5. Unveiling the abusers
a. Who are they?
The vast majority of abusers are men, young or old, from all social classes and all milieus. They are often in the victim’s circle of relations: a school friend, a neighbor, a scout leader or a youth group leader, a babysitter, a teacher, a boss, a work colleague, a priest, etc.
They are also very often family members: the father, the uncle, the grandfather, the great uncle, the step father (more and more common due to the increase in remarriages and recomposed families), the brother, the step or half-brother, the father-in-law, the cousin, etc. In this case, it is called incest or intra-family sexual abuse.
It is much more rarely someone unknown to the victim.
It is important to know that 80% of aggressors were themselves victims of sexual abuse in the past, which in no way excuses them, but can in part explain their behavior.
B. The unveiling
A victim has great difficulty denouncing her aggressor; she will more easily reveal the abuse itself. Yet this denunciation has a huge therapeutic reach and it’s necessary to encourage the victim to break the silence. Once it’s spoken about, words become easier and are no longer forbidden, as the abuser wished.
But this denunciation is often poorly accepted by society. As long as the sexually abused person doesn’t reveal her abuser, she is considered a victim. But the day she decides to seek Justice, she is then considered guilty of having accused someone and the crime committed against her will be denied.
This is an example of the reason why the large majority of rape victims resign themselves to remain victims for life and remain quiet, for fear of ultimately being accused of the crime they denounce. But they should never hesitate to place the blame where it belongs: with the rapist.
It should be recognized however that if filing a complaint has a therapeutic scope, the legal process is long, painful and expensive. The repeated interrogations, the lack of respect and of tact of certain people , the shame of unveiling one’s story before everyone, the impression of not being believed leads to what is called « secondary victimization ». Each time the woman describes the rape, she feels violated once again.
Materiel and psychological support from organisms specialized in helping victims of sexual abuse is priceless in this type of procedure, even more so as the verdict, too often mild, seems disappointing and unfair to the victim and revives her pain.
If you learn of a case of sexual abuse, the first thing to do is to get the victim away from her abuser to avoid the abuse continuing.
In the specific case of abuse on a minor, the second step is to inform the competent authorities (social services and police).
The law compels you to reveal this situation and in this case, you should break the professional secret. If you don’t, you can be legally considered as an accomplice. This denunciation aims to protect the victim and other potential victims and to force the guilty person to cease their acts.
C. The reactions of the abusers at their unveiling
A recent European conference on sexual violence established that 82% of abusers don’t admit their responsibility (53% completely deny the acts). Only 18% admitted their acts, and then only because they had to after being confronted with their victims, and not without having accused their victims of having « provoked » them.
This negation of the facts allows them to continue in their perversion therefore being able to continue in their pleasure, the only thing that matters for them.
When they can no longer deny the facts, they admit them but minimize the importance or deny the disastrous consequences for their victims, especially if there was no physical violence. If they have remorse or regrets, it’s never about their crimes, but about having been caught and having to stop.
If a psychologist shows indulgence toward a deviant because he wants to put a quick end to a situation that is incomprehensible or disgusts him, he risks being manipulated by the abuser who will pretend to be remorseful « enough » to peacefully continue his hidden deviant activity. In so doing, the abuser makes the psychologist his accomplice, which is grave.
Following is a possible reaction of someone guilty of sexual abuse: he dirties and he befriends. He dirties the victims or other innocent people by accusing them of the harm he commits; in doing so, he relieves his guilt. At the same time, he befriends those who can become his allies and his defenders (an incestuous father allies himself with his wife so she’ll allow him to abuse their daughter).
A deviant who is unmasked and who refuses to show remorse can become panicked, depressed, an alcoholic or commit suicide; more often however he hardens and continues his deviant behavior in an increased manner.
It is extremely rare that a sexual delinquent shows true remorse, (at the most, he might express some vague « regrets »), but you should always give him the opportunity to apologize.
In conclusion, all therapists should be formally trained in this very special field if they wish to work with patients having suffered from the drama called sexual abuse.
Jacques and Claire Poujol
Marriage and family counselors
Abus sexuel. L’enfant mis à nu, Gijsechem (Van) Hubert, Méridien Psychologie.
La personnalité de l’abuseur sexuel, Gijseghem (Van) Hubert, Méridien Psychologie.
La violence impensable, inceste et maltraitance, Gruyer F., Fadier-Nisse M., Dr Sabourin.
Le viol du silence, Thomas Eva, Aubier.
Le viol, Brownmiller Susan, Stock.
Le viol, Lopez Gérard, Piffaut Gina, Que sais-je ? n° 2753, PUF.
L’enfant violenté, Rouyer M., Drouet, Bayard.
La famille maltraitante, Cirillo S., De Blasio P., ESF, 1992.
Viol à domicile, la loi du silence, Bigourdan Paul, Delachaux Niestlé.
Violence et abus sexuels dans la famille, Perrone R., Nannini M., ESF, 1995.
Violences sexuelles en famille, Chemin, Drouet, Geoffroy, Jezequel, Joly, Erès.
Avec autorisation du site SOS Femmes.