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Confronting Child Sexual Abuse

Carolyn Woodruff

In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, today I’m posting an excerpt from Ask Carolyn 2 that addresses one survivor’s struggle with the secrecy of childhood sexual abuse and her search for closure.

Dear Carolyn,

I am now 32, and my sister is 35. We were both molested by our stepfather. Our mother “knew,” but for whatever reason selected to ignore this. My stepfather is now deceased, and he took his ugly secret to his grave.  This stepfather has other children, all older than my sister and me. I would like closure regarding this horrific secret. I am thinking I would like to confront my mother about allowing this to happen and expose the b…….d to his other children. What do I do?

– Molested

Dear Molested,

What a tragic story of domestic violence and criminal activity! The first role of a parent is to provide safety for the child, and neither your mother nor the stepfather offered protection.

Your first concern should be for yourself and your mental health. You need counseling by a counselor skilled in dealing with victims of child molestation. Perhaps your sister and you could do some joint counseling since you share this issue. You can provide comfort to each other and healing for each other.

Your mother for some reason could not provide safety. While there may be many reasons, a common one is that she is part of a “cycle of abuse,” and in other words, she may have been a victim of molestation herself. She may have a crack in her “reality” that prevents her from dealing with molestation. Discuss with the counselor how you can make sure that you do not continue the “cycle of abuse.” Depending on what your therapist says, you may at some point include your mother in counseling, but don’t be surprised if she remains in denial.

Should you tell the children of your stepfather? Again, this is a topic for your counselor. If you tell them, be prepared for them to call you a liar as that is the most likely result of the disclosure to them. They probably are not going to believe you.

A word about pedophilia: Pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder first recognized in the nineteenth century, but one that has probably existed since the beginning of the human race. Pedophilia is the sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Pedophiles frequently are rabid consumers of child pornography. Detecting the use of child porn should be a big red flag. Most dangerous is the subpart of pedophilia known as infant philia, where the pedophile is sexually attracted to children ages 0 to 3 (but perhaps as old as 5). These children have little chance of reporting because of tender age. If they do report, they are ignored as unreliable.

Parents, it is highly important for you to do know everything about anyone caring for your children.

Good luck on your recovery!

National Sexual Assault Hotline – 800.656.HOPE (4673)

Have a family law question? Ask Carolyn!

Send your questions to Ask Carolyn through social media, by email at, or mail them to P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC 27427. Please do not put identifying information in your questions.

Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation.  The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your unique case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn.”

This blog is a revised excerpt from Ask Carolyn 2, available on kindle. 

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