When a child is sexually abused, it is done within the context of a manipulation of love and trust.
For an abuser to achieve his or her goal of sexual gratification, the victim is persuaded to look on the act as “normal” interaction. Even worse, they are then sworn to silence through threats of violence or harm that may come to the abuser or the classic “this is our little secret”. An essential part of recovery from child abuse issues is the ability and opportunity to name the abuser and remember and deal with issues surrounding the abuse. This often comes years later when the child becomes an adult and after years of dysfunction is finally ready to get their life together. However, convincing others of the facts is not always an easy process. There are, of course, many areas of society that prefer to believe that child abuse does not happen or happens “to those other people”. There are also governments and managed care systems who fail to provide efficient resources to victims to aid recovery, sending a sublime message that there are more important things to think about. That said, I believe the biggest obstacle to victims talking about their experiences is the accusation of, so-called False Memory Syndrome. This painfully describes a common tactic by abusers to deny the abuse by saying that the child imagined or “made-up” the abuse for whatever reason.
Denial of abuse by the abuser has been going on for centuries. Abusers come from all walks of life or background and can seem “normal” people making it hard to believe that they could have committed such a crime. However False Memory Syndrome (FMS) is being increasingly used as a defence by abusers even in court where lawyers gladly defend such concepts. There is even an association exactly for this topic, formed by lawyers and parents accused of abuse who freely publish dubious scientific evidence and publish networked articles about the number of cases involving children who “suddenly” remembered something. While I am not saying that memories cannot become distorted, we are treading a fine line here. Interestingly, most of the executive members of the association have been accused or their representatives who vouch for them in court, hardly an objective bunch. Equally important is there is no accepted diagnosis by the medical profession or study been done that can validate these claims. One can now see, given this kind of media attention that many abuse victims choose to retract their stories, mainly after being convinced that “couldn’t have happened”, usually by the abuser. This could have something to do with official figures published by the US Department of Justice that states that of the estimated 50 to 80 million (yes, million!!) US citizens who have been the victim of some form of sexual abuse, only 5 million are in therapy or recovery programs. Of these, less than one million have confronted their attacker and less than three percent of those cases have been deemed “false”. When a case does come to court, with False Memory Syndrome as a defense, many abuse survivors are not willing to be grilled by “memory experts” called in by a team of lawyers to defend their client at all costs. Often the client is a giant insurance company fighting a compensation claim. Since the 80’s and 90′, being a “memory expert” is a growth area.
Memory is a strange thing and can play tricks on us at the best of times. Abuse victims often completely block memories as a defence mechanism and, of course, there are those who lie, those who truly cannot remember and those whose memories are distorted. However, as long as we allow the victims to be “punished” over again by the abuser and the system that often protects them, the rate of conviction for sexual abuse will not increase.