It is no surprise to this survivor that sociopathy was found by researchers to be the primary predictor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Not substance abuse. Not socio economic status, clear and simple: sociopathy. Where there is sociopathy, there is opportunism, power and control.
“In summary, we found that parental sociopathy predicted childhood sexual abuse more strongly than did parental substance abuse and family functioning.” Is this surprising, when sociopathy “is linked to other criminal behaviours, substance abuse, personality disorders, and negative outcomes in children.” (Maker, Kemmelmeier and Peterson, 1999)? The researchers write: “Although such factors may well contribute to abuse, our findings suggest that parental sociopathy may actually trigger and maintain sexual abuse, even in families not characterised by chemical dependence or family dysfunction.”
Now, the authors named their paper “Parental Sociopathy as a predictor for childhood sexual abuse” because their research covered the family unit. No doubt, further research will confirm what survivors already know: the key word here is sociopathy. It is sociopathy and associated lack of empathy and lack of conscience that allows our most prolific abusers to traumatise 150 or more victims, sometimes thousands of victims.
The important take home message from Maker, Kemmelmeier and Peterson’s work though may surprise you: “Other theorists have stressed that sexual abuse occurs in the context of a dysfunctional family environment. In these families, stress, poor communication,conflict, and issues of control and power contribute to the occurrence of sexual abuse.”
It seems that Maker, Kemmelmeier and Peterson should be comparing notes with Adelaide’s Anne Morris, who has a stong grasp on how fathers, grandparents and the system can act to alienate a mother, bringing stress, poor communication, conflict, and issues of power and control to the daily struggle of a single mother’s life, thereby making her children vulnerable to sexual predators.
If you need any more convincing of the relationship between the grandmother who teaches her granchildren to keep secrets and who tells them that their mother is bossy (try sending your kids to bed now eh?) or, commonly enough, mentally ill, you will want to read “A Model Linking Diverse Women’s Child Sexual Abuse History With Sexual Risk Taking” (Watson et al 2012).
Watson and his team expected to find a causal relationship between child sex abuse and sexual risk taking. What they found instead was a close relationship between Body Surveillance and Body Shame, Alexithymia, reduced Sexual Efficacy, and Sexual Risk Behaviours in that order. It is understandable that Watson et al assumed that this chain of effect is triggered by childhood sexual abuse. While disproving that relationship, Watson et al resisted the temptation to guess at the actual cause of body surveillance, other than the obvious and pervasive objectification of women by the media. I have never been one for resisting temptation though, and offer Watson et al and the reader this: a narcissistic mother, now grandmother, typically denigrates her “scapegoat child”, often accusing her virgin child of being a whore, while projecting her own body shape obsessions on her unfortunate offspring. The enabling father supports the narcissistic mother in glaring down any difference of opinion or effort to express oneself. The daughter of a narcissistic mother can expect to be accused of being a bad parent, mentally ill (all of this without basis), and can expect that her mother will payroll and incite legal actions by the grandchildren’s father. The result is a woman who exhibits a high degree of body surveillance and body shame, has trouble expressing herself, setting boundaries and meeting her own needs. She is a woman who appears anxious and frought. That is because, through no fault of her own, she is.
In plain speak, when a person sees themselves as an object/ sexual object, is denied expression of their true self, such as when a narcissistic mother tells her virgin daughter she is a whore, focusses on her daughter’s body shape etc., the person internalises that message, sees themself as a sexual object, and can take to frequent physical inspection and evaluation of her own body. This can lead to body shame, alixythemia, and to reduced agency and efficacy, that is a reduced tendency to draw safe boundaries, to insist on the use of protection etc. Alixythemia is cognitive and affective difficulties in identifying and describing emotions, distinguishing between emotional and bodily sensations, and introspective thought. This leads to reduced sexual efficacy and boundary setting. When we cannot assertively express and negotiate our sexual needs and preferences, risky sexual behaviours tend to follow, as demonstrated by Watson et al.
What society is resistant to acknowledging is that the single Mum did not invite nor cause the abuse. In fact it is the divide and conquer toxicity of the narcissistic grandmother, the antagonistic actions of the ex, that force repeated legal proceedings, social isolation and general stress on the mother and her children. This reduces the mother’s capacity to set boundaries to protect her brood, and leaves her vulnerable to any sexual predator who is proficient with an electric drill and a spanner. Because the grandmother has ensured her extended family are not speaking with her, and by denying her the support we mistakenly assume every grandmother affords her offspring, the mother and her children are forced into the very dysfunction that Maker et al describe as the environment allowing childhood sexual abuse to start and continue unchecked.
It must be noted that the mother rarely knows about the childhood sexual abuse of her children while it is happening, and that the abuser uses the maternal alienation techniques described by Anne Morris to discredit the children and their protective mother within her own community, throughout the abuse cycle.
For a mother of sexual abuse survivors, who has likely been subjected to abuse herself by her children’s sociopathic abuser, it is a no win situation as the system eagerly picks up the antagonists’ line of the cliche bad mother, laying blame on her and further traumatising the mother and children.
Thank goodness our researchers are beginning to catch on. What can you do? Share this story, and hug a single Mum today.
Parental sociopathy as a predictor of childhood sexual abuse. http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/handle/2027.42/44911
Bravehearts statistics. https://www.bravehearts.org.au/files/Facts%20and%20Stats_updated141212.pdf