When an adult victim of childhood sexual abuse comes forward, I’m often asked why this person waited so long and why they never told anyone as kids.
The answer is complex, but one of the reasons is that many victims are what we call compliant victims.
Ninety percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by someone they know and trust. Through the grooming process, a pedophile will take his time to gain the trust of the victim and the victim’s family, so that when they actually abuse the child, the child feels guilty and somewhat complicit.
Of course, many predators also threaten their victims with violence, authority, blackmail, or they tell the child that no one would believe them if they told.
In an article published this week in Psychology Today, David M. Allen, M.D. points out that one of the less talked about reasons children keep quiet about being sexually abused is family loyalty.
According to the article, “If important relatives are dependent in some way on the perpetrator, children are naturally reluctant to create problems for those relationships.”
The article suggests that family loyalty can be so powerful that incestuous sexual liaisons can even continue into adulthood.
Although the article is largely focused on incest, it would make sense that the same principal would apply to other forms of child sexual abuse.
Because of the nature of the grooming process, the relationship between a pedophile and a child victim could closely resemble other familial relationships.
When you combine the powerful force of family loyalty with feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, and loss of power, it becomes easier to understand why so many victims suffer in silence.
When brave survivors share their stories, kids are protected and healing begins. One of the worst things we can do for the safety of our children is to discourage victims from coming forward by discrediting accusers for not disclosing their abuse sooner.