A story that recently appeared in news has several examples of issues we have previously discussed on this blog. It comes from interviews with legendary singer/songwriter Carly Simon, who is about to release a memoir.
In her memoir, titled “Boys in the Trees,” Ms. Simon describes her very first sexual experiences, which occurred with a teenage boy when she was just 7 years old. The musician, now 70 years old, says it took a long time to realize that those experiences constituted sexual abuse.
According to Ms. Simon, her abuser was the son of some family friends. Because of his relationship to the family, Carly’s older sisters didn’t believe her when she told them what was happening. She says: “I told them the first year that it was happening, and they thought I was just trying to be one of the bigger girls.”
This is a common problem for sex abuse victims – especially children. There’s a widespread misconception that sexual abuse victims are most likely to be abused by a stranger. In reality, the vast majority of victims are abused by a family member or someone that the family knows and trusts. This makes it much more difficult for the victim to report what happened to them. They don’t know who to trust and they fear that no one will believe them.
The way that Ms. Simon discusses her experiences also highlights another difficult aspect of child sexual abuse. At the time, she thought that she and her abuser were involved in a “romance.”
Many victims are hesitant to describe their experiences as abuse or rape because they may have enjoyed some small part of it at the time. Perhaps they enjoyed the attention they received. Perhaps they thought they were somehow in love. And in some cases, victims may have felt some sensations of physical pleasure (whether it was sexual or not).
To be perfectly clear, victims of abuse should never be shamed or blamed for any of the feelings described above. One of the reasons child sexual abuse is so devastating is that it prematurely exposes victims to experiences that – at a different time and with a different, chosen partner – would be both appropriate and pleasurable. Children cannot be expected to make sense out of such perverse emotional and physical violations.
Like all victims who find the courage to speak out, Carly Simon should be supported and lauded for her bravery. Hopefully, her story will give courage to child sex abuse victims who may still be suffering in silence.