It is not uncommon for a woman or child to reveal that many different perpetrators have sexually abused them throughout their life. There are neuropsychological and cognitive theories to explain why this happens. This does not mean that these theories are correct; it is just a way to help us understand how it is possible for one good person to attract so many bad things. What really gets me angered is when I hear people comment that the child or woman must be lying; that it is impossible for anybody to be sexually abused that many times. It is possible, it happens all the time, and it is NOT the fault of the victim.
This is basically how the theory goes. When a child of three is first sexually abused, she reacts as a three year old would. She has no idea what is happening, cannot process the information and doesn’t know she’s allowed to tell anyone about this yucky stuff. The neural messages in her brain fire off and tell her what to do – nothing, stay still, quiet, don’t tell Mommy because Mommy may get angry.
At age three, this poor little mite has been traumatically sexualized. Because our bodies are made to have sex, her body has been prepared to begin being sexual. This is a physiological reaction and until the three year old learns how to manage her physiological changes, she may begin to act sexually because she has been sexualized.
Predators recognize these very subtle sexualized behaviors. In a predators mind, the child is giving the come-on, I’m available and I want you. The different predator zeros in and abuses the child. The child is now, say six, and because she already has a neural pathway formed in her brain that tells her how to react, she does the same as she did when she was three. Then she’s abused again, by a different predator, when she is ten. The same thing happens. The neurons follow the set pathway and she responds as she did when she was three. Each time the neurons fire and she responds as a three year old, the neural pathway is strengthened and guarantees similar responses for future.
This theory supports why a 35-year-old woman may act like a seven year old when she is abused. Once a child has been traumatically sexualized, it is very difficult for them to change their behavioral responses until they are retaught what to do, what to say, and when to act. The reason parents bring children to therapy immediately following an assault is often so that the child can relearn new ways of responding in future. Often children will present as unaffected after a sexual assault but please do not forget the retraining that they may need to learn.
Protective Behaviors and Personal Safety are taught to children in the hope that we reach them prior to a sexual assault. By learning what to do, that sexual abuse is wrong and is the responsibility of the perpetrator, the child has the best chance of protecting themselves from a life of confusion and ongoing perpetrations.
If you know a person who has had bad things happen to them again and again, it could be because of an early trauma and the strength of those neural pathways. Don’t blame or accuse them. Help them to relearn different ways of responding and protecting themselves against any more harm.
My FAVORITE child focused article of the day: Teaching Your Children to Use a Grocery Budget by Miriam Caldwell