Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Dissertation on shame. Chapter 22.0 Mothers
Sally: I wish she had been able to see me,
but umm she never could.
All of the participants mentioned their mothers in the interviews. Mothers were spoken of 123 times (appendix 4). None of the information in the interviews indicates that any of the mothers have sexually abused their children, but still the participants spoke more often about their mothers than their fathers in relation to shame. Some speak of the pain mothers feel when they discover the sexual abuse of their children, but most of the references to mothers in regard to shame have to do with blaming and shaming their mothers, seemingly because they have experienced that their mothers were not there for them when they needed them the most. I will therefore focus on Mother-Blaming and Mother-Shaming in this chapter.
It seems in my opinion difficult, if not impossible, to completely grasp the emotions a mother has when she learns that her children have been or are being sexually abused by her husband, partner, and other family members, or someone outside the family. For some the revelation is so great and traumatizing that the transgression is locked away and hidden, unable to relate to it. Others react with acknowledgement and action. Mothers will naturally react differently to such an incomprehensible act. Linda gives an example of one of the worst cases she has been involved in when helping others with shame. She tells a story about the shame of a mother who told her about the sexual abuse of her three-month-old baby. The mother herself did not mention the subject of shame in this situation, but Linda remembers the signs of shame she expressed when relating her story.
Linda_1: There was one case that umm that I thought was really severe umm not long ago. There was a mother who called me two days ago. A hospital psychologist had recommended that she contact us, and she said that the father or her husband had abused their three-month-old daughter (.). It was disgusting (.) or difficult to listen to. That umm, she had a lot of these marks and sores around her mouth. He has been reported to the police now….Umm. She had gone to the doctor at XXX and taken tests ((points towards her lips)) she had a lot of sores and blisters. I think she had surprised him in the act, so she was really shocked, what in the world is he doing!? ((hides her face behind her hand)). He was standing with his back towards her and she couldn’t see what he was doing. So she started to think back to every time he had been alone with the baby, the baby’s face seemed so flushed ((points to her face)). She had a wet forehead and wet hair, and seemed a bit upset. She thought umm that the baby seemed remote and afraid. The baby didn’t scream or anything, but she was just not (.) not the way she usually was. The mother wasn’t able to find out what was wrong, but her husband was also very sweaty, but that was something she hadn’t noticed before she had that shock, God, what was he doing?! They only had one bedroom and the baby slept in a bed in there and when (.) every time she whimpered a little, her husband had an orgasm. He was jerking off. He lay there and masturbated. Sounds from the baby gave him sexual satisfaction ((bites her lips))…((takes a deep breath)) Yeah ((looks up at the ceiling and fumbles with her necklace)) It was a difficult situation because umm it seemed so crazy to have oral sex with a kid who was only three months old. That was (.)…I usually don’t take these thoughts home with me afterwards, but this case followed me all the way home. I thought of that little baby…I thought mostly about how desperate and ashamed that mother was, about the baby and what I could do to help. But umm ((coughs and drinks some water)) I mostly thought about what I could do to stop abuse like this.
This story is in my opinion, an account of possible sexual abuse committed by a father towards a three month old daughter, in the eyes of a mother and retold by Linda. It is not in my opinion conclusive that abuse has occurred. The mother has said that she could not see what her husband was doing in one incident, but she suspected sexual abuse. Putting together indicia the way the mother has done here may seem natural to do when one has first been struck by the suspicion of sexual abuse. It may be that the mother’s suspicion is correct, but it may also be false. It seems premature of Linda, in my opinion, to conclude from the information given in this story, that sexual abuse has taken place between this father and his little three month old baby, and to have a set an agenda where stopping the sexual abuse is of high priority. It must be noted that the story given my Linda here may be but a part of a much larger story, and that Linda has more knowledge of what happened. But from this story, it seems in my opinion that helping this mother to cope with her uncertainty and to live without ever knowing, and giving her the recognition and respect she needs in order to reduce feeling of shame and guilt, may be more appropriate goals for the Incest Centre to work with. I include this story from Linda as an example of how difficult such cases of sexual abuse can be, and that shame can arise even from a suspicion of sexual abuse. It should be noted that it is a difficult task for the police to investigate such cases and that lack of evidence may often be a reason for why the majority of sexual abuse cases are dismissed in police investigation. The major advantage the Incest Centre has is to listen to such stories and support the mother that the situation is extremely difficult and help her find her own solution to the dilemma.
This chapter is about the relation between mothers and shame, and all of the participants mentioned this topic in the interviews even though no information from the interviews indicates that any of the mothers sexually abused their children. This does not mean that mothers do not abuse their children sexually, but in these interviews this is not the case. Several participants speak of feeling shame towards their mothers and not towards their fathers. This seems to be grounded in the belief that mothers have a special responsibility to protect their children from harm, which might stem from the traditional, stereotypical female role in a patriarchal family. Some participants say that their mothers, who were unaware of the abuse, should have known about it and done something to stop it. Several of them say that their mothers did not love them and that they could never live up to her expectations. A few of them also tell about mothers who have harmed them either physically, or emotionally through rejection, and one participant claims her mother tried to kill her. In spite of all this, many of them still defend their mothers in different ways.
Mother-Blaming in this study has to do with the different ways in which the participants in the stories they told in the interviews, hold their mothers responsible for the sexual exploitation they suffered as children. Mother-Shaming seems to have to do with trying to condemn their mothers through different forms of shaming, such as exclusion, disrespect, humiliation, and stigmatizing. It is my opinion that these two categories go hand in hand and work together creating a destructive spiral.
Kaare T. Pettersen
Pettersen,Kaare Torgny, 2009: An Exploration into the Concept and Phenomenon of Shamewithin the Context of Child Sexual Abuse. An Existential-Dialogical Perspectiveof Social Work within the Settings of a Norwegian Incest Centre. PhD 2009 Department of Social Work and HealthScience Faculty of Social Sciences and Technology Management. NorwegianUniversity of Science and Technology, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway. Doctoral theses 2009: 184