to be more research and statistics in this important area.
Child sexual abuse is never the fault of the child, and it is safe to speak out. Have you, or someone you know, experienced clergy sexual abuse? Our trauma-informed staff is here and ready to help.
I Wasn’t Abused by a Priest. I was Abused by Someone Else at the Parish. Should I Still Report?
Yes, you can and should report the abuse and explore your legal rights with an attorney qualified to handle clergy sexual abuse cases.
The Catholic Church has covered up abuse by predator priests and protected abusive teachers, coaches, volunteers, music directors, and other authority figures who have sexually abused children.
In fact, survivors across the country have used the civil justice system to expose evidence about clergy and non-clergy child predators who were protected by the Catholic Church.
Many of these predators were still working with children after allegations of abuse were brought to the attention of Catholic officials.
Together, we can find a path toward healing and accountability, which can include holding perpetrators and institutions accountable for their actions.
I Don’t Have Any “Proof” or “Witnesses” to the Abuse. Will Anyone Believe Me?
Predators often do everything they can to make sure that victims don’t have “evidence” to substantiate that the sexual abuse took place.
Other times, survivors—out of fear and/or shame—will get rid of photos, gifts, letters, and other items from the predator. Do not worry. It is not your job to “prove” what happened to you.
An experienced lawyer will explain the civil justice process, how you can support your case, and how the institution that covered up the abuse will most likely be in possession of materials or documents that will support your account.
Helping identify the strength of a legal case is one of the most important reasons you want an experienced sexual abuse attorney to walk you through it.
I Was Sexually Abused by a Nun. People Try to Tell Me It Wasn’t Abuse. What Should I Do?
Yes, nuns do sexually abuse children.
While women account for less than 10% of perpetrators, they can sexually abuse both boys and girls, causing horrible trauma to the victims. We often hear questions like “I was sexually abused as a boy by a nun” was I sexually abused?” or “I was sexually abused as a girl by a nun” was I sexually abused?”
Our culture is beginning to understand the pain and long-term negative effects caused by all sexual predators, regardless of sex. No matter the sex of the perpetrator, it is abuse when an adult sexually exploits a child.
The Person Who Sexually Abused Me Tricked Me into Abusing Other Kids. What Should I Do?
Predators often manipulate victims into abusing other kids. This is one of the horrible dynamics of child sexual abuse that can shame and silence survivors for decades.
Predators have many reasons that they do this:
- The predator may have enjoyed it
- To use it to create Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), also known as child pornography
- To use it as manipulation to force blame on the child to keep them quiet
Since the Abuse, I Have Gone on To Do Some Bad Things, Hurt Other People, or Have a Criminal Record. Will Anyone Care That I Was Abused?
There are numerous and varied effects of traumatic experiences, and the effects can be long-lasting.
Innocent children have gone on to do things they would likely never have done if they had not been victimized by predators and betrayed by institutions and authorities that ignored their pain and protected offenders.
Many survivors of child sexual abuse engage in self-destructive behaviors during and after the abuse. It is common for survivors to grapple with:
- Promiscuity or hyper-sexuality
- Self-destructive relationship issues
- Other unhealthy behaviors that negatively impact the survivor or their loved ones
These behaviors are an after-effect of the shame and low self-esteem that many survivors feel.
No matter what you may have done after the abuse, the abuse was not your fault. You did nothing to deserve it. We believe you and we care about your healing.
Does Child Sexual Abuse Affect Sexual Identity? Can It “Make You Gay”?
Child sexual abuse has nothing to do with the survivor’s sexual identity. It is a violent crime of power. The sexual identities of the child and the predator are completely irrelevant.
Additionally, it’s important to know that homosexuals are no more likely to become child predators than anyone else.
Perpetrators use their position of power and the strategies involved in predatory grooming to trick a child into thinking that the abuse is the natural progression of an adult-child relationship.
While some cultures or individuals have unfavorable views on homosexuality, it is important for you, the survivor, to understand that the abuse does not define your sexual identity or how other people view your sexuality.
A qualified therapist and supportive communities can help you work through these issues and find healing and peace.
A qualified child sexual abuse attorney has experience and training in helping survivors navigate the effects of their abuse with sensitivity and respect.
What if More Than One Person Sexually Abused Me?
Victims of sexual abuse are often revictimized.
A 2014 study in the International Journal of Clinical Justice Sciences found that victims of child sexual abuse are 35 times more likely than non-victims to be the victim of another sexual assault later in life.
A survey of sexual abuse re-victimization studies suggests that two out of three individuals who are sexually victimized will be revictimized.
Re-victimization can happen over a period of decades due to risk factors stemming from the long-term effects of child sexual abuse.
This can also happen in the same time period at the same institution. For example, institutions sometimes house clergy pedophile rings, such as the 16 rings described and mapped across Victoria, Australia. In another example, the Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania were found to be a “Criminal Syndicate” by a grand jury, after a report revealed 300 priests abused over 1,000 children in the last 70 years. These situations often mean victims of abuse may be re-victimized.
By speaking out, you can help stop the cycle of these serial abusers.
Please consider reaching out to us for a confidential conversation about how we can work together to stop them once and for all.
The Abuse Happened in My House. Sometimes, My Parents Were in the Room.
Most cases of child sexual abuse — 84% for children under age 12, and 71% for children age 12 to 17 — occur inside of the home of the child or the predator. A percentage of this abuse even happens with the parents of the child present in the house. The location of the abuse does not mean that it wasn’t abuse or that it was the fault of the victim. Abuse is never the fault of the victim. Abuse often happens in a home because the predator has been able to build up trust with the family of the victim.
About 60% of children who are sexually abused are abused by people the family trusts. Predators, such as clergy sexual abusers, don’t just carefully groom their child victims, they also groom family members and the community around them. They are master manipulators who abuse their authority to use trust and fear to create an environment in which they can operate.
But they don’t fool us. Nor do the institutions that have protected them and covered up their crimes for decades. By speaking out, you can help stop the cycle of these serial abusers.
Why Do These Feelings Come Up at Really Bad Times?
The healing process for a survivor of sexual abuse can be accompanied by profound feelings of liberation and empowerment. But even when survivors are making progress, feeling more confident, and reclaiming their power, there will be times when triggers like family events, holidays, or certain smells or places trigger survivors and remind them of the trauma they experienced.
As survivors continue their healing journey, they will understand more and more that these feelings come and go. These triggers remind survivors of the truth and hurtfulness of their experience. But they no longer have the capacity to define survivors.
Working with a good therapist, continuing to honor a survivor’s healing process, and perhaps even pursuing legal options, may help a victim to better manage triggers.
Together, we can move forward towards a time when these triggering situations lose the power they once had over a survivor. Instead of feeling upset at the ignorant things people say, survivors will feel sorry for their lack of understanding. Instead of being reminded of the pain and difficulty of the past, survivors will be able to focus on the present.
If you were sexually abused as a child by a coach, teacher, priest, or another authority figure, you are not alone. Our team of advocates and attorneys have over 30 years of experience representing survivors of sexual abuse. It’s time to take your power back.
Is the Legal System Scary? How Can I Navigate it Successfully?
The civil justice system exists so that survivors of child sexual abuse can be “in the driver’s seat” of justice and accountability. You have the ability to make decisions regarding your legal options. It’s a law firm’s job to inform you of all your options, so you can feel good about making an empowered decision.
Below are a number of legal process questions you may have. Click any of them to learn more.
- How can I protect my safety, privacy, and remain anonymous when coming forward about my abuse?
- Will I have to pay for anything?
- What are my goals for legal action? Monetary, justice, helping others?
- What should my support team look like?
- What are my legal rights?
- How do I find a qualified law firm?
- What is a legal consultation like?
- How does filing a claim work?
- What is the victim compensation plan? Is it right for me?
- Do we have to go to court or do we just settle?
- How might institutional bankruptcy affect me?
- What is the difference between a civil versus criminal suit?
If you are not sure you want to take legal action but would like to learn more you can contact us to learn more about your legal rights.