About Sexual AbuseI saw a woman in her late 30’s years ago.  Boots, jeans and a t-shirt. Worked on a farm.

She told me about her father sexually molesting her multiple times as a child.  It happened in his truck.  On “father-daughter outings.”

She cried. Just a little.

In her second appointment, she looked at me hesitatingly.

“I have something else I need to tell you.”


“He made me do things to my kid brother.  In front of him.”

She stared at me, checking my reaction.

“You were a child. You had to do what your father told you to do.”

She broke down.  She had never told anyone. We spent the rest of the session talking about the feelings she had carried around for years. Guilt. Humiliation. Rage.

She cancelled her next appointment.  I called, concerned.  “Are you okay?  What’s going on?”

I feel better.” I answered that was wonderful, but that we might need another session to talk about what she had told me.

I thought she needed to process.

What I learned next has always stuck with me.

She walked in, smiling softly.

“I’m really okay, Doc. I thought anyone I might tell would judge me, or would think I was horrible.  Now I know that’s not true.”

The telling of her story, and my reaction of compassion had been enough.

Not everyone is like her.  Most need more time to sift through complex feelings. Nightmares. Flashbacks — or other behaviors they have developed to try to cope with having been abused.

Every victim I have seen shares that same sense of feeling dirty — that others who they might tell would judge them harshly. They struggle with seeing themselves as normal, good people.

It takes courage to tell.  Not just to a therapist.  If the abuse is within the family, to speak out there.  If it was by a stranger or date rape, to report.

You risk nothing happening.  Not being believed.  Being ignored.  Being blamed.

When a child or young adult tells a parent about sexual abuse and is not believed, the shame engrains itself even more deeply.

Many do not tell.  Even as adults. I remember a female patient who sat by her brother in church every Sunday. He had molested her when they were younger many times. She cried every Sunday. People thought she was moved by the service.

on deciding to tell about abuseIt had nothing to do with what was going on at church.

She could not bring herself to confront him. She thought it would destroy the whole family.

Currently it was only destroying her. In her mind, that was better. It would just have to be that way.

It’s even harder for men to admit being abused. Even if they were abused in childhood.

In some ways, that is at least a choice. A choice that was taken away when the molestation occurred.

[tweetthis]The telling has to be about you. You are ready.[/tweetthis]

You have detached from the potential negative reaction that you might get. A consideration is if the perpetrator has access to others that might become targets for abuse. Children. Grandchildren.

Only you can decide if it is in telling that you are freed. Or if you can heal and never confront.

The beauty of going into therapy is that you can talk about it. Without necessarily confronting. You can talk it out. Address whatever symptoms or problems you might be experiencing.

What is most important is that you heal.


You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!

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