How can a parent seriously disbelieve claims of sexual abuse?

I see this claim a lot, parents disbelieving a child who claims sexual abuse. I mean sure kids mix up fantasy and reality, they exaggerate and fantasize.

But saying someone is sexually touching them?! Someone is raping them? Is that something children often spontaneously invent, unlike say claiming they saw a witch in the woods etc?

I’m just having a very hard time believing anyone could dismiss a claim like that, and I think in most cases the parent knows very well it is true but wants to keep the benefits of the person doing it(bf/gf/husband/wife etc).

Just curious what everyone else thinks.

Denial stemming from guilt. If they admit that it’s possible that they’ve brought someone into their child’s life who has molested them, they’ve failed their child by not protecting them from harm. Easier to deny it and not have to think too hard about how their child has suffered due to their relationship with the molester.

Sometimes the person doing the abusing is every bit as loved as the child who is being abused. This was a hard one for me to wrap my head around when I was a kid, and two-thirds of my parental units didn’t…well, it’s not that they didn’t believe me, exactly. But they did engage in a lot of mental gymnastics trying to absolve him of guilt. Things like, maybe I unwittingly led him on? Or maybe I didn’t say “no,” but I didn’t exactly say yes? It hurt me pretty badly at the time. But now, I get it. My abuser was my (older) stepbrother. He was their son. Of course they loved him, and they didn’t want their son to be a rapist.

I have my own son now, and I totally get it. How would I feel if someone came to me and said he was a rapist? My head would be full of “nonononononnononoNONONONONONONONONNO!!!” Would I disbelieve the accuser? Whew. That would be really hard. I would try very hard to listen, and not cross-examine, and not give the impression that I wasn’t believing them, or that I was blaming them. But I have to admit, in the privacy of my own heart and this public message board, it would be very hard for me to accept that my son was a rapist. That’s my baby boy. My special boy I love more than any other boy in the world. Not to sound all Ethnic Mother, but it would break my heart if he ever did anything like that.

So, try thinking about it that way. How would you react if someone came up to you, not your child telling you they were raped, but someone telling you your child is a rapist? Or your spouse? Or your brother or sister? Because those are the most likely perpetrators, if your child is raped. Stranger rape of children is fairly uncommon; usually it’s a family member.

It’s not about not believing the victim. It’s about desperately not wanting to believe it of the perpetrator.

That is interesting and something I didn’t consider, I still don’t think I would disbelieve it. But I admit that could be very hard to handle.

I have seen the disbelief in media stories about situations like principal or priest where not only would getting the victim away from the perpetrator easy, even if they can’t get convicted.
I can only think that is basically a criminally negligent or abusive parent.

Sometimes, of course, parents are just assholes who don’t deserve to have a dog, much less a child, and they don’t believe the kid because they’re assholes. But that’s the easy answer. I tried to provide a more complex one. My folks were not assholes, they were actually great parents. They just didn’t have a handle on that particular situation, which I don’t think is uncommon. :slight_smile:

Trust me I was not calling your parents anything, I can fully understand very conflicted emotions and psychological issues with sibling abuse, I mean what do you even do?

I was just saying there are some situations where if it isn’t even a partner or spouse, I think that just has to be assholery.

Do you think a kid is likely to - is even going to have the words to - say that outright, spontaneously, in plain, clear language?

Kids don’t know about sex. Even if they have heard about it, they don’t understand it (because they don’t have the desires that make it make sense for adults). If it is happening to them, they don’t really know what is happening to them, just that they don’t like it (well, even that may not be straightforward, some aspects of it, such as being close and “special” with a beloved adult, they might not mind, or even enjoy, even though the experience overall is awful), and they are almost bound to have a lot of difficulty explaining what is going on to someone else.

Well of course, but for the adult to deny the possibility they have to understand what the kid meant?

Would you believe I was typing that as you were typing your post? We’re good. :slight_smile: I’m sorry it ended up looking like I thought you were suggesting my parents were assholes. That was a glitch of message board posting sequence. I actually meant my second post as an addendum to the first; time ran out to edit it.

The line turns out to come from one of the girl’s favorite songs. The mats won’t even fit in the room. The false accusation of Lanigan was devastating, it came from a 12-year-old girl who did not admit she lied until after Lanigan was arrested, and another who broke down under cross-examination with the admission that she posted on Facebook that her accusation was a joke.

So, yes: it is very possible for a child to say, in plain language, that a sexual assault happened and be fabricating it.

from State v. hill, 289 I’ll.App 3d 839:

This always struck me as a powerful piece of prose for why such accusations are so compelling.

^ Interesting, but I can’t figure out why it’s in this thread. This thread is about why parents don’t believe sometimes, not about why they do believe sometimes.

And sometimes, it is one of the parents and the other one doesn’t believe. Not until it is seen with her own eyes. It is only then that she can no longer choose to stick her head in the sand. Then the shit hits the fan, but even then, perhaps inexplicably so, the child takes on part of the fault. Yep.

That is a compelling argument for why authorities and courts shouldn’t just blindly assume an accusation is true, but that has nothing to do with parents. And a 12 year old I could believe could describe fellatio in detail from viewing porn.

I was talking mostly about younger kids, and you would think parents would know what level of sexual language a kid knows.

I’m betting that for some significant number of kids, they are especially vulnerable to abuse BECAUSE they have the type of parents who are disinclined to believe them.

I’m thinking of the rebellious teenagers who are on the outs with their families. Or the kids who have uninvolved and/or asshole parents, compelling them to seek out attention from other adults.

I can also imagine that a parents’ prejudices and biases can make them put on blinders. Parents have their favorite and " least favorite" child. They’d be the type to say, “If Favorite Child was the one levying the accusation, I’d believe him/her. Because Favorite Child would never lie. But Least Favorite is just trying to stir up shit, since that’s what he/she always does.” Not every child elicits “Mama/Papa Bear” reactions.

The case I quoted involved an abused child who accused A. At trial, A sought to present evidence that the child had previously claimed that B engaged in those same acts with her.

The court did not permit the defense to cross-examine the child about B. A was convicted.

On appeal, A said that the limitation was unfair – that when the jury heard knowledgeable testimony about a sexual act from a child together with an accusation against a particular person, the overwhelming inference is that the truth is being spoken, because how else would the child know of such things? The jury, he said, should have been permitted to hear that there was an alternate explanation for the child’s knowledge.

A parent can believe, or not, a claim of abuse, and also believe or not the claim of who did it.

It is factually wrong to say that children “don’t know about sex,” in all cases. A child may know enough to make a claim of abuse by reading, or by discussions with friends.

Parents should always take such statements seriously. Very seriously. But that doesn’t mean that no child can fabricate an accusation. The default assumption should always be that the child is telling the truth, and the claim should be investigated as opposed to dismissed.

“My uncle has been raping me for that last six months” is a huge shock to your system. There is just too much shame and failure packed into that statement for it to be easily believed by a parent.

If you think about it, the parent has to deal with the fact that (1) their sibling is a rapist; (2) they left their child alone with a rapist, repeatedly; and (3) the reason their child was repeatedly sexually abused for the last six months was because they did not know their sibling was a rapist.

If you’re not ready for it, the easiest thing to do is to look for reasons why it isn’t true.

I was molested when I was 11 and I knew what sex was. I’d been reading my grandma’s stash of romance novels for a couple of years by then. In 4th grade (age 8-9), our teacher separated the girls and boys and we talked about periods and sex. And I’d had The Talk with my mom already by then, too. Then, in 5th grade (age 9-10), I remember a friend of a friend who enjoyed regaling whoever would listen about her (possibly made-up) sexual exploits.

Whether you teach them or not, kids have plenty of avenues to learn about this stuff. Although I could buy your argument when it comes to kids younger than, say, 7.

You also don’t want it to be true for the sake of the kid. Most of us, I think, would prefer to find out our child was mistaken, or confused, or that we ourselves are misunderstanding what they are saying, than that they were abused, because we don’t want them to have gone through that. It’s not super-rational, but there it is. If my husband came home and said “The doctor says I have cancer and have six months to live”, I might disbelieve him at first/tell him he likely misunderstood, too.

I know a woman who went thru this recently when she found out her father had molested her younger sister but she never knew about it. She had to deal with seeing a man she loved, and her kids called grandpa, go to jail.

Very often what many families do is handle it in-house so to speak. Make sure everyone knows what the accused did and let him know that the whole family will be watching him like a hawk and if he ever, EVER tries something like that with the next generation he will be in jail or worse.