In The Know – “Why Are They Doing That? Surprising Responses to Sexual Abuse”

Today’s post is written by my dear friend, Loretta Tuttle. More about Loretta at the bottom…

In an effort to quiet my wandering thoughts concerning my illing mom, I flipped on the radio on the way to the hospital. It was just in time to hear the comforting intro music to an always informative and engaging broadcast of Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson. However, this program with guests Dr. Walt Larimore and his family discussing their experience outlined in a new book entitled, Bryson City Secrets, took my already ailing heart on another unexpected journey.

In the following weeks, the flood gates seemed to give way almost immediately. The waves sent me crashing into story after gut wrenching story about how the life of innocent, unassuming children and adults had been forever altered and in some cases destroyed, at the hands of emotionally and physically wounded perpetrators.

My first experience with the very difficult, secretive, and shameful subject of sexual abuse was at the expense of one of my older sisters, who we grew up thinking was a little on the abnormal side. We had very unkind nicknames for her because she responded so differently to “normal” situations. She was mostly withdrawn, introspective and locked away in a protective world of her own. On occasion, she would venture out, but immediately retreat at certain triggers. She held her emotions very closely. Especially, when disciplined, both physically and verbally. Instead of shedding tears, she shed blood by rubbing her ankles together until they bled. There was no apparent reason for this sort of behavior since the rest of the family seemed to be coping okay with our “dysfunctional” home environment. We were frequently asked the question, “What is her problem?”. Finally at the age of 27, she replied, “I wish everyone would just get off my back because no one will ever know what happened to me!!”. She had been storing up much in her tightly sealed childhood vault. My mom refused to let go until she knew the meaning behind her words. Her forced explanation would result in a very controversial and painful family division when the revelation and evidence of child molestation pointed to my mom’s very own brother. I’m not sure if God had enough bottles to catch all my tears when I learned of what she had experienced as a young, innocent child, how she shouldered that huge burden all alone and how we agitated the situation with our insensitivity and crude behavior toward her.

The past few weeks since the broadcast, I’ve not only reconnected to my sister’s pain, who continues to try to find stable footing, but to countless other’s whom I’ve laughed with, cried with, eaten with, prayed with and talked with regularly without a clue about their deep seated, secret pain. The statistics that 1in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys encounter sexual abuse on some level absolutely sent me reeling. But the big jolt came at the realization that nearly everyone I have personally encountered recently has a storyline linked to the horrors of sexual abuse.

In the process of embarking upon this unexpected journey, I have also become aware of the many symptomatic problems and other behaviors most victims fall into to mask the deep pain and confusion that comes with sexual abuse. While alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse seem to be the remedy of choice, the not so obvious issues, surface in the form of promiscuity, sexual identity confusion and various disorders and behavior resulting from feelings of unworthiness.

The results of sexual abuse, seem to surface in some form at some point in one’s life. There seems to be consistency in that the abuse is often buried very deeply within the depths of one’s soul in hopes that it will never rear it’s ugly head again. But just like the jack-in-the-box toy, with the right number of strokes it springs to life again when least expected. This was the case with a friend who recently shared that she experienced a mental breakdown during her sophomore year in college when bits and pieces of what she thought was some kind of horrible nightmare began to regularly flash through her mind. The more vivid the horrible recollections became, the deeper in despair she sank. When the truth was finally confronted and confirmed, it brought clarity to a life of turmoil and self destruction. She still occasionally struggles because of certain triggers, but is remarkably thriving. Like me, upon hearing the staggering statistics, she thought of the probability of this occurring among her own four girls. Unfortunately, it turned out that, as strategic as she had been in protecting her children, one of them had suffered the fate of sexual abuse at the hands of a female relative as a toddler. This particular daughter, at 16, was exhibiting very uncharacteristic behavior, including sexual identity confusion, which is probably attributed to the fact that her first sexual encounter was with someone of the same sex. This seems to be a common occurrence with other victims. My friend’s response to the news was far more compassionate than that of her own mother, who had no idea how to react to such devastating news.

As much as we are caught off guard when painful situations find its way to our doorsteps, I too have learned from first hand experience to respond to feelings and emotions instead of behavior. Because what I now understand is that uncharacteristic behavior usually originates from underlying issues. And since it is apparent that even Christian families are facing turmoil in unprecedented numbers, it may be time to abandon the band aid approach and allow The Lord to perform the deep surgical procedure that are necessary for complete healing and restoration.

Is your teen exhibiting some behaviors that seem to have no apparent cause? It may be that they too have been a victim of sexual abuse. You may want to consider seeking out some of the abundant resources available for help with sexual abuse and it’s underlying symptoms. Focus on the Family has an abundance of information that can help you get started on this journey.

Loretta Tuttle writes from Charlotte, North Carolina where she lives with her husband Perry and six children. Her passion is teaching new and innovative learning styles to children through her business, The Brain Station.



  1. Your post brings to mind a recently read book – Thin Places by Mary DeMuth. Simply powerful.

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