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She promised me unconditional love

A new study published in ScienceDirect examines the nature of Mother-Daughter sexual abuse (MDSA) by analyzing the impact on survivor´s life and the psychological traces left on them. MDSA is a specific kind of violence towards children, authors mention that the negative impacts of child sexual abuse (CSA) are well documented in literature, but we actually have a lack of information about MDSA.  


Recognizing the act of violence practiced by mothers is a very stigmatized issue. A mother violating her own daughter can be considered the highest example of violence, and maybe that is why we don't talk a lot about MDSA, but we shouldn't be afraid to speak out; the fact that it is less common than other types of child abuse does not mean that it does not exist.  


For example, this type of abuse can include non-consensual touching, non-consensual vaginal penetration, body shaming, and exposure to pornography at a young age. It is important to differentiate between the various forms that violence against children takes. We cannot dismiss some forms of abuse because they seem less negative than others.  


“The purpose of this study is to explore and understand the patterns of abuse experienced among survivors of MDSA, the psychosocial impact on survivors, and the thoughts and feelings about the abuse they experienced through a feminist ecological perspective,” as quoted in the article.  


The method used to conduct the study was to use 82 posts published on Reddit and the information obtained there was transferred to Dedoose for a thematic analysis using select computational social science methods, trying to link similar themes. The data for this study was mined from a subreddit titled r/MDSA, created on December 19, 2017, with 511 subscribed users until the published date of the ScienceDirect article.  


What was found in the results are victims describing shame, fear, and disgust towards their MDSA experience. “Survivors were hesitant to disclose to friends, family, and helping professionals because they fear being misunderstood or judged because of their experiences with MDSA,” as we can read in the full article.  


To discuss this, we should also look at some available data. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 656,000 children suffered from some form of bad treatment in 2019 with 7.2% of those children experiencing child sexual abuse. More data from Unicef shows that in more than one-third of countries, at least 5% of young women reported experiences of sexual violence in childhood, with lower levels among men in the same countries.  


The victims often know who commits the abuse. In 2013, 47,000 men and 5,000 were the alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse cases, according to RAINN Statistics (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the largest nonprofit anti-sexual assault organization in the United States. “In 88% of the sexual abuse claims that CPS substantiates or finds supporting evidence of, the perpetrator is male. In 9% of cases, they are female, and 3% are unknown.”  


So, yes, we are talking about an apparent minority of women committing these types of crimes compared to a large majority of men. One cannot forget that this crime is also framed within a sexist and misogynistic system, in which one can see the difference between the number of female and male victims, as well as the difference in who commits such crimes: mostly men.  


Considering that, it is easy to think we are not looking with such importance at mother-to-daughter abuse because of the numbers we have. But there is another factor that may be involved in this. We idealize the maternal figure as a society. The mother is the beginning, the middle, and the end of everything. The mother is always good, the mother always knows the best way. 


According to the study that led to this debate, some preliminary studies found that abuse behaviors coming from mothers were considered less negative than the same types of abuse coming from fathers. When we burst the bubble of expectations and see the mother as a human being with all the potential to perhaps commit some evil against her children, we are not only facing an extremely delicate crime, we are facing the mother figure in an imperfect, unimaginable role.  


We can use Pieta to think about it. A sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding in her lap the body of her dead son. An example of the resilience of the mother figure, who does everything for her child. This is the ideal flow of life that we expect, unconditional love from someone who brings us into this world. Then we have a percentage of girls who have been sexually abused by their mothers, and as a society, we are not prepared in any way to help these people. We don't talk about the issue. Nobody dares.  


More data from RAINN demonstrates that the effects of child sexual abuse can last for a long time, also the consequences in mental health are clear: these victims are 4 times more likely to develop symptoms of drug abuse, 4 times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder as adults and 3 times more likely to experience a major depressive episode in adult life.  


Regardless of the numbers we have, there are victims. Until we discuss, in a rational and non-idealized way, crimes committed by mothers towards their daughters, the survivors of these crimes will continue to have no answers on how to live again after such a trauma.  


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