“They don’t recognize it as a problem… Even if it’s dysfunctional, it’s all they know. So for them, it’s OK.”
Shannon Massingale, Lakeview Center case manager
The bond of abuse: a twisted love
By Kaycee Lagarde
Those working on the front lines of child abuse cases have just about seen it all: children living in horrific conditions, sexually violated and abused, consistently neglected and in pain.
But what they don’t often see is children asking to be removed from their parents or abusive households, no matter how dire the circumstances.
To an outsider looking in, it may seem illogical for a child to willingly stay in a harmful situation once help is available, but experts say the relationship between abuser and victim — especially parent and child — is not easily broken.
Assistant State Attorney Anne Patterson, lead prosecutor at the Gulf Coast Kid’s House in Pensacola, a child advocacy center for abuse victims, said she encounters it often when prosecuting cases.
“Even though the children may be living under conditions that you or I might be appalled at, they still want to go back to mommy,” she said. “Or even if the parent has done corporal punishment that’s excessive, and the child has been injured, they still want to go back to mom or dad. That bond is very strong.”
In most cases, children are testifying against someone within their family circle, Patterson said, sometimes causing difficulties in prosecution.
“So there always is that relationship to factor in when determining the child’s ability to testify…” Patterson said. “It is amazing how few children, no matter how bad the abuse has been, who will say ‘I don’t want to go home.'”
Keith Ann Campbell, executive director at the Santa Rosa Kids’ House, Santa Rosa County’s child advocacy center, said she and her staff often face the same issue, which can hinder pursuing the case in court.
“I can’t even tell you the number of times when the child has rescinded their testimony and we’ve ended up not being able to prosecute because they don’t like what’s going on and they’re being removed from their uncle or whomever, and it really bothers them,” Campbell said. “Because they love (their abusers).”
Even if the abuse isn’t committed by a family member, Campbell said some abusers spend time “grooming” their victims, carefully building that bond before they ever commit their first act against the child — especially in cases of sexual abuse.
According to the Center for Family Justice, about 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know their attacker.
“They spend a lot of time building that trust with the child, making them comfortable, making them think they love them and care about them,” Campbell said. “So the child trusts them.”n, who will say ‘I don’t want to go home.'”
The bond can also be strengthened by a sense of comfort, even in horrific situations, said Shannon Massingale, who helps children and families as a case manager at Lakeview Center in Pensacola. This is especially true of children who were born and raised in abusive environments, Massingale said, driving home the importance of awareness and education.
“They don’t recognize it as a problem…” she said. “Even if it’s dysfunctional, it’s all they know. So for them, it’s OK.”
Early intervention through therapy and resources at centers like Lakeview, Gulf Coast Kid’s House and Santa Rosa Kids’ House can help shed light on the abuse, allowing children and families to begin to cope and recover.
“The best thing about a child advocacy center is that the child can get counseling and can be reassured that you didn’t do anything wrong, it’s going to be OK, you did the right thing by telling what was happening to you,” Patterson said. “And just keeping the family supported through the process.”
Gender at Kids House
Breakdown of Gulf Coast Kids House client demographic by gender.
- Female – 51%
- Male – 49%
VICTIMS NEXT DOOR: PART 3: THE CYCLE OF ABUSE
PENSACOLA News Journal