A close friend of mine is a single mother of four young daughters.
Something that regularly comes up in conversation is single parents’ concern over who their children are coming into contact with when they are not there. Statistics also tell us 95% of sexually abused children will know their perpetrator (I am not a single parent but many of my friends are.
Children who live with a single parent that has a live-in partner are at the highest risk of sexual abuse: they are 20 times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than children living with both biological parents (As the writer of the children’s book on safe and unsafe touch ‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’ as an advocate for Body Safety education both in the home and in schools, I hear many worrying and frankly very tragic stories from parents whose children have been sexually abused and adult survivors who were sexually abused as young children.
Child sexual abuse does not have to involve sex, penetration, or nudity.
Any time an adult or older person touches or handles a child inappropriately, even if the child doesn't seem to notice or mind, is problematic.
Or, if they do something nice for you, they feel entitled to a reward, and if you don’t do what they want, they are entitled to punish you. Your partner embarrasses you in front of other people or talks badly behind your back. They might talk to other people about how bad they have it and how hard it is to date someone like you.
They might call you fat in front of your friends, or make fun of your clothes. You don’t understand what went wrong, or why your partner acts the way they do or what you can do to make things better. One day, he is caring and loving and wonderful, and the next he is hateful and raging and mean. You are afraid to talk, or when you do talk you feel like you are never heard, your words are taken out of context, misunderstood, or blatantly ignored. In the beginning of a relationship they might seem like everything you ever wanted….usually this is because they are trying to act like everything you ever wanted. You have no support group and therefore your partner gains more power. He or she might be mean to people they think are “below them” or people who are defenseless, like babies or children. Like flipping a switch, he can change drastically from one extreme to the next. He or she acts one way when they are around you, but completely different around your parents, and completely different around their friends. Slowly, you lose your friends until you feel like your partner is the only person you have left. Your partner cycles from mean and vicious to sweet and loving, then back again. He might set traps for squirrels or rabbits and then torture them. It seems like your partner is two completely different people. Your partner finds faults with your friends or makes you feel bad or uncomfortable about any time you spend with other people. You want to believe that this is possible, but the cycle keeps repeating and each time your self-esteem is chipped away at, bit by bit. He might hit or kick your dog whenever he comes over. Each time he hurts you, he apologizes and promises that it will never happen again or that he will change. Your partner knows your weaknesses and he goes after your most vulnerable parts, hurting you where he knows it will do the most damage. You feel ashamed, lost, alone, confused, numb, afraid, crazy, stupid, ugly, fat, worthless, embarrassed, unloveable, wrong. Your partner tortures animals, is mean to children, or nasty to waitresses. If you are a peaceful person, you might find yourself constantly fighting. You feel like there is something seriously wrong with you. You might say that you aren’t comfortable staying overnight together–your partner does so anyway. He or she might get upset–especially if you try to break up with them or say that you are leaving–however, there is no underlying remorse for hurting you. He or she might say that they are sorry if they hurt you (hit you, scream at you, cheat on you…etc.) and promise that it will never happen again, but their apology is more manipulative than sincere. They might speak badly about a previous partner, claiming that their previous partner was crazy, or a bitch, or an asshole.