What would you do if you had a secret that could help save someone’s life if revealed? Would you have the courage to come forward? Or would you stay silent for fear of what people would think?
Actress and Desperate Housewives star, Teri Hatcher, came forward about a secret she kept for approximately 35 years. Her secret? Her uncle sexually abused her when she was 5 years old and was accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl who committed suicide. In the Vanity Fair article, Ms. Hatcher revealed how her uncle would manipulate situations to get him and Hatcher alone in his car so he could take advantage of her. Ms. Hatcher testified as a witness and her uncle received 14 years in prison. Her story had a “happy” ending, but often times in the Black community, the code of silence reigns.
However, Black woman are learning to speak up for the sake of their own healing and hopefully to protect others. In the book Memories, by Claudette Marie Muhammad, she speaks of being sexually assaulted by her grandfather. In the book, Sadjah, the author reveals experiencing sexually abuse by her father at the age of 3, but she never told anyone. The relatives or fathers that are abusers often don’t go to jail due to a child not telling or being considered too young to testify. If there is no damaging physical evidence, just knowledge of a father touching or kissing a child inappropriately, the father may get a “slap” on the wrist and agree to undergo therapy. The court will at least try to protect the child from the father, but children in the society at large are still in danger because a molester doesn’t just molest one child and say, “Oh, gee, I made a mistake, I didn’t mean to fondle that 4 year old.” Why are sex offenders, the ones who get caught, required to register? Why are there websites where you can see if a sex offender lives near you? Why aren’t sex offenders allowed to live near schools and daycare centers? They can’t control themselves and there is no cure or treatment for sex offenders that have been successful.
“I do not know of any research that has suggested that psychological treatment (of any type) for adult male sexual offenders of children which has been effective,” said Dr. Paul Guillory, a Child psychologist with over 20 years experience in Oakland, California.
Sex offenders appear to belong to the group that are the “least likely to be rehabilitated.”
So how do we protect our children to break the cycle of abuse? What does a child molester look like?
Some of these questions are answered in an interview with Yvette Muhammad, which appeared in the 2007 issue of Virtue Today. Sister Yvette is a social worker with over 14 years of experience in dealing with perpetrators and victims of abuse.
Virtue Today (VT) As a social worker, for the past 14 years, you have seen a lot of child abuse cases. What type of abuse is the most difficult to identify and why?
Yvette Muhammad (YM) Emotional and psychological abuses are often difficult to identify. Often a perpetrator can present (themselves) as very intelligent and able to achieve a lot in the society, but are very manipulative privately. Examples are psychological cruelties like blending cold meat and potatoes for a child to eat. Also a common form of psychological abuse is the constant putting down of a child, comparing them to another person who is poorly regarded, projecting even more doom for them in the future. Sexual abuse in small children (age 0-4) might be difficult to detect if they aren’t physically hurt and they may not tell. They often aren’t clear about personal boundaries to know that the boundaries are been crossed. They are often groomed (prepared for the abuse) by having been given special attention or privileges. Or the sexual abuse can be made a game. Their reactive behavior (playing with their private parts) may be confused with self-exploration or innocent curiosity, but has really exceeded this if it includes indiscriminate masturbation or oral/genital contact with other children.
VT: What does a typical child molester look like?
YM: Child molesters have no particular kind of face. They come from all walks of life. Also, most people are molested by someone who they know. According to, “The Stop Child Molestation Book” by Dr. Gene Abel, MD, 77% of molesters are married, 46% are college educated, 69% work full-time, and 93% are religious. The typical child molester looks like many people we know in the community, which is one of the reasons why they are able to get away with the crime. No one would suspect the soccer coach, or the priest or even family members.
VT: What are some things mothers can do to stop the physical and sexual abuse of children?
YM: Our home lives should be guarded. We should be careful not to allow any and everybody to care for our children, provide personal care (bathing etc.) for our children. We should not have our children routinely engaging in sleepovers with just anyone. Many women don’t consider the risks they expose their children to by having boyfriends move into their homes, hardly knowing them. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad even warned women not to leave their girl children alone with their own fathers because of the influence of the world’s perversion that we’ve been exposed to. Nevertheless, it should be clear that sexual molesters develop a compulsion that can’t be fathomed by the average person. This is a sickness that is executed by a person that can find the slightest opportunity to act on their thoughts. They can do this at night while their wife sleeps or is doing laundry or taking a shower. Again in this day and time, since it is difficult to be with your child 24 hours a day, other precautions we should take is teaching our children about boundaries and their private parts being “private” at an early age and encouraging them to talk to you. Be watchful of changes in their behavior such as crying when a particular person is around or sexual acting out or casual sexual references they may make like, “Daddy likes to touch my private and it tickles.” Always consult a professional and don’t be afraid to take a sign seriously.
VT: What advice do you have for someone who has been physically abused or sexually abused as a child?
YM: Issues of child abuse impact people differently. Some people can suppress the trauma, but find themselves being repeat victims even into their adulthood. Some people become very angry and might even become abusers. Others develop an inability to trust people, even those that can assist them through their difficulty and may become depressed or suicidal. Then issues of abuse aren’t dealt with, they have a tendency to emerge, sometimes when it is least expected. I suggest if a person has difficulty managing the trauma of past abuse, they should seek professional help, utilize the spiritual support around them, talk to a trusted friend/or family member to help connect them to help.
(Sister Yvette Muhammad has worked for Children Welfare for 14 years and has over 900 hours of Training Child Protection. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bowling Green State University. Also, special thanks to the staff of the Children’s Interview Center in Martinez, California for their support and contribution of Resources for this article. Part II of Breaking the Code of Silence will deal with domestic violence.)