6 Reasons Mama June Might Have Stayed With a Child Molester

woman escapingWe still don't know if the rumors that Here Comes Honey Boo Boo's June Shannon is dating convicted child molester and ex-boyfriend Mark McDaniel are true. We dearly hope they're not. But if she is, she certainly wouldn't be the first woman to keep loving someone who sexually abuses her own children. Meanwhile, there is that ugly, troubling question we can't help wondering: WHY? Why would any mother remain in a relationship with a child molester?

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1. Denial. Lanada Williams, family therapist and host of radio program The Lanada Williams Show, says some mothers aren't able to process the news that their child is being abused. "Some go into protective mode," she says, and they start using defense mechanisms, like deciding the abuse didn't happen just because they didn't witness it. "They feel numb and become very focused on the present."

2. Sexual abuse in your own past. "There are parents who have experienced sexual abuse as children," Williams says, "and they may not be ready to face that and work through it." But facing your own past could be key to facing what's happening in the present.

"I've never met someone who would stay with the man unless they had a story in their own backyard," says Lynette Louise, mental health expert and mother who left her own husband when she found out he was abusing their daughter.

Usually something has happened to them and so they had to make it acceptable, or their family made it acceptable, and now their brain has found a place to believe, 'This isn't such a big deal.'

More from The Stir: Why Good Women Stay in Bad Relationships

3. Focusing on the child, not the relationship. It's easy to assume that a mother who stays with an abuser doesn't care about her child. But on the contrary, Williams says sometimes "you're not able to sever the relationship because you're so focused on the child and making sure they're safe." You would think that splitting up would serve that purpose, but it's not always that simple. Ending the relationship takes time and energy, too.

4. Believing you can work it out. In cases of married couples (30 percent of perpetrators of sexual abuse are family members), Williams says, sometimes the wife stays because she doesn't believe in divorce for religious or other reasons. "Or she may believe in true forgiveness and want to work through therapy."

This could be denial at work again. But therapist Dr. Nancy Irwin, who works with sex offenders and victims, points out that "sometimes offenders learn from their mistakes and never re-offend. It is not a popular belief, but it happens more than folks want to acknowledge." (According to one study, offenders in effective treatment programs are 40 percent less likely to commit new sex crimes. But it really has to be the right program.)

5. Blaming the victim. In some especially unhealthy environments, the mother will actually blame her child. This is more common when the victim is a preteen or teen. Williams says the mother may accuse her child of wearing provocative clothing or say that her child was "asking for it."

6. Inability to reconcile goodness and pathology in the same person. "We all want to see the goodness in people," Williams says. And women who love abusive men aren't any different. They may say "but he's a really great father, he's a great provider, he's always taken good care of us." Meanwhile they just don't realize how harmful the sexual abuse really is for their child.

Williams doesn't believe that women stay out of selfishness. "I have not seen that in my practice," she says. Women who could be classified as narcissist aren't delusional or disconnected from reality, she says. "You can be very self-absorbed and unable to make social connections, but that's very different from not being able to recognize when someone's in great pain." It's more complicated than that, she says.

I think we can all agree that if a mother finds out her child is being sexually abused by her husband or romantic partner, she needs to remove her child from the home as soon as possible. But if she fails to do that, or doesn't do it quickly enough, we shouldn't judge her as a monster who cares more about "keeping her man" than her child's well-being. It's never that simple.

Do you have any experience with this issue? What have women you know done when they were informed that their husband or boyfriend was sexually abusing their child?

 

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