My family doesn’t believe I was sexually abusedMarch 04, 2019
There are many different types of sexual abuse and assault. But every single act of sexual abuse or assault leaves an imprint on the brain, and every survivor is left with ongoing trauma.
There is further trauma when the abuse has occurred in a family and the survivor is not believed or supported by family members. Or, they are believed, but are asked to keep it quiet.
When somebody accuses a family member of sexual abuse, it’s like throwing a grenade into the heart of that family. Nothing is the same again for anybody. It’s devastating. And that’s why people often seek the help of family therapists like me when they are trying to decide whether to disclose sexual abuse in their family or not.
I’ve had clients who were believed and supported right away when they disclosed the abuse. Unfortunately, that’s not always the response. I’ve spoken to people in my Eastern Suburbs practice who’ve been completely cut off by their ‘good’ families, or told that they’re lying or making it up or are mistaken.
Here are some of the reasons survivors of sexual abuse by a family member are not believed:
- “None of the other siblings or family members were abused.” It’s true that a perpetrator will sometimes abuse multiple family members, but it doesn’t always happen like that – sometimes they single out one person; usually a vulnerable person or someone they have easy access to.
- “The alleged abuser has no record or sexual history that indicates they would do such a thing.”
- “You’ve got a mental health problem and it’s making you think you’ve been abused.” Or, “You’re always saying crazy things to try to ruin our family.”
- “That family member isn’t a sexual predator. They’re just affectionate and their boundaries are a bit loose.”
- “Your memories about this don’t seem very clear. If you can’t remember properly, it can’t be true.”
- “You’re just trying to wreck a relationship because you are jealous or you don’t like someone.” This is most often said when the alleged abuser is a step-father.
- “The accused abuser told me they definitely did not touch you, and I believe what they say.” This often comes from a woman defending a husband or son who has been accused.
One of the most difficult and awful scenarios is when a child tells their parents they have been sexually abused by a sibling. Most parents find it difficult to accept that their child is guilty of abuse – and certainly don’t want to see their child do jail time for it. It’s particularly common for survivors to be cut off by grandparents (the parents of a parent abuser) or their own parents (the parents of a sibling abuser).
Unfortunately, the fear of being rejected by their family, or of not being believed, prevents many survivors from disclosing sexual abuse. And, because a large number of people who have been abused suffer from mental health problems as a result of the abuse, they can question whether their illness has made them imagine things, or even wonder if they’ve done something to attract the abuse.
So, what should you do if you’ve been sexually abused or assaulted by a family member and the family doesn’t believe you?
Get Family Counselling – it can help you in the following ways:-
- The family counsellor will believe you and advocate on your behalf.
- A family counsellor who has experience and knowledge in this area will be able to help you work out what your truth is. Please note, the wrong type of counsellor can actually make the situation worse so it is important you see somebody who has years of experience under their belt.
- A family counsellor will help you develop skills and strategies to manage your family situation.
- If appropriate the family counsellor will invite other family members into sessions – please note a family counsellor will never invite the alleged perpetrator to sessions because your emotional safety always comes first.
- The family counsellor will help you develop healthy boundaries, deal with family members who are disbelieving or damaging, and show you how you can communicate with them in a safe way.
- The family counsellor will help you consider and make legal decisions which impact your family.
- The family counsellor will educate and support your family and help your family come to terms with your new family reality.
- The family counsellor will help you make decisions about whether you stay in contact with your family.
- The family counsellor will help you make sense of your mental health in relation to the abuse and the fallout from it.
- The family counsellor will connect you to other support services as required.
Help yourself these ways:-
- Tell a few trusted people who can support you.
- Distance yourself from family members who leave you feeling bad about yourself.
- Join a support group.
- Don’t go to family events where the alleged perpetrator might be – no matter how old you are – it’s important you are not further triggered.
- Remind yourself that it is common to be mentally unwell if you’ve been abused in this way. Seek help for any mental ill-health.
- Stay and sleep in places that feel safe to you.
- Don’t read or watch movies or TV programs that may trigger you.
- Don’t listen to ignorant statements from people who minimise abuse and its impact.
- Get help to manage your sexual health.
- Be kind to yourself.
And probably most importantly remember you have done nothing wrong.
I personally find it frustrating that whenever anybody is accused of sexual abuse or assault, the survivor seems to be the one who is questioned most intensely, and continues to pay for something they had no control over or wanted in their life. It is unfair that even today, with all the knowledge we have about abuse and its impact, survivors continue to pay for a crime someone else committed. Tragically, some don’t survive in the long term – the abuse costs them their lives.
If you are a person trying to be in a family where you are not supported or believed, make an appointment to get help. A counsellor can not take away the trauma of your story but they can help you to feel very differently about yourself, empower you and help you with the ongoing shame survivors live with on a daily basis.
Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families. She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.
In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.
Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families. She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.
Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.
Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.
Qualifications and Professional Membership
Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.
Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute. She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.
Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.