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Should I Report Repressed Childhood Sexual Abuse?

by Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. From the ages 4-6 (I’m not really clear exactly) until I escaped at 11, I was sexually abused by my older male cousin. He is about 4.5 years older than me. I didn’t consciously remember being abused until I was 16, at which time I was seriously unable to cope with the issue (as was my family). Now that I’m 23, I’ve faced the issue, and I want to do something about it. I hate that he is able to go about a normal life, and I worry that he’s going to do this to someone else. He was also sexually abused as a child by my much older male cousin, who also sexually abused my older brother.

The family doesn’t want to deal with it. Everyone just says, “Can’t we get over it?” and “Why do we have to keep talking about this?” like these guys kicked over our sandcastles or stole our lunch money, as if sexual abuse is something that everyone must go through by themselves because it isn’t important. This has been going on for years, decades, generations in my family. No one ever wants to do anything about it. My own mother was sexually abused by her older male cousin, the father of my oldest male cousin who abused my abuser and my brother.

I just don’t know what to do. How do I explain that this is a big deal? How do I do something about this, before the cycle of abuse moves on to the children of this generation? Will reporting my case to the authorities be worth it? I’m in therapy, about to start my first semester of college (after numerous failed attempts in previous years), and I just don’t know if I’d be willing to go through all that trouble just to see him go free with not even a slap on the wrist. Help?

This is a difficult issue. In this situation you have to weigh how helpful it would be for you to report the abuse years after it has occurred versus how much it may hurt you and your relationship with your family. Think hard about what affect reporting his behavior to authorities might have on you and your family.

You said that the reasons for reporting him at this point in time would be to possibly prevent further abuse and to possibly see him punished. These are two very defendable and justifiable reasons for reporting the abuse. But realize that the police may not be able to prove the abuse because so much time has past. What if they investigate and the findings are inconclusive? Will you be satisfied?

Does he have a family and children? What affect will this have on his family and his children? If he has children and their currently being abused, or other young family members, bringing in the authorities may just be what finally stops the family cycle of abuse. In this scenario, he may be caught abusing younger children and would be punished.

It is not uncommon for families to keep sexual abuse hidden. There are many reasons for this. It may be that those who were abused are embarrassed and ashamed of their abuse. It could be that they may not be in a place psychologically where they can deal with the trauma often associated with abuse. Another reason families are secretive may be fear, fear of confronting the abuser. Maybe they feel that nothing can be done (punishment wise) and feel “why bother?” Also, sometimes it easier not to report the abuse because to report it means that there would likely be further conflict.

The fact that your family has said to you “can’t we get over it?” and “why do we have to keep talking about this?” indicates that perhaps for one of the reasons listed above, they are not very interested in fighting this battle with you.

There may be other reasons why your family chooses not to openly discuss the abuse. It is important to realize that even if you try to explain to your family why you would be going to the police and that you were doing it for justifiable reasons, they still may not understand. They may come to see you as an instigator even though you are just trying to stand up for yourself. But recognize that you often cannot change how people think, even if you are completely correct.

As I mentioned above, it’s important to assess the impact of trying to report your abuser to the police. What would the impact be on you? These are things that you can discuss with a therapist.

If you decide that little good could come from reporting your abuse, there is still good news for you. While you cannot change your family and the way they think you can still help yourself. You are in therapy and you can work to deal with the trauma associated with the abuse. If your family chooses not to deal with this issue then that’s their prerogative. Your concern at this time should be to help yourself and by attending therapy, with a good therapist, you can accomplish this.

Please write back if you have any further questions or need further clarification.

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