Who Has the Most to Lose? Kathleen Coulborn Faller, M.S.W, PH.D.
Mothers may also have a lot to lose if the victim’s allegation is believed, particularly in father/daughter incest cases. First, to acknowledge the incest exists may be regarded by the mother as an indictment of her as a mother and a spouse. This may be so painful that “putting on blinders” is a more tolerable solution. Moreover, sexual abuse often develops when there are deficiencies in the sexual relationship between perpetrator (spouse or boyfriend) and mother. She may not want a sexual relationship with the perpetrator. Usually unconsciously, but sometimes consciously, she may facilitate the movement of the daughter into the incestuous relationship. Thus, even though she may not recognize them, there may be costs for the mother if the sexual abuse ends [6, 7].
The mother may also be facing more concrete and practical problems, for instance, financial dependency on the perpetrator. If she has to expel him or if he goes to prison, she may have to seek other means of support. This can include going on Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), or seeking employment when she has never worked or has not worked in years.
Finally, should her spouse leave or be incarcerated, she will lose tile emotional support he may have provided. To an outsider this may not seem much, but frequently he will be all the mother has, and she will not be able to imagine life without him. Many mothers of incest victims suffer from low self-esteem, and are very dependent upon their partners. They may choose their partners over their children if forced to choose one or the other.
Because of these dynamics, mothers of sex abuse victims often do not believe their daughters’ allegations, ignore them when they are made, or try to deal with the problem without bringing in outside help. Alternatively, they may initially side with the child, but then switch their loyalties, and side with the perpetrator as they experience the practical consequences of the spouse’s anger and/or loss of the spouse.
Note from JDP: On a personal note many of these families are affluent and fear they will lose their position in society, their status, their job.