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Co –Abusers, Who Are They

I learned a new term, Co-abusers. Initially I could not relate to the term co-abuser because I didn’t experience any co-abuse in being raped by a church elder.  So I thought.  But as I listened to others acknowledge the co- abusers in their lives, disturbing yet confirming revelation came to me that I was a victim of co-abuse as well.

A co-abuser is someone who knowingly aids or allows the person who commits the crime, the abuse to continue abusing.  It is someone who has knowledge of the rape or sexual abuse during or after the occurrence(s) and chooses to ignore, to look the other way, deny, minimize the crime or defend the perpetrator, therefore becoming an enabler in the assault. The co-abuser fails to protect the victim. In incest assault many times it is the mother who is the co-abuser. It can also be an older brother, sister, uncle, aunt, friend, and co-worker. Anyone who has knowledge of the abuse and decides for whatever reason to turn their head or even minimize the assault is a co-abuser, co-predator.  In doing so co-abusers re-victimize the victim again. When it comes to assault on children co-abusers are held accountable for not protecting the child and can face criminal charges.

Most co-abusers do not realize the affect their actions, lack of action or comments have on the sexual assault survivor. Many eventually become support to the victim once they realize how they re-victimized the victim. Others continue to reject or excuse their actions and travel deeper into denial continuing to co-abuse the victim.  While other co-abusers who are very aware of the effects of their actions still make a conscious decision to continue ignoring, denying, excuses away the incest, rape(s) or sexual assault(s ) because a greater need would be threatened if they spoke up.

An example of this would be a mother choosing to ignore her daughter being raped by the father, stepfather or her live-in boyfriend. Because he is the financial support for the household and the father of the other children she is afraid of losing that financial support and afraid the father will be taken away. So she stays silent.  Another example would be a coworker who knows the employer is sexually assaulting other coworker but he or she is afraid of losing their job if they speak up.  So they minimize the crime, learn to cope with it and stay silent. Another form of co-abuse is when church members support a pastor found guilty of sexual assault and ostracizes and persecutes the victim(s).  (Read – Is Nothing Sacred author Marie M. Fortune)

I listened to other survivors express the anger and pain they felt against their mothers for not stopping the abuse or acknowledging that a horrendous crime was being committed against them. These survivors spoke with such passion as they talked about how the anger they felt was much greater than the anger they had against their attacker. “She is my mother, the one who is supposed to be there for me when something terrible happens, my caregiver.  She should have protected me.” That’s when it hit me. I realized I had that same anger against the church leaders who publicly distanced themselves from the attack on me by one of their elders.

That explained why I had so much pain and hurt, why I weep every Sunday when I attended church. These are my spiritual leaders, the pastors, the ones who are to support me, be there for me when tragedy happens. It wasn’t the triggers of the physical rape that brought the weeping and such pain. It was seeing and hearing those in pastoral positions every Sunday and Wednesday preach God’s truths yet deliberately distance themselves from me in the press and privately minimize and ignore how  being raped by one of their elders, who had AIDS, affected me. So a co-abuser can be a person, a group of people, an institution or a society.

It was disturbing to learn the term co-abuse but confirming revelation to now understand why in order for me to heal I needed to separate myself from the source of the pain. I had to leave the church. Other victims of co-abuse aren’t so lucky because the co-abuser may be a family member. So what do they do? The victim has a few choices. Many preteen and teens run away. Some young children tolerate it until they become old enough to run away or strong enough to stand against their abuser and say no. Some victims of sexual assault commit suicide. Other victims speak out in hopes someone will hear them and free them of the torment.

Have you experienced a traumatic event and wonder why you can’t heal? Are you bleeding in your soul? I don’t know why things happened in my life. But I do know I’m not going out like that!

My heart desires so much for survivors of rape and sexual abuse to experience total healing, to experience the joys of life again. The assault took a part of my life but it does not have to take the rest of my life. I will live again and so can you in spite of all that has happened.  I do not blame myself for the attacks on my life.  I finally recognize the truth. It’s not my fault and it’s not your fault. We did nothing wrong.  Realize the abuser and the co-abusers are the guilty parties.  The responsibility of the assault is ours but the responsibility to heal and take life back is ours.  Maybe it’s impossible to separate physically from your co-abuser(s) but you can start your healing process within.  Capture those thoughts that build you up and destroy the thoughts that tear you down. Refuse any statements by others or thoughts from yourself that puts the blame on you. Surround yourself with good support, people you trust and can talk to about the abuse, people that will be there for you.  There is life after rape and sexual assault. Take your life back. You have a right to it.