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Mothers of victims of sexual abuse

Mothers of victims of sexual abuse Mothers of victims of sexual abuse, especially those of children abused by their fathers, have taken an historical beating in the clinical literature. Mothers were long assumed to contribute to the initiation of the abuse and to collude in ongoing incest by not reporting the abuse and by maintaining dynamics in the family that would support the incest (Alexander, 1985; Frude, 1982). After analyzing this historical literature, various authors have categorized early hypotheses concerning mothers (Breckenridge & Baldry, 1997; Jacobs, 1990; McIntyre, 198 1 ; Wattenberg, 1985). Groupings of hypotheses by these authors are similar and generally emphasize the mother as colluding in the incest, as withdrawing from her roles as mother and wife, as having personality defects, and as a victim herself. Collusion and withdrawal of the mother: Literature that viewed the mother as colluding in father-daughter incest developed from early studies (1950 to 1980) done mostly by male physicians (Wattenberg, 1985). In this theory the mother was said to "derive unconscious pleasure from the sexual interaction [of the father and daughter] through the voyeuristic role she assumes" (Jacobs, 1990, p. 502). Often the assumption that the mother colluded was used in tandem with clinical literature in which the daughter was described as seducing her father (Frude, 1982) or in conjunction with the role reversal hypothesis, which stated that the mother relinquished her roles as mother and wife (Cohen, 1983). The mother was said to reject her role as a wife because of her inability to tolerate intimacy and ambivalence about her sexuality (James & MacKinnon, 1990). As a result, the mother was theorized to either consciously or unconsciously reject her own role in the family, instead promoting her oldest daughter into the role of fulfilling the physical, emotional, and sexual needs of the husband. By abandoning her role, the mother was then assumed to force the father into a position of having to seek the fulfillment of his sexual needs through his daughter (Cohen, 1983; Frude, 1982). Those mothers who tried to escape the enormous responsibilities in their home by taking care of themselves were viewed as deviants from a cultural norm of servicing everyone else's needs before their own. In what McIntyre (1981, p. 463), in an analysis of this literature labeled a "flight of responsibility," mothers who were unable or unwilling to satisfy their husbands sexually were labeled frigid or hostile. A striking paradox of this literature, however, was the definition of dysfunctional sexuality. Although the mother's alleged lack of interest in the sexual relationship was considered dysfunctional in early papers, the father’s need for aberrant sex with children was considered functional and normal (James & MacKinnon, 1990). This concept of collusion is also found in more recent work, but with slight alterations. Greenspun (1994) believes that “the collusive marital pattern” (p. 7) contributes to the family’s vulnerability to incest. These “abuse-prone” (p. 7) families have a parentified child (the future victim) who was identified even “at an early age as being quite mature and capable” (p. 7). The introduction of any unusual or prolonged stress disrupts the marital relationship, at which time “the daughter is placed, both consciously and unconsciously into the wife’s role” (p. 8). Thus, the “mother who encourages incest, passively or actively, strives toward achieving her own personal and ultimate goal of superiority” (Tinling, 1990, p. 295). Siblings may also collude in ongoing abuse by “unconsciously sacrificing their sister in order to protect themselves and keep their father happy” (p. 8). Here the assumption is that both mother and siblings at some level recognize the ongoing abuse. The concept of the “incestuous family” also continues in recent literature, a term that connotes a mother who, at the least, contributes to the abuse (Haugaard & Samwel, 1992; Hudson, 1996). Personality defects: Alternately, mothers are conceptualized as weak, helpless, powerless, needy, and dependent upon their husbands to fulfill their great emotional needs (Abbott, 1995; Cohen, 1983). Zuelzer and Reposa (1983) suggested that “incestuous mothers’’ function at a “pregenital level” and “go to any length to satisfy their needs for affection, attention and support, even if at the cost of their own children” (p. 101). By labeling these mothers incestuous, Zuelzer and Reposa also elevate them to the level of an offender. The wives’ dependence on their husbands then contributes to marital strain as well as to their inability to protect their daughters. It is interesting that the previous hypothesis of the withdrawal of the mother elevates her into a position of power, whereas this theory disempowers her. Theory of mother as victim: The final conceptualization of mothers presented in the early clinical literature is one in which the mother is also considered a victim. Her own childhood sexual victimization is said to contribute to an atmosphere of denial and repression of the realities of both her family's dysfunction and her child’s victimization (Jacobs, 1990). To recognize her child’s victimization is also to recognize her own. Ignoring the plight of her child, she chooses instead to remain in the relationship with her husband (Frude, 1982). In summary, mothers of victims of incest perpetrated by fathers were traditionally conceptualized as women who colluded either knowingly or unknowingly, obtaining vicarious pleasure from the abuse. By abdicating their roles as mother and wife, they placed their oldest daughters in those positions. Because of their own history of childhood sexual abuse or because they were weak and powerless women with great dependency needs, they were unable to protect their children from further abuse. Those mothers who did avoid the enormous responsibilities placed upon them by their families and who attempted to take care of themselves were considered deviant.

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