Information for Partners
When a child is sexually abused, the abuser is usually someone the child loves and trusts. The abuse betrays that trust and denies the child the opportunity of being loved and valued unconditionally. She may feel disgraced or dirtied by what was done to her, and may think that it was something about her that caused her to be abused. (The abuser will often blame the child in order to avoid taking responsibility for his own criminal behaviour.) The child learns to believe that she doesn’t deserve to be treated with care and respect. Because the abuse produces such a confusing range of emotions, the child may learn to block out her emotions, or learn that they are not to be trusted.
As an adult she may:
- find it difficult to trust or be close to anyone
- cling to people, seeking the love and approval she was denied as a child
- put other people’s needs first because she feels that she does not deserve to have her needs considered
- have difficulty identifying or expressing feelings
You can support her by:
- demonstrating that you can be trusted – making offers or commitments that you are sure you can keep
- asking her what her needs are and how you can help to meet them – supporting her in putting herself first
- respecting her privacy
When a child is sexually abused by an adult, sexual acts are used in a way that makes her feel powerless, humiliated, frightened and betrayed. She has no control over what is happening, no choice in what is done to her body. An adult’s sexual agenda has been imposed upon her and as a result, she is denied the opportunity to develop and explore her own sexuality at a natural pace. She may learn to “switch off” and go numb during the abuse. Being abused may be the only time when she receives any attention. She may learn to believe that her only value is sexual.
As an adult she may:
- seek sex to get needs for affection and tenderness met
- avoid sex
- appear to function sexually, while actually being numb during the experience
- experience flashbacks of the abuse during sex – feeling like it’s happening all over again
You can support her by:
- letting her control sexual interactions – only doing what she feels safe and comfortable with
- letting her know that it’s OK to say “no” to you – that her value to you is more than sexual
- offering her non-sexual forms of intimacy – talking, shared activities, holding hands, hugs, backrubs etc.
Control is the central feature of the sexual abuse of children. Children are extremely vulnerable and powerless people who are highly reliant on adults – they are taught to trust and obey the adults in their lives. Adults can use their position of power to act out their own inadequacies by abusing someone over whom it is very easy to have control. The child experiences having no control over her body and her life, as well as feeling guilty and responsible for abuse which she was powerless to stop.
Regaining a sense of control and personal power in her life is essential in healing from childhood sexual abuse.
Men in western society are taught to expect that they are in control, that they should take the lead in relationships. Because you care about your partner, and are aware that the effects of the abuse are painful for her, you may be tempted to make decisions for her – like telling her to just forget about it, or taking her to a psychiatrist because you are worried about her. However, all this does is reinforce her feelings of lack of control in her life. No matter how much you care, she is the only one who knows what her needs are.
The most important thing that you can give your partner is support in making her own choices. You can help her by letting her know what you are able to offer her, what other resources (such as counselling services) are available, and being open to her discussing her options with you.
(The only exception to this is if she is putting her life at risk.)
What is Child Sexual Abuse?
The sexual abuse of children is far more common than most people realise. At least 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 9 boys are abused in childhood. In most cases the abuser is someone known and trusted by the child, and is usually male. Fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers are the most common. Abusers are apparently ordinary men who are found across the full range of cultural, socio-economic and geographic groups. The abuse could range from sexual suggestions through to violent rape. It may only happen once, but it is more likely to be a frequent occurrence over an extended period of time.
The most significant and damaging characteristics of child sexual abuse are:
- the misuse of power
- the betrayal of a child’s trust and affection
- the denial of a child’s right to feel safe and valued
- the violation of a child’s personal boundaries and sense of self
Sexual Abuse is a Crime - the Victim is Not to Blame
The abuser knows that what he is doing is wrong, so he attempts to avoid detection. This often includes making the child feel responsible for what he is doing to her, or making threats about what will happen if she tells anyone. The child is kept silent through fear and shame, and the thought that no one would believe her if she told. Unfortunately, when children do tell they are often not believed or supported.
Even as adults, it can be very difficult for survivors to talk about what happened. They often fear being blamed or disbelieved, and it can take great courage to break the silence.
An adult who has experienced childhood sexual abuse has lived through a traumatic experience which can have severe and lasting effects.
She is also a strong, resourceful and courageous person who has survived and coped in whatever ways have been available to her. She deserves support in her attempts to resolve the effects of abuse in her life and develop more positive coping strategies.
- Believe the survivor
- Listen to her
- Recognise the harm that was done to her
- Validate her feelings – pain, fear and anger are natural reactions
- Respect the time and space it takes to heal
- Ask her what she needs from you
- Help out in practical ways
- Respect her strength as a survivor
- Encourage her to get support
- Seek support for yourself (with her permission)
- Seek help if she is suicidal
- Ignore it
- Take charge
- Blame her
- Sympathise with the abuser
- Press for details of the abuse
- Offer support you can’t provide
- Expect her to support you if you have trouble coping with her pain
To access further information, you can also download and view the fact sheet below:
Has Your Partner Hurt You?
It is very hard when a person you may love hurts or abuses you. It is hard to understand why he chooses to hurt you. It can be hard to explain to your family and friends that you may still love him even though he abuses you.
Sometimes, because of the hurt that you’ve gone through, all of your positive feelings and love for him may have gone. However, you may still find it hard to leave for reasons like fear, the children and money. You may be worried about the effect your partner’s behaviour is having on your children and feel helpless to change what he’s doing.
Domestic violence is very much a hidden crime and most is not reported. It is often very hard for women when it is happening to them. Many women feel ashamed that they are a victim of abuse and that they have put up with it for so long.
Abusive partners use psychological abuse to make you feel like less of a person. They may tell you things like you’re useless, stupid, lazy or ugly and that no-one else would ever want you.
Domestic violence also includes hitting, threatening to hit, forcing you to have sex when you don’t want to, not giving you any money for your own personal expenses and isolating you from your family and friends.
Why Does The Violence and Abuse Happen?
Most couples in intimate relationships disagree about things. Disagreements are a part of normal, healthy relationships. In healthy relationships, both partners treat each other as equals; they compromise to find solutions to their problems.
Most women who experience abuse live in fear of their partner because domestic violence is about power and control. It’s a problem if one partner feels so threatened or scared that their partner will physically hurt or abuse them that they won’t argue back or give their opinion. When this happens, the balance of power is no longer equal.
There is no valid excuse for violence. Alcohol and other drugs are often blamed for a man’s violent behaviour – this is wrong. Some women may use their partner’s alcohol or drug use to rationalise or excuse his abusive behaviour. Their partner may also use it as an excuse to justify his violence.
It is hard to accept that someone you have loved and trusted can behave so aggressively towards you. Because you can’t explain your partner’s behaviour, you may begin to think you are to blame.
You are not to blame
He is responsible for his own behaviour and he is the only one who can change it.
Will the Violence and Abuse Keep Happening?
The simple answer is yes, unless your partner accepts responsibility for his behaviour and gets help to change. Generally speaking, your partner will not stop being abusive just because you want him to. If you don’t think he will take responsibility and change his attitudes and behaviour, you will find yourself in the difficult position of having to decide whether to keep living with the abuse.
Only you can judge your situation. You can’t change your partner – he has to get the help himself. The Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline provides men with an opportunity to call to receive help. They can speak to a trained professional who will provide them with alternatives to their abusive behaviour.
If your partner doesn’t decide to change his behaviour, you may decide to leave. This can be a very hard decision for women to make, however, support and help to do this is available. It is important to have strategies for leaving, to ensure you and your children’s safety and wellbeing.
What Can You Do?
To prepare yourself for a time when you or others are at risk of danger, there are a list of safety strategies available:
General Safety Strategies
- Plan an escape route
- Have a bag packed with important documents. Alternatively, you could leave a bag with a trusted friend or family member.
- Devise a code with the neighbours so they know to call police (i.e. switch lights on and off, pull blinds up and down, code words).
- Devise a code word with other members of the family living in the house so they know to leave or to seek help.
- Plan where you will go when you leave the house.
- Consider installing an alarm system so you can push the emergency button if able.
- Consider opening a separate savings account in your name, to increase your independence and so you will have access to money when you leave.
- Know the Domestic Violence hotline number and other emergency numbers.
- Keep spare change or a prepaid call card for telephone calls should you not have access to a mobile. You may also choose not to use the mobile if your ex/partner will have access to the telephone bills.
- Review your safety plan frequently and practice with children in your care when appropriate.
- Keep any evidence of physical abuse such as photographic pictures. Keep a diary of violent incidents including dates, times and what occurred.
- If injured, seek medical assistance and ensure the Doctor documents your visit.
- Have the police emergency number listed in you mobile phone, possibly under a ‘code name’, so that it is the first number on your contact list or in your speed dial numbers
Seeking Professional Help
It is important that you receive accurate information and help from people experienced in the area of domestic violence. There is help and support out there for you and your children. You may want to ask a close friend or relative to go with you when you get help. There is a list of key agencies and contacts that can help you.
Key Agencies and Contacts
IF YOU THINK YOU COULD BE IN DANGER CALL THE POLICE
In an emergency: 000
For police attendance or assistance: 444
Crisis Care (24 hours): (08) 9223 1111 or free call 1800 199 008
Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 007 339
The following organisations have offices and services across the State.
Centrecare: (08) 9325 6644
Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277
Kinway (Anglicare WA): (08) 9263 2050 or STD free call 1800 812 511
Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services: (08) 9420 7264
Aboriginal Legal Service: (08) 9265 6666 or free call 1800 019 900
Central Law Courts Family Violence Service: (08) 9425 2459
Family Court Counselling Service: (08) 9224 8248
Legal Aid: 1300 650 579
Women’s Law Centre: (08) 9272 8800 or 1800 625 122
OTHER AGENCIES THAT MAY BE USEFUL
Translating and Interpreting Services: (TIS) 131 450
Multicultural Women’s Advocacy Service: (08) 9227 8122
Centrelink: 131 794
Department for Child Protection: (08) 9222 2555
or STD free call: 1800 622 258 for district office contacts.
For further information about domestic violence and safety strategies, please click on the fact sheets below: