WHEN presented with the question, 'what would you do if you find out that your spouse or child's father has molested your child?', many mothers' instinctive response is 'I would kill him!' — instinctive because a protective mother hen can't fathom the loss of her child's innocence in that brutish way. But in reality, and when faced with the actual situation, this promise is rarely acted out. In fact, some mothers live in silent denial, others resent the child, some choose to blame the child, and depending on the age, the mother may even put the child out of the household. Still others will simply accept it.
Dr Kai Morgan, clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of the West Indies, said while she does not have actual figures on the number of cases of sexual molestation involving a parent or guardian, the incidences are very high. And the repercussion for the child if the mother refuses to believe can be devastating, she said.
"If the mother doesn't believe her, the child is lost right there, because the child is probably not going to say anything to anybody else," Dr Morgan explained. "Because remember now, that child has been abused twice! They got abused by the person and then they get abused again by the one who does not believe them, so it's double trauma for them."
Selena, now 23, a Kingston cashier whose name has been changed, remembers her mother's and stepmother's reaction when she finally confessed that her father had been having sex with her.
"My stepmother's first words were 'I knew it, I knew you'd come here and tempt him'," she said, explaining that her mother had sent her to live with her father and his new wife when she turned nine.
"Then she (stepmother) called my aunts and told them to come take me out of her house or she would kill me," she said.
The confrontation came two years after the abuse started, she was then 13, and had contracted a STI from her father.
"My life has been hell since then," she said. "Even when my mother was eventually told, her reaction was 'why yuh couldn't just behave yuhself?' She blamed me."
For Marva, now 51, resentment still boils in her blood even now, as her mother refused to believe or admit that she had been raped by her stepfather.
She recalls at the age of nine when the man took her to his farm and assaulted her despite her fearful cries. Marva, whose name has also been changed, said when she got home, she told her mother what had happened.
"My mother [chased me away] and told me I was lying. So of course it continued," she said.
She said by 12 her mother had physical confirmation that her husband was in fact having sex with the child, but still did nothing.
"He was a Justice of the Peace so I don't know if that is why she stayed with him, but my mother told me that it was my fault because I was wearing short skirts and shorts and enticing him. She cursed me and told me I was taking away her man."
At 17, she became pregnant with her stepfather's child. That was when the sexual molestation became less frequent. But still her mother did nothing about her husband's behaviour. Instead, she encouraged Marva to give the baby her (Marva's) last name so no one would know. But things came to a climax one day when Marva's aunt sent her misbehaving 13-year-old son to stay with them. Marva's stepfather began to molest the little boy who made a report to his mother. It was his mother who exposed the situation.
"It was when disgrace came down and everybody in the community find out, that was when she left him," Marva recalled.
Said Dr Morgan: "When I see children whose mothers have accepted it or others who try to do something about it and who brought them in to counselling, or others who have now grown and the mothers did not acknowledge this or told them they were lying or just never believed them — there is a very big difference in how these children develop emotionally," Dr Morgan said.
She said the child whose story wasn't doubted and who received counselling is always much better off.
Selena is a case study in mistreatment, as she explained that not only was she the one treated like a pariah by all her family members, she was removed from school and sent to an aunt to babysit her cousins, "to keep me away from my father".
"I had no education and had to work in all kinds of places to make money, and every boyfriend I told left me, I don't think I can get pregnant, and my family still treats me like trash, and my father like a king," she said.
A St Catherine mother told All Woman that she was faced with the dreaded situation several weeks ago and admitted that while she never imagined herself in such a position and always felt that she would chop her husband of 15 years to pieces if she ever found out he molested any of their two children, she was forced into reality when it actually took place.
"It was a week after the actual incident that I found out," she said, explaining that she has been separated for over five years.
"He would only come by the house every now and then to look for the kids. I always try to encourage a relationship with them. So during the heavy rains, he asked if he could stop by because the roads to his house were flooded. I said yes. That night he and the children went into my daughter's room. They were there playing for awhile so I left them and went to bed. My son apparently went to his room later and my husband stayed in my daughter's room."
She said a week later he called again and ask if he could stop by. "I told my kids that their father was coming by and my daughter said 'no' and began shaking her head non-stop. This was strange because she was the one who was always excited to see him. And just that reaction got me suspicious. I began questioning her but she refused to talk so she got a sheet of paper with some words and began to touch different letters that spelt out the words 'daddy touched me'. Then she just held onto me and started to cry."
The mother said she went numb. Her daughter was only 10. Between sobs she related how her father fondled her.
"She told me not to tell anyone and that she felt it was her fault because she did not get up when he was doing it, even though she told him to stop and turned away. That broke my heart. Here she was, struggling with the guilt and not talking to anyone about it."
The mother said she called the father and confronted him on the phone. "I did not ask him if he did it. I asked him how he could do such a thing to his own child. My next step was to report the matter to the police but my daughter begged me not to. In fact she begged me not to tell anyone. I told a counsellor and we are working along with her and honouring her wishes while trying not to bring it up unless she (child) does."
But while this mother chose to believe her daughter, many persons like Selena have had to live through sexual abuse from a parent or step parent without any form of support from the mother, leaving them even more vulnerable to these attacks from other persons.
"I hear a lot of stories and complaints where the mothers don't believe them," Dr Morgan said. "I am not saying all children are going to tell the truth, but certainly listen to the child and try using your own [common sense] to determine what is what," she said.
Dr Morgan said the first thing the mother needs to do is to reassure the child that she believes him/her.
The next step is to report the matter to the police. "Our law dictates that if a child has been abused you should report it," she said. "This is a part of making the child feel safe and secure."
Morgan said it is very common for children who have been molested to not want the matter reported as they will have to relive the situation. In this case the mother is advised to encourage the child to talk, as this will help ease the trauma.