This week Mackenzie Phillips was on Oprah discussing how her father abused her for over a decade and then she later developed a consensual sexual relationship with him. People wonder how this can be. Seventy percent of teens abused know their abuser. The previous lessons to children and then teens about how the abuser is someone they don’t know is false. It is time to change the way this lesson is taught.
51% of sexual abuse reports made are from teens under the age of 18 years old. Teens between the ages of 16 and 19 are 3.5 times more likely than the general public to be sexually abused. One in four is a teen girl.
What about boys?
Unfortunately, boys are not excluded from this type of abuse. One in six boys are abused under the age of 18 years old. Their silence is sealed by the fear that the abuse means they are gay. Sometimes they are, but this abuse brings their sexuality into question much earlier than it normally would that can cause conflict within and that is lashed out.
Why someone they know?
It is in this way the abuser gains the trust of the victim. Abusers don’t walk up to your teen and look scary. They spend time seducing by talking to your teen about things they are interested in. They ask for a picture. They complement them on their hair or eyes. How well they do something. They buy them presents and are very nice people, almost charming. This is not someone you would run from.
Why don’t these teens run when they are touched?
The touching is never initially overt. It is subtle through interactions that are very appropriate, seemingly accidental touching hands while washing dishes, leaning over a student while helping with H.W., or brushing up against your teen “accidently” touching their breast and reacting appropriately with, “oops! I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” The abuser will gauge a teen’s reaction. If there is no startle then next time the abuser will take a bigger and bigger risk until something clearly inappropriate happens.
Why do these teens continue to let it happen?
Teens know something is wrong, but there is conflict in the teen’s brain who is abused and that is one, the touching feels good and although teens know it is inappropriate it is associated with this good feeling and someone being very nice to them. If a teen has low self-esteem, this can be a source of constant compliments and ego inflation. Two, often the abuser will threaten the abused that if they tell something bad will happen to someone they love like death or deportation or worse the abuser will say they will blame your teen for having caused the affair. To which a teen will wonder, “Who will believe me over my coach or stepfather?” “Maybe I did do something to cause this.” The guilt these teens have is already so intense that this is too easy for your teen to believe.
What about when it is a stranger?
It seems to make sense that a teen would never be seduced by someone they don’t know except when that person has attempted the seduction over the Internet in a social setting like chat rooms. Again, there is the technique of complements and empathizing when a teen discusses how their parents “don’t get them” or “never lets them do anything.”There is also the person who walks up to them after following them unknowingly for weeks and says,” your parents have been in an accident and asked that I come get you.”So, it isn’t that your teen doesn’t know better it is that the abuser knows even better.
How does your teen stay safe?
There is an inner voice that is always present although not always listened to. That voice will tell them that something does not feel right about that touch, that voice, that request. The disconnect between this voice or feeling and someone they trust doing something so inappropriate to them causes them to pause and they succumb due to shock. It is important that they process these feelings before anything happens. Let your teen know:
“Anyone who touches you even if it is a parent, uncle, coach or stranger should prompt you to scream if you are alone, run away, yell, ‘stop touching me. I don’t like it!’ and tell someone you really trust. It might catch you off guard, they may threaten that they will hurt your family, but you still run. We love you too much to have you endure such torture to save our lives. It may even feel good even though you really don’t want it to happen, but you run and tell.”
2. Stay put or run
Your teen should know to never go anywhere with anyone that you have not cleared to come get them. If you have to send someone in an extreme emergency you will give them a code word that you have discussed in advance. If they don’t have the code don’t go with them. Call us if possible to confirm.
3. Talk a lot
The shame associated with being a victim of abuse is that you feel like a victim. Victims can be silent due to the shame and guilt they have about what happened. They are unable to comprehend that their voice will save others if only by letting other family members or students know which adult to stay away from and watch when they are around others. Unfortunately, the average days served for a sentence of sexual abuse is 128 days. Also important is to talking.
Teens under the age of 18 years old are the most at risk for sexual abuse. They should be protected through teaching them about the real people they should be looking out for and being armed with what to do when and if something happens.
Statistics on teen sexual abuse