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  #1  
Old 12-22-2008, 12:37 PM
Freudian Slit Freudian Slit is offline
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Dave Pelzer (Author of A Child Called It) -- Fraud?

In another thread on parents who hate their kids, Dave Pelzer was alluded to. Based on other articles I've read (this one in Slate and this in NYTimes) , he comes off as something of a charlatan.

Obviously, it seems like something happened--he was removed from his home eventually, but is it also likely that he was exaggerating a lot of what happened to him? His claims of being a Pulitzer nominee, his buying up in bulk his books and selling them off, his family member's comments about him....something seems a bit off.

Or maybe the thing that creeps me out the most is just the fact that he embraces being a professional victim. His books, from what I've heard, aren't even well written, more like a litany of horrible things. His whole shtick is talking about how horrible life was for him. But there doesn't seem to be anything to get out of it, unlike with say, someone who's actually a good writer. I know I'd rather read about someone who had a much less abusive past but was able to write about it more skillfully. With him, it's just, "Look, my mom made me eat feces, she made me vomit, etc." What's the point of publishing this?

But anyway--is there more evidence that he's been playing a lot of this up to sell more books?

Last edited by tomndebb; 07-29-2011 at 09:15 PM.. Reason: This thread is a revivified ZOMBIE from 2008 that was resurrected by a poster who says s/he will not continue to participate.
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  #2  
Old 12-22-2008, 01:05 PM
Omega Glory Omega Glory is offline
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FWIW, his brother Richard has also written a book. According to the description, he helped abuse Dave, then was abused himself after Dave went to foster care.

He came to my middle school back in the mid 90s. I didn't know his story had been called into question.
  #3  
Old 12-24-2008, 07:45 AM
FriarTed FriarTed is offline
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I've just never understood why those books are so popular. Who the hell wants to read about that?

*says the man who has a collection of serial killer books*
  #4  
Old 12-24-2008, 08:14 AM
Napier Napier is offline
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Friends in social work circles who have read his books, attended his talks, and met him seem to accept his story as true, and refer to changes in the legal system (in California at least) that are at least partly due to his case and the attention it received.

I've read his three books (well, the three I know of) starting with Child Called It. I actually admire his writing style, specifically because it is not very smooth and artful and professional. I'd group him in with Ayn Rand, in this sense: he has a message to put out there, and his writing style is clear and simple and readable enough to do that, even if it isn't good writing by any literary standards. In fact his writing has a guileless quality to it that is well suited to his message.

He does seem to have said, though, the things he had to say. The It book was very powerful, the next book less so, and the third even less than that. Some say everybody has one good book in them - that must be an oversimplification, but his very unusual story seems to have been motivation enough to get the first book written. Whether he can continue to produce once the big story has been told is doubtful to me.

As far as who would want to read about these things, well, it depends. Some of us feel compelled for a variety of reasons to try to understand even the most horrible of child abuse.
  #5  
Old 12-24-2008, 10:44 AM
Elenfair Elenfair is offline
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There's always been something odd about Pelzer. Some of his stuff rings true, and because of him some changes have been made in CA's handling of child abuse cases. This is a good thing (tm). There are also seriously fishy things about his story, his recall, and his handling of... business.

I say this as a writer and someone who has recovered, for the most part, from PTSD. If someone were to dig juuuust a little deeper into Pelzer's past, I think we'd find some interesting facts and details.
  #6  
Old 12-24-2008, 10:58 PM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
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I haven't read Mr. Pelzer's books.

When I was in college, though, I was reading a book by a psychologist who had done a series of interviews with convicted child molesters. There was a decent amount of similarity between the lives of all of the men, but one of them was just darn fishy.

This one guy, talking about his childhood, would talk about how he had been at a gas station and while his dad's car was being filled, a man had abducted him, taken him into an alley, and sexually abused him. At some other point in his childhood, he had been in McDonalds and went to the restroom. While in there, a man had locked the door and sexually abused him. At yet some other point in time, a friend of the family had come over and, while everyone else was away, had used him sexually, and when he had told his family about it, he had been punished for it. Etc.

While I wouldn't be surprised that the man had been sexually abused as a child, the sheer improbability that random strangers would all pick the same child to molest makes it seem pretty likely that the guy either was making up a story for the psychologist, or that he had created a fairly elaborate series of stories for himself.

So I'd say that if it seems to be just too much, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if a significant portion of it was added on top of what really happened. But I also wouldn't be surprised if even Mr. Pelzer believes it to have all happened. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if in one-to-one interview that you could get him to admit that particular things might not have physically happened but that he "feared or expected such things and it makes no difference."
  #7  
Old 12-25-2008, 02:10 AM
Ensign Edison Ensign Edison is offline
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It's not all that unusual. Abusers learn to spot good victims and kids who have been abused tend to be easier to abuse again.
  #8  
Old 12-25-2008, 02:18 AM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
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Originally Posted by Ensign Edison View Post
It's not all that unusual. Abusers learn to spot good victims and kids who have been abused tend to be easier to abuse again.
I did consider that theory as I was reading it. But these were (mostly) random snatchings, over and over. Regardless of how strong a predatory molesters spidey-sense for a safe victim might be, I'd think it unlikely to find four or five all with the same strength spidey sense.

True, they could have been sharing the kids name and address or somesuch, but this seems to imply a lot more organization than seems reasonable.
  #9  
Old 12-25-2008, 02:22 AM
Ensign Edison Ensign Edison is offline
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"Snatching" is sort of an exaggeration in both cases. You say "abducted" but it sounds like he got molested in an alley and bathroom, neither of which are unusual settings for such events. What's rare is full-on abduction and rape. And the third case was a family friend, which is certainly not unusual. Nothing about the story seems highly unlikely to me, though he may have played up how serious the stranger encounters were.
  #10  
Old 12-25-2008, 02:27 AM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
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I was making up example encounters. The three I mentioned were "something like this" sort of things. I do believe that there were more than three events, but the general pattern was that he (as a child) would be picked up and carried off to some private place, forced to suck the abductor off, and then be returned to where he had been in a short enough time for his parents to have not noticed.
  #11  
Old 12-25-2008, 10:16 AM
Maastricht Maastricht is online now
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Sage Rat, a friend of mine, A, was abused when she was eight by a fifteen year old boy. He lured her into a wooded area by asking her to "help find his kitty cat". He kept her there by force, fondled her, tried to put stuff up her vagina, and tried to have intercourse but failed.
A was at the time staying with an aunt, and when she told the aunt, aunt reacted badly. Probably out a feeling of guilt for not having paid well enough attention to a child entrusted to her by her sister. This was in the seventies by the way, when kids were allowed to roam free around the neighborhood all day). Anyway, A's aunt alternated between panicking, overreacting, and calling A into doubt. A was dragged to a police station, asked "if she was raped" and because she hardly knew what that meant, said yes. When a doctor examined her later that same day, he found her maidenhood still intact, and called her a liar. Aunt reacted relieved, and A's pleas that something bad had happened to her were ignored. Aunt didn't want to talk about it anymore, acting disgusted with A, and she even refused to tell A's mother about it when she came back to pick up her daughter. Ashamed to be called a liar, and feeling guilty and dirty, A. kept shut about it.
The whole thing was so traumatic for A, that about seven years later, she made up a second rape attempt (she told me about this when sie was in her thirties). Like your example, her story told of a stranger grabbing her into an allyway. This time, she knew the facts of life, so she could get her story "straight" and geared for maximum sympathy. In a way, she wanted the sympathy and reassurement she was denied the first time.

What E.E. said also rings true in A's case. I have been with her, just walking down a busy street or drinking a coke on a terrace, when some creep came up to her and grabbed her. Never me, and we are about as attractive. I dn't giove off the sighns of an easy prey; she did.
  #12  
Old 12-25-2008, 11:49 AM
Freudian Slit Freudian Slit is offline
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Originally Posted by Maastricht View Post
What E.E. said also rings true in A's case. I have been with her, just walking down a busy street or drinking a coke on a terrace, when some creep came up to her and grabbed her. Never me, and we are about as attractive. I dn't giove off the sighns of an easy prey; she did.
It happens on a regular basis to her?

Also, what *are* the signs of easy prey? Body language--walking hunched over? It would seem really unusual for anyone, period, to get assaulted with another person, one would think. But that is really unfortunate. I hope your friend is coping with all the bad stuff that's happened to her.
  #13  
Old 12-25-2008, 12:30 PM
Maastricht Maastricht is online now
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Originally Posted by Freudian Slit View Post
It happens on a regular basis to her?

Also, what *are* the signs of easy prey? Body language--walking hunched over?
Not regularly, no; but I have known her since we both were fifteen years old, and it happened in my presence about twice. The weird thing was the determination of it. She and I are walking down a street, talking, normally dressed. We pass a group of boys. One of the boys walks away from his group, closes in on her, and starts walking right next to her, nudging her, shouldering her. All without a word, all within thirty seconds. Again without a word, I push myself between them, like I'm a lesbian and he's imposing on my girlfriend. Boy drops back. Not a word spoken. So strange!

As for the victim vibe: A and I discussed that aften in the past. We couldn't really figure it out. She isn't strong physically, that is our best guess. Also, she is way too polite. A doormat, in a way, one that squaks too softly .
People impose on her on a regular basis, because she's too subtle to tell them off. I'm talking about non-sexual stuff too, like neighbours coming over and chatting for hours, ignoring her subtle signals of "please go away, I have other stuf to do".
  #14  
Old 12-25-2008, 11:36 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is offline
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Originally Posted by Sage Rat View Post
When I was in college, though, I was reading a book by a psychologist who had done a series of interviews with convicted child molesters. There was a decent amount of similarity between the lives of all of the men, but one of them was just darn fishy.

This one guy, talking about his childhood, would talk about how he had been at a gas station and while his dad's car was being filled, a man had abducted him, taken him into an alley, and sexually abused him. At some other point in his childhood, he had been in McDonalds and went to the restroom. While in there, a man had locked the door and sexually abused him. At yet some other point in time, a friend of the family had come over and, while everyone else was away, had used him sexually, and when he had told his family about it, he had been punished for it. Etc.

While I wouldn't be surprised that the man had been sexually abused as a child, the sheer improbability that random strangers would all pick the same child to molest makes it seem pretty likely that the guy either was making up a story for the psychologist, or that he had created a fairly elaborate series of stories for himself.
Either that or his mom bought all his clothes at Target.
  #15  
Old 12-25-2008, 11:59 PM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
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Originally Posted by Freudian Slit View Post
Also, what *are* the signs of easy prey? Body language--walking hunched over? It would seem really unusual for anyone, period, to get assaulted with another person, one would think. But that is really unfortunate. I hope your friend is coping with all the bad stuff that's happened to her.
What constitutes the signs of easy prey is hard to quantify, but it certainly exists.

Probably the traits you would be looking for are:

1) Meekness
2) Trustingness
3) Unintelligence

But how you tell those about someone at a glance, who can really say. But certainly we're adapted to be able to read our fellow humans well enough to be able to pick these traits out at varying levels of ability.

You might ask our resident BDSMers about it, as being able to pick out the sub in a lineup is something useful.
  #16  
Old 12-26-2008, 06:30 PM
vison vison is offline
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When I was a teen, I had a friend who was very promiscuous. This was in the late 1950's when girls were supposed to be virgins at marriage, and she had "a bad reputation". But we were friends, had been since we were 5 years old, (still are) and I continued to chum around with her even though my folks didn't like it. The odd thing was, if we were out together, at a movie or something, men would hit on her and never even glance at me. I was much prettier than her, to be honest, and so it wasn't her looks. She did not dress provocatively or "act sexy", but she gave off some kind of signal. Years ago I asked my husband if he knew what I meant and he laughed and said yes, he knew, that she just emanated sex and most guys picked up on it. She was "dating" 30 year old men when she was 15 - needless to say she had a tough life and a lot of bad things happened to her. She never became a prostitute, though everyone figured she would. In fact, she is now a respectable, prim old lady. When I see her now I have to give myself a mental shake and ask myself if my memories are made up. But they aren't.

Why she was like that I can't say for sure, but one thing I wonder about: she and her brother had sex together from the time she was about 5 or 6 until she was 12 or 13. He was 3 years older than her, and of course it did not begin as intercourse, although it ended up that way. She told me about it, but in my ignorance I didn't really know what she meant, I do remember that she never implied that he "made her do it." She never seemed angry or upset, but I do remember it seemed awfully important to her. Was that the reason?

What all this palaver is leading up to is that the the incest would be called "sexual abuse" now, and her brother would be the abuser. I've never been so sure about that. But the sexualization of a child was real enough, real enough that she became a kind of sexual magnet for much of her adult life.

Maybe that's what happens to all children who are sexually used. As for the guy who says he was sort of randomly abused by strangers, I wonder if it wasn't his father or some other close relative instead?

As for children whose parents don't love them. I know a man, now in his 40's, who claims his parents, particularly his father, didn't love him. He does not say he was abused. I've known him pretty well all his life, have known his mother for 30 years. That she loves him I am certain - but that he is incapable of seeing it is another certainty. For whatever reason, whether he was born that way, whether it was years of drug abuse, whether he's a whining jerk (which is honestly what I think he is), whether some people are just "needier" I don't know. His need for love and approval is endless, he seems to me to be about 3 years old emotionally. I don't know, of course, what "really" went on in their house, but I have known the family for so long and can remember what he was like a kid. His recollection of events that I was involved in are so different from mine that one of us HAS to be wrong. It's not just insignificant details, it is much more. His memories are of being completely neglected and ignored, of things as simple as his mother not making him breakfast - and yet, she did. She always did. What this all means, I do not know.

There are bad parents, I know. There are parents who are cruel and neglectful. But there are children who are bottomless pits of need and misery - and why that is, I would like to know. The man I am talking about could write a book (if he could write a book) about his horrible childhood and it would be, essentially, all lies, except that it is what he remembers.
  #17  
Old 12-27-2008, 03:02 AM
valleyofthedolls valleyofthedolls is offline
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Originally Posted by FriarTed View Post
I've just never understood why those books are so popular. Who the hell wants to read about that?

*says the man who has a collection of serial killer books*
I think these are some interesting articles on the "misery lit" trend.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/20...ices.biography

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/6563529.stm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008....lifeandhealth

If you google you can find more. The self-improvement and biography sections of a lot of bookstores are packed with books like this. And they sell very well.

IMHO, I do think people get off from reading these kinds of books.

For some, it's a chance to get on their moral high horse. For others, a chance to realize that their lives aren't so bad in comparison to others.

I think a lot of people also derive some sort of weird pleasure from reading about suffering kids.

Take a book like We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Familes by Philip Gourevitch.

It's about the Rwandan Massacre (and the basis for the movie Hotel Rwanda).
The book is a litany of horrors. It is also, at least as far as I can see, impeccably researched and well-written .

It ranks # 3309 in sales on Amazon.

Then compare it to A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

This book is about Beah's experience as boy soldier in Sierra Leone and his eventual reform. It too is a litany of horrors. I've read a few passages and don't find it terribly well-written and much like Pelzer, Beah's truthfulness has been called into question.

It ranks # 691 in sales on Amazon.

There could be a lot of reasons for the sales difference. The Gourevitch book is older, for one. Marketing, publicity and reviews can also account for it. I'm sure there are other factors, as well that come into play.

That said, from a layman's point of view (me) and without any scientific and professional research, knowledge, cites, studies and/or opinions, I think the sales difference comes into play because Gourevitch's book deals with adult (although children are featured prominently in the book) misery while Beah's book deals with the miseries of a child.

I don't think it's a new trend either. There's always been some sort of fascination with children and the dangers they might face. Fairy tales are full of that kind of thing, Salem, although primarily a property war, is another, satanic panic (McMartin trial for ex.) is another.

Stanley Cohen has a good book called Folk Devils and Moral Panics. Again, from a layman's point of view, I think the kinds of things that feed the panics Cohen describes also drives people to purchase misery lit.

I doubt anyone would ever admit to deriving pleasure from reading Pelzer's account so actually understanding what those impulses are and why people have them is an entirely different ball of wax.
  #18  
Old 12-27-2008, 11:50 AM
susan susan is offline
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I think that people like to read "a true story, as told by himself." It is a form of testimony.

The positive aspect of "misery lit" is that it sparks conversations and increases knowledge about things that do happen (such as child abuse and genocide) that many people otherwise would not believe.

As an example, in contemporary Cambodia there is very little discussion of the Khmer Rouge period and the genocide, either in families or at a cultural level. It doesn't appear in their textbooks, and many of the first-person narratives are not available in their language. The generation born after the genocide are now adults, and many simply do not believe that their parents' generation had a civil war that killed 2,000,000 Cambodians in a couple of years.

Last edited by susan; 12-27-2008 at 11:52 AM..
  #19  
Old 12-27-2008, 12:28 PM
vison vison is offline
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I think that people like to read "a true story, as told by himself." It is a form of testimony.

The positive aspect of "misery lit" is that it sparks conversations and increases knowledge about things that do happen (such as child abuse and genocide) that many people otherwise would not believe.

As an example, in contemporary Cambodia there is very little discussion of the Khmer Rouge period and the genocide, either in families or at a cultural level. It doesn't appear in their textbooks, and many of the first-person narratives are not available in their language. The generation born after the genocide are now adults, and many simply do not believe that their parents' generation had a civil war that killed 2,000,000 Cambodians in a couple of years.
I think that is inexpressibly sad. That kind of collective or selective amnesia is dangerous, as well.
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Old 12-29-2008, 10:31 AM
Freudian Slit Freudian Slit is offline
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When I was a teen, I had a friend who was very promiscuous. This was in the late 1950's when girls were supposed to be virgins at marriage, and she had "a bad reputation". But we were friends, had been since we were 5 years old, (still are) and I continued to chum around with her even though my folks didn't like it. The odd thing was, if we were out together, at a movie or something, men would hit on her and never even glance at me. I was much prettier than her, to be honest, and so it wasn't her looks. She did not dress provocatively or "act sexy", but she gave off some kind of signal. Years ago I asked my husband if he knew what I meant and he laughed and said yes, he knew, that she just emanated sex and most guys picked up on it. She was "dating" 30 year old men when she was 15 - needless to say she had a tough life and a lot of bad things happened to her. She never became a prostitute, though everyone figured she would. In fact, she is now a respectable, prim old lady. When I see her now I have to give myself a mental shake and ask myself if my memories are made up. But they aren't.
Stories like this, and Maastricht's, are really interesting to me. It just makes me wonder--how does someone "emanate sex"? Or victimhood. I mean, I'm pretty submissive when it comes to sex in the bedroom, and I'm a really small person (i.e., not physically imposing), plus I've done a lot of wild things sexually with people I don't know well, but other than maybe one time, I've only had one really bad sexual experience like these mentioned in the thread. I've been hit on in ways that are creepy, but people have always backed off when I made it clear I'm not interested. Did your husband say what it was about her that was emanating sex?

ETA: I also don't really get the whole victim misery lit thing, mainly because in a lot of them, it seems to be less about good writing than about topping the misery/confessional aspect of it. I'd rather read about someone who didn't go through something that bad, but can make it entertaining. Shalom Auslander's "Foreskin's Lament" is about how growing up in a super orthodox Jewish community really screwed with him, but it's good not because horrible things happened to him (not that he was actually abused, more like just grew up neurotic), but because he's hilarious and an awesome writer. If Dave Pelzer could write half as well as that, I'd read him.

Last edited by Freudian Slit; 12-29-2008 at 10:33 AM..
  #21  
Old 12-29-2008, 01:03 PM
Small Hen Small Hen is offline
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ETA: I also don't really get the whole victim misery lit thing, mainly because in a lot of them, it seems to be less about good writing than about topping the misery/confessional aspect of it.

Lousy authors do this all the time - if it can't be good, it will at least be sensational. But even if it sucks, there is an appeal to watching characters go through horrible experiences. First of all, it acts as a kind of emotional porn – that is, it’s base and simple and activates the reader’s emotions without much intellectual investment. Second, take a likable character and make him a victim – you now have a loveable character. Readers will line up around the block for their chance to cuddle and comfort the protagonist.

It’s a trick used a lot in fanfiction, where 98% of the writers are too amateurish to write a complex or thought provoking story. Instead, they take already likeable characters and kidnap them, burn them, shoot them, rape them, molest them, sell them into slavery, addict them, depress them, and make them the victim in a dozen ways. Then they have another character pull them out of it. Then there’s usually sex.

Another group of writers who likes to do this – Lifetime movie writers. And now I’ve got to wonder – is this just a woman thing? Do men ‘get off’ emotionally on reading about someone in misery being rescued?
  #22  
Old 07-29-2011, 06:36 PM
JustStoppingBy JustStoppingBy is offline
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While this is an old topic, I would like to comment on my own perspective being a survivor of abuse myself. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the post through my own triggers, but just in case:

The reason why people write about this stuff is because they want to help others in the same situation. If they keep quiet about abuse, then nothing will get done. you say "Why would people want to read this stuff", but how will people know how to stop child abuse if everyone keeps quiet? Years ago, nobody wanted to talk about child sexual abuse. Thanks to sexual abuse survivors speaking up and fighting for their voice, more and more people are taking steps to protect our children. Child sexual abuse is now considered a serious problem in America, whereas as it was silly to even think of back in the 50's and 60's. Maybe I'm giving Dave Pelzer credibility, because I can picture myself in his shoes. I KNOW that these horrors can happen. If you haven't lived through it, of course it can be shocking to believe and accept.

Regarldess if HE is lying, his story is inspiring to many other child abuse survivors that feel helpless and low. People who are open about their abuse aren't always asking for sympathy. My purpose of talking about my own abuse is to educate and to save someone else who feels alone.


Regarding revictimization, abusers are sharks that smell blood. Abusers will prey on traits that a normal and compassionate person wouldn't prey on.

I was sexually abused by my step-father, which broke down my sense of boundaries, self-esteem, and the right to say no. Obviously, all of these qualities attract other predators like my step-father. An understanding person that knew of my story wouldn't blame an innocent child that happened to be exploited by a sick man, but a sadistic person would say that I'm the perfect target. My mom enabled my step-dad and didn't do anything to help me recover, so that again opened another can of worms that affected my self-esteem and an inability to fight back. If the sexual abuse isn't addressed appropriately, the victim unintentionally opens their wounds to be dug deeper. Mind you, it's not the victim's fault if they get sexually abused again.

Vison-You say that you have a different view of your friend's mother. There's a chance that his mother presented herself very differently around you. Abusers are careful to not show their true colors to others, except for their victim of choice. Even if his mother was a good person, maybe something did happen to him where he felt unloved to the point where he couldn't recognize if someone is being nice to him. A lot of abuse survivors filter out the positive and only see the negative. This reflects on their own experiences and their resulting sense of self-worth. As for your friend who never implied that "he made me do it" could have some stockholm syndrome or denial issues. Some child sexual abuse victims survive by telling themselves that they are an equal participant or that it wasn't all that bad. It's easier to deny than admit the reality of someone overpowering you.


With all of that being said, it is POSSIBLE to recover and change. It's a lot of hard work though. When I want to stand up for myself, I can still feel my body tightening, freezing and telling me to "just take it or you will die!" (flight or fight syndrome).


I don't plan on coming back to this board, because there's a chance someone can be cruel and re-victimizing. I only came to share my thoughts and educate others about abuse. The general reaction from the public and being accused of lying is sadly a reason why so many people keep quiet about their abuse. It's funny how people blame us for not telling anyone as kids, but when we DO tell-We're met with skepticism.

Last edited by JustStoppingBy; 07-29-2011 at 06:39 PM..
  #23  
Old 07-30-2011, 12:23 AM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus Spectre of Pithecanthropus is offline
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JustStoppingBy, you say you're not sticking around but...er...welcome. Should you change your mind, please re-read and follow the Registration Agreement, as well as the FAQs devoted to the rules here.


Closing thread. If anyone wants to continue the discussion, please start a new thread.
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