Child sexual abuse understanding the non offending parent
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Child Sexual Abuse: understanding the non-offending parent. Robert G Tucker [email protected] RGT Training & Consultancy. Find on Have you ever. …been perplexed by the reactions of victims, mothers or other family members?

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Child sexual abuse understanding the non offending parent

Child Sexual Abuse: understanding the non-offending parent

Robert G Tucker

[email protected]

RGT Training & Consultancy

Find on

Have you ever

Have you ever ....

  • …been perplexed by the reactions of victims, mothers or other family members?

  • …wondered why family members have responded as they have?

  • …felt frustration at understanding or communicating with a non-protective parent?

Common questions about the non offending partner

Common questions about the non-offending partner

  • Did they know?

  • Were they involved?

  • Why didn’t they know that something was happening to their child?

  • Why did their child not tell them?

  • Why do some partners not believe their child’s allegations?

Key theme of presentation

Key Theme of Presentation

  • Understanding how abusers sexually offend & how they think & behave can ….

    …help us make sense of the reactions of victims / survivors and their non-offending parents.

    …offer signposts and clues in families where abuse is suspected

    … help us think about our intervention

What do we know

What do we know?

  • Offenders come from all ages & backgrounds

  • Majority are male

  • One-third are adolescents

  • Offenders are almost always someone who is known to the child and the family.

  • 80% of children who are sexually abused do not inform the authorities (Grubin, 1998).

  • Sexual abuse is rarely a one-off, impulsive incident.

Context the criminal justice system

Context & the Criminal Justice System

  • Research suggests many convicted sex offenders return to live with their partners & children, or state a wish to do so

  • It also suggests many others move into new family situations

    (Fisher & Beech 1998; Owen & Steele 1991; Beech, Fisher & Beckett 1998; Maletzky & Steinhauser 1998; Eccles & Walker 1998)

Context the civil courts

Context & the civil courts

  • Nationally (& internationally) 2% - 5% of complaints of sexual assault by children lead to a criminal conviction/caution

  • So, most child sexual abuse is dealt with in the civil/child protection system

  • Partners of offenders or parents of children who have been sexually abused are therefore placed in a key child protection role

Non abusing partners

Non-abusing partners

  • Sexual abuse has a high negative impact on non-abusing partners

  • Their needs are often ignored or overlooked

  • They experience overwhelming emotions and conflicts with child protection investigations which they find difficult and intrusive

  • Mother-child relationships are jeopardised also by child’s behaviour problems and parent’s exhaustion, insecurity and loss of confidence

Non abusing partners1

Non-abusing partners

  • The professional community is often ambivalent in its approach to mothers and partners i.e. how could she not have known?

  • Mothers often pathologised

  • Mothers rather than male offenders often bear the brunt of interventions

Child sexual abuse

Child Sexual Abuse

How does it happen?

Discussion how abuse happens

Discussion: How Abuse Happens

  • What motivates a person to sexually abuse a child?

  • How does a person convince him/her self that his / her abuse of children is acceptable?

  • How does a person create opportunities whereby s/he can abuse children?

  • Why don’t children resist a person’s sexual advances, or tell afterwards?

  • Consider the influence of gender, religion, culture or disability.

Pre conditions to sexual offending the 4 steps

Pre-conditions to Sexual Offending (the 4 steps)

Step 1Motivation to sexually offend

Step 2Overcome internal inhibitors

Step 3 Overcome external inhibitors

Step 4Overcome victim resistance

Finkelhor (1986) Child Sexual Abuse: New Theory & Research

How abuse happens step 1 what motivates a person to sexually abuse a child

How Abuse Happens – Step 1What motivates a person to sexually abuse a child?

  • Emotional congruence to children

  • Sexual arousal to children

  • Blockage to adult relationships

  • Emotional loneliness

  • Need for affection, closeness, intimacy

  • Belief there is no other way of obtaining this pleasure

  • Poor impulse control or desire to impose controls

  • Revenge – for rejection or for own abuse

  • Desire for power and control, Money


Step 1


Child sexual abuse understanding the non offending parent

How Abuse Happens – Step 2How does a person convince him/herself that his/her abuse of children is acceptable?

“ S/he’s enjoying it …. It won’t cause any harm… Kids like sex …I have a right…Women are tarts…Damn the consequences… I wasn’t getting sex from my wife… It just happened… we have a special relationship… “I’ll only touch him, it won’t hurt her…. It didn’t hurt me”

Step 2

Step 1

Overcoming internal


How abuse happens step 3 how does a person create opportunities whereby s he can abuse children

How Abuse Happens – Step 3How does a person create opportunities whereby s/he can abuse children?

Grooming the non-offending parent

“I’ll gain her trust

Make myself indispensable

Help out with childcare

Make sexual play seem innocent

and normal”

Step 3

Step 1

Step 2

Overcoming external


Grooming disempowering others

I would say - “you go out I’ll baby-sit”

Tell my wife she couldn’t cope with him

I would just ignore her

She could see we were just having a laugh

I told her that I found it easier to talk to kids

She wouldn’t dare to try to stop me

I encouraged her when she wanted to go out to work

I encouraged her to go to Bingo

I beat her up & raped her

I made her feel sorry for her & ‘mother’ me

I was the first man to treat her kindly

Grooming & Disempowering others

How abuse happens step 4 why don t children resist a person s sexual advances or tell afterwards

How Abuse Happens – Step 4Why don’t children resist a person’s sexual advances, or tell afterwards?

“I’ll tell them it’s a game

I’ll get them used to touch on their privates

Give them lots of attention

Give them a present

Frighten them – ‘you will be taken away from mum

Use force if they say “No ”

Step 4

Step 1

Step 3

Step 2

Overcoming victim


Implanted thinking errors

Offender says…

“I love you”

“You like it”

“You began the game”

“You could have said no”

“you’re special”

“Your vagina is wet / penis is erect”

“I wont do it again”

“If you tell it will kill mum”

“Tell & you’ll be sent away”

Tell & we’ll be in trouble”

Child thinks…

This is love

I must have asked for it

I did, it’s my fault

I could have but didn’t

This is being special

I must have wanted it

He did – don’t trust men

It might

I’ll be sent away, I’m bad

I’m as responsible as him

Implanted thinking errors

Consider the implications for caring for children

Child s comments

Child’s comments

Question in treatment - How did dad manage to keep it a secret?

“He would say ‘you have to keep it a secret. This game is our secret. Only you and me know. I just thought it was alright if dad did it. I didn’t know it was wrong. I liked the attention. Sometimes I had a nice feeling when it happened. A tingly feeling”

Child sexual abuse understanding the non offending parent

Received Messages & Distortions

Messages sent by non-offending parent


Messages sent by abuser…


Distorted Messages received by nop


Distorted Messages received by child



Non-offending parent


Child sexual abuse understanding the non offending parent

Wrong messages & distorted beliefs Keith got from the abuse by his mother

Messages received by the young Keith

“mum touching me is a fun game”

“sex with mum is OK / normal”

“I don’t want the boogie man so I won’t tell”

“I love secrets – just me and mum know – great”

“mum likes me when I do these things.

Sex = being special”

“I don’t want to go into care – I won’t tell”

“I liked the feelings – I must have wanted it”

“touching privates is a way to feel nice.

““touching privates is a way of getting attention & love”

“Can’t get love except by touching privates”

  • Messages sent by mum

  • “this is only a game”

  • “it’s Ok to to play these games with mum

  • “anyone can do it”

  • “if you tell the boogie man will get you”

  • “keep it our little secret”

  • she would say things like ‘you’re my favourite son”

  • “if you tell you will go into care”

Working with the non offending partner

Working with the Non-offending partner

Do partners know spectrum post allegations

Do Partners Know?– Spectrum post allegations

Knew something was going on but

not “that"

Offending (Independently)

"Active Collusion" - knowing CSA but

convincing self

nothing going on

"Passive Collusion" - wondering, suspecting

CSA but nothing to

confirm that

Didn't know anything

Co-offending Active


(Willingly / Under Coercion)

... which must be considered within the context of the offender grooming her out of a position to protect.

Ref: Jenny Still

Empathy exercise

Empathy Exercise

  • Take 5 minutes to imagine that an allegation has been made against your partner or person you love & trust totally. Would you believe it?

  • What would the costs be in believing it happened?

  • What are the consequences for:

    • your life

    • your identity

    • your family life

Denial is normative

Denial is normative

“A normal and functional defence mechanism that allows us to protect ourselves against something that is painful and distressing”

(The American Psychiatric Assoc. 1994)

Put the denial into context

Put the denial into context

  • For many women, the consequences of totally believing all of the allegations and the true extent of the abuse can have dire potential consequences.

  • Only some non-abusing parents have the perfect child protection response: remove the offender and totally and consistently believe and support the child

Functions of denial for nop s

Functions of Denial for NOP’s

What are the consequences of accepting that their partner abused their child?

  • Meaning of their relationship?

  • Loss of relationship

  • Loss of a parent

  • Fear of stigma

  • Loss of self esteem

  • Bad parent

  • Bad sexual partner – jealously, why her and not me?

  • Loss of income, security & help

The impact of denial on professionals

The impact of denial on professionals

  • Denial can provoke an assumption that she is “unsafe” as a protecting parent

  • Can give rise to suspicion that she has something to hide – a greater awareness/involvement/collusion in the abuse

  • Can create hostility between her and “the authorities”

  • Can cause tension between professionals

  • Can trigger your emotions

Factors to consider in child sexual abuse


  • Risk factors associated with the perpetrator

  • Risk factors for the non-offending partner

  • Risk factors associated with family

  • Risk factors associated with the child

  • Social network risk factors

  • Treatment system risk Factors

  • Protective factors in non-offending partner

  • Protective factors in child

  • Family system protective factors

  • Social network protective factors

  • Treatment system protective factors

Child Sexual Abuse

Abuse-related Stress

Psychological effects of child sexual abuse

Traumagenic Dynamics

Behavioural Problems

The importance of the non offending

The Importance of the Non-offending

  • Numerous empirical studies suggest that in cases of child sexual abuse the ability of the non-abusing partner to provide support following disclosure may be the most critical factor influencing the child’s post-abuse psychological adjustment and recovery.

  • (Ref: Adams – Tucker 1998, Conte & and Schuerman 1987; Everson et al1989; Davenport et al 1993; Ruggiero et al 2000)

Issues to consider when working with nop the offender jenny still

Issues to consider when working with NOP – The Offender Jenny Still

  • What kind of offender has she been on the receiving end of?

  • What was / is the nature of her relationship with offender?

  • Any indications of the offender’s distorted thinking?

  • Where is she on the spectrum of ‘not knowing’?

  • Any evidence of co-offending?

  • Current perceptions and structure of denial?

Issues to consider when working with nop the child jenny still

Issues to consider when working with NOP – The child Jenny Still

  • Reactions to child at the time of allegation

  • Could the child tell her?

  • Reactions to child post allegation?

  • Feelings about the abuse to the child?

  • Can recognise needs of child and provide support?

  • Can she hear more?

Issues to consider when working with nop personal issues

Issues to consider when working with NOP – Personal issues

  • Ability to process & integrate information

  • Emotional literacy & regulation

  • General coping skills / deficits

  • Mental health issues

  • Substance misuse

  • Unresolved trauma / attachment history

  • Non-cooperative / oppositional history

  • Parenting skills / deficits

What are we assessing the non offending partner for jenny still

What are we assessing the non-offending partner for?Jenny Still

  • Risk, child protection & significant harm

  • Is s/he ‘safe’. Is s/he a non-offending parent?

  • What, if anything needs to change?

  • How can that best be achieved, empowering him/her for the future?

  • What does s/he want or need in terms of support, info & ‘treatment’

  • Planning of resources.

Consider all this in the context of offender knowledge.

Remember - She is not the offender!

What might she need to know source jenny still lff

What might she need to know?Source: Jenny Still LFF

  • His excuses to offend

  • His distorted thinking

  • His target group(s)

  • Why did he choose me / my child?

  • Who did he abuse?

  • The nature & extent of his sexual arousal

  • Grooming / manipulative tactics

  • The nature and extent of the abuse

  • Post-abuse grooming and manipulation

Needs of caregivers

Info about the impact of abuse on children

Advice on strategies to help child with any trauma symptoms

Info about sex offending dynamics & links to offender’s patterns

Opportunity to process feelings associated with abuse

Advice on boundaries, rules & routines

Advice on open communication

Advice on re-parenting / attachment strategies

Advice on the needs of siblings / relatives & how to engage their support

Advice & strategies on future protection needs

Needs of caregivers

Typical areas of non offending partner programmes

What is sexual abuse?

Impact on victims


Info on sex offenders

How abuse happens

Impact on partner

How to communicate with children about abuse

What are normal family relationships?

My family patterns?

Opening up family communications

Escaping grooming

Has offender changed?

Are my children vulnerable?

Building a support network

Alert signs & high risk situations

Protective strategies

Responding to abuse

Contract for new family life

Typical Areas of Non Offending Partner Programmes

Risk issues and what outcomes we are working towards

Risk issues and what outcomes we are working towards

The partner informing the authorities as soon as she becomes aware of signs of abuse

The partner co-operating with the authorities

The partner complying with child-protection agreements

Risk issues and what outcomes we are working towards1

Risk issues and what outcomes we are working towards

The partner not being fearful

The partner no longer being dependent

The partner no longer isolated

The partner acknowledging that the abuser/suspected abuser may pose a potential risk to the children

Risk issues and what outcomes we are working towards2

Risk issues and what outcomes we are working towards

  • The partner managing any mental health or alcohol/drug issues

  • The partner having overcome trauma issues

  • The partner maintaining reasonable objectivity

  • The partner being able to problem solve

  • The partner being self-assertive

  • The partner demonstrating the ability/motivation to learn

Risk issues and what outcomes we are working towards3

Risk issues and what outcomes we are working towards

The partner being able to explain actual or probable grooming process, with regard to offences and or allegations

The partner engaging with impact of abuse on children, herself and others

The partner identifying future signs of risk, and ways of responding to risk

Child sexual abuse1

Child Sexual Abuse

- Things to watch for

Adult behaviours to watch for

Adult Behaviours to Watch for

Personal Space

  • Makes others uncomfortable by ignoring social, emotional or physical boundariesi or limits?

  • Refuses to let a child set any of his or her own limits? Uses teasing or belittling language to keep a child from setting a limit?

  • Insists on hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling with or holding a child even when the child does not want this contact or attention?

  • Frequently walks in on children/teens in the bathroom?

Adult behaviours to watch for1

Adult Behaviours to Watch for

Relationships with children

  • Turns to a child for emotional or physical comfort by sharing personal or private infor or activities?

  • Secret interactions with teens or children (e.g. games, sharing drugs, alcohol, or sexual material) or spends excessive time to emailing, text or calling children

  • Insists on or manages to spend uninterrupted time alone with a child?

  • Seems “too good to be true," i.e. frequently baby sits different children for free; takes children on special outings alone; buys children gifts or gives them money for no apparent reason?

  • Allows children or teens to consistently get away with inappropriate behaviors?

Adult behaviours to watch for2

Adult Behaviours to Watch for

Sexual conversation or behaviour

  • Frequently points out sexual images or tells dirty or suggestive jokes with children present?

  • Exposes a child to adult sexual interactions or images without apparent concern?

  • Is overly interested in the sexuality of a particular child or teen (e.g., talks repeatedly about the child's developing body or interferes with normal teen dating)?

Warning signs of possible csa

Warning Signs of Possible CSA

  • Nightmares or sleep problems without an explanation

  • Distracted or distant at odd times

  • Sudden change in eating habits e.g. refuses to eat, drastic increase / loss of appetite, trouble swallowing.

  • Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal

  • Leaves “clues” that provoke talk about sexual issues

Warning signs of possible csa1

Warning Signs of Possible CSA

  • Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual images

  • Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places

  • Refuses to talk about secret shared with adult or older child

  • Talks about a new older friend

  • Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason

  • Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad

  • Adult-like sexual behaviors, language & knowledge

Signs for younger children

Signs for younger children

  • An older child behaving like a younger child (such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking)

  • Has new words for private body parts

  • Resists removing clothes when appropriate times (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)

  • Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games

  • Mimics adult-like sexual behaviours with toys or stuffed animal

  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

Services from rgt

Services from RGT

  • Training for schools, social workers, substitute carers & multi-agency professionals relating to ...

    • Children & young people who have been sexually abused / traumatised

    • Children and young people who display inappropriate or harmful sexual behaviours

    • Communicating with children for the purpose of core assessments

    • And many more

  • Assessment & intervention relating to sexual abuse, trauma and harmful sexual behaviours

Contact via: [email protected] Visit at:

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