We Can’t End the Cycle of Familial Sexual Abuse in Silence

Written by Sharae Barajas

Trigger Warning: This post contains descriptions of child sexual abuse.

Statistically, Jane is the one in four girls sexually abused before the age of 18. Her father, uncle and cousins are among the 34 percent of familial perpetrators of sexual abuse. She is a granddaughter, a daughter, a niece and a cousin of women that, too, suffered childhood sexual abuse at the hands of male family members. Together, they are the expression of generational child sexual abuse — the transmission of abuse from one generation to the next.

Jane experienced abuse by her father from age five to 11 and other male family members from 14 to 17. Today, she is one of many familial child sexual abuse survivors managing mental illness, with a history of domestic violence, who struggled to navigate parenting. She lives with post-traumatic stress disorder and experiences bouts of depression. She learned about healthy romantic boundaries through negative experiences, including but not limited to emotional and physical abuse. Mothering skills were developed through trial and error, to the detriment of Jane’s daughters.

Jane’s mother was the vessel through which sexual abuse spread. Repeatedly, Jane’s mother identified with the perpetrator and facilitated Jane’s abuse. In the home, Jane’s mother saw her as competition, a belief reinforced by Jane’s father’s commentary: “Why would I need you, I have [Jane].” Blaming Jane, her mother persecuted her, the victim, to please the abuser. Among family, Jane’s mother validated the abuse, perpetrated by a cousin, as a man “need[ing] attention from a woman.” Jane was 16 years old. Still, she loves her mother and contributes to her current care.

In Jane’s family, young boys learn how to abuse through observation and, at times, through direct lessons. Recalling a basement, Jane recounts an episode in which an older cousin taught younger boys exactly how to be an abuser using her body. Girls, on the other hand, were taught silence. Predators groomed the young women by inviting them to sit on their laps, kissing them on the lips and heavily complimenting the female children. Conditioning, in the form of threats, abusive language and maternal negligence, conveyed that no one cared and no help was available.

Feeling anxious and helpless at her childhood home, years had passed since Jane* visited family after escaping sexual abuse at the hands of her father, uncles and cousins. When she went back, a relative told her: “I remember listening to them talk about fucking you.”

Child sexual abuse, grossly underreported and poorly regulated, is shrouded in silence. Silence — encouraged by the media, by the legal system and by culture — perpetuates sexual violence against children, more so against children abused by family. Conversations in the media cause misunderstandings, and, often, create isolating environments for victims and survivors. The legal system provides loopholes for incest, essentially rewarding abusers who are related to their victims. Culture is inundated with sexualized images of children and the depiction of sexual violence as normal, i.e. aggression labeled as passion.

Well-groomed and conditioned, Jane remained silent throughout the abuse. She confided in no one. Sought help from no one. And no one offered their help to her. Educators, religious leaders and community members attributed Jane’s poor hygiene, hypervigilance, depression and anxiety to her poverty. No one looked beyond the surface to intervene or provide support, validating the threats spoken by Jane’s abusers.

Jane’s pain went unseen. Jane’s voice was quieted before she attempted to speak. Jane’s life is lived in the context of familial child sexual abuse. Sadly, the abuse that shaped her life could have been prevented — but cultural forces and norms didn’t allow for that.

Silence is a powerful weapon. No longer should anyone be forced to carry it.

*Jane is a pseudonym used to protect the interviewee.

This post originally appeared on Ms. Magazine



Lesa D
Lesa Dabout a month ago

a pervasive silent epidemic of abuse...

Ann B
Ann B3 months ago

the news is full of this it is a repetitive behavior and needs a lot of work to break the patterns

Chad A
Chad Anderson3 months ago

Thank you.

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson3 months ago

Thank you.

Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx3 months ago

Until the age of 18, they loose every contact even with brothers, sisters, and other family members. Most women still believe that the child is to blame, for all idiot reasons. At 18, they have to leave the home, after they found her a small apartment, and a badly paid job, just enough NOT to starve. Let's not forget the psychological trauma they are still living with, day in and day out. You often see these girls get a boyfriend soonest possible, and in 90 % of the cases, it are not the best ones they pick out !!

Don't forget that sexual abuse also happens to little boys. And not only by priests, sports coaches, teachers, but sometimes also by their OWN mother who allegedly wants to learn them how to love a girl. Unnecessary to say how these young men will feel when they are 18/20 years

Children are the most precious diamonds in the world. Regretfully some people do not understand that, and ruin the lives of their own flesh and blood. I have now only written about sexual abuse. However psychological abuse is at least as disastrous and ruins the lives of their children who equally suffer for the rest of their lives.

The question remains : HOW CAN WE HANDLE THIS CORRECTLY ??? To be honest, I don't know.

Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx3 months ago

This is STILL one of the most shameful abuses today. And it happens everywhere, and in every social layer of the population. It happens to daughters of poor and alcoholic laborers, but it also happens to daughters of lawyers, professors, CEO's etc.. The most painful side of the story is that the mother usually is fully aware of the situation. Being afraid that her husband will leave her alone with the kids, or that she will be submitted to rape, being beaten up etc.., she either denies everything or helps her partner. How can a girl have any confidence in a stranger, when even her parents are the worst evil creatures in her world.
Most of us immediately react and say : CRY OUT !! What are the consequences ?? When she has the courage to tell a teacher in school or she calls the anonymous phone line. When she phones, she can have a talk with a specialized psychologist, but one day she will have to point her finger to her dad, uncle, cousin, brother, etc.. She will have to tell her stories again and again to the police, the judge.... Then, these men will serve many years in jail, their mom will be cruelly angry with her because she betrayed the perpetrator/s but also HER. Eventually when the situation at home is unbearable, she will be placed in foster care, or in a home where she will meet other girls having experienced the same horror as she did. 2.-

Marija M
Marija M3 months ago


Winn A
Winn A3 months ago

Speak out!!!!!!!!!

Karen H
Karen H3 months ago

Recently, someone told me about a childhood friend who had been sexually abused. The person who told me said, "I was just a kid and I didn't know what I should do, or if I should even do anything." We need to teach our children to tell us if they see, know about, or even suspect something bad is going on with their friends. no M, there isn't a lot of mention of males being abused because it's "not manly" to admit it. We have to encourage ALL children (males and females) to speak out.

Kimberly W
Kimberly Wallace3 months ago