Our guest today is Julie Brand, author of A Mother’s Touch: Surviving Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse. Today we discuss her book, her work as a counselor, and her advocacy regarding the education around this kind of abuse. Listen to our follow up show with Julie Brand HERE.
Because of the lack of information about this type of abuse, we are proud to further the available resources. Julie is a nationally recognized speaker on this topic and she does provide listings in this article for additional resources.
Questions and Answers from Julie:
What have you seen amongst survivors of this type of incest that is unique from other kinds of sexual abuse trauma?
During the past ten years, I have met and/or corresponded with many adult survivors of mother-daughter sexual abuse. Some are in their 20’s; others are over 70. As with survivors of other forms of sexual abuse trauma, they have struggled with guilt, shame, self-doubt and depression, in varying degrees. PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) “flashbacks” and nightmares are common.
What I believe to be uniquely devastating about mother-daughter incest is the betrayal of the mother-daughter relationship. It is not just what was done to the child but who the perpetrator was. It seems unfathomable that a woman would molest her own child. “Why?” “How could she?” In addition to their other responses, many survivors of mother-daughter incest experience the profound grief of being, in essence, “a motherless child.”
How has the reaction been from therapists, law enforcement, academia, for example, when speaking about this kind of abuse?
It has changed. When I first begin speaking on the subject of mother-daughter incest, I would see a lot of “deer in the headlights” expressions of shock and disbelief. Many of the professionals in my audiences commented, “I’ve never heard of this before.”
More recently, we have made progress in acknowledging that females can be sex offenders. Several factors have contributed:
- Women are participating in the possession, distribution and production of Internet child pornography. Abusive mothers sometimes take “selfies.”
- Viewing the graphic digital evidence quickly destroys the belief that “a mother couldn’t and wouldn’t do that.” Judges and juries are no longer in such denial.
- Female teachers are increasingly being reported and arrested for inappropriate sexual behavior with their students. These can be highly complex cases to prosecute. Some people still view the behavior as “victimless”. But, we are at least talking about women as perpetrators.
What questions should a survivor ask of a therapist to make sure they are working with one who can actually help them?
Survivors may be extremely vulnerable when they seek therapy. They often lack the time, money, knowledge and courage to “shop” for an effective therapist.
It is important to get referrals through professional organizations designed to help survivors, such as:
- Making Daughters Safe Again
- Male Survivor
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network )
- Licensed, credentialed therapists who are endorsed by state and national professional associations
Survivors should not be afraid to ask questions of each potential therapist, such as:
- Has the therapist worked with other incest survivors:
- Is the therapist knowledgeable about female sex offenders?
- Does the therapist use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
- Is the therapist familiar with trauma-informed therapy?
What role does narcissism play in mother-daughter sexual abuse?
Not all narcissists are child molesters but I believe all mothers who are capable of molesting their own children have NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).
If we look at the characteristics of someone with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), two of them stand out as particularly relevant:
- Inter-personally exploitative (takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends; doesn’t care who gets hurt).
- Lacks empathy (is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others; has no genuine compassion for others).
I believe these two traits are essential in the mother who sexually abuses her own child. She feels no guilt and no remorse, only fear of getting caught. It really is “all about her”. Mother-daughter incest does not occur in healthy families. The family might look healthy to the outside world, but it is not.
Healthy boundaries do not exist. The mother and daughter are “enmeshed”—as viewed by the mom as one person—“mother & daughter”—physically and emotionally. The mother does not care about or respect her daughter’s feelings or even see her as a separate person with rights of her own.
- Daughter is objectified
- Mother may rule a “land of 1,000 rules and regulations”
- Daughter is controlled physically, psychologically and emotionally. Compliance and obedience are highly valued, strongly reinforced and virtually guaranteed, starting in early childhood. The daughters have been “groomed” since birth to never say “No” to Mommy
- Mind games
- Intimidation and threats
What are some of the common abusive behaviors for professionals to look for in mother-daughter incest?
A continuum of sexually abusive behaviors from inappropriate to intentional covert sexual abuse, to overt sexual assault “parenting”, such as bathing, toileting, voyeurism, fondling, masturbation, excessive enemas, exhibitionism, oral sex, bizarre cleansing rituals, penetration—vaginal or anal, fixation on menstrual cycles–both the mother’s and daughter’s, torture.
What role do fathers/husbands play in families with mother-daughter incest? Do they know what is going on? Are there attempts to intervene and to rescue?
There is some limited research available that was done by Bobbie Rosencrans, MSW. She surveyed and analyzed the data from 93 volunteer adult women across the nation who self-reported abuse by their mothers, primarily, bt not exclusively, during their childhoods. The data were provided in 1990 and she published a book, Last Secret: Daughters Sexually Abused by Mothers, in 1997. The data point to:
- Patterns of physical absence from the children’s lives and/or passive roles in parenting
- Mother controls the home environment, the marriage and the children
- Daughters “blindly” trust women, especially mothers; lack information
- Survivors lack information about healthy relationships
What do we know about female sex offenders? Were these women sexually abused when they were children?
There are three patterns of female-perpetrated sexual abuse:
1) Romanticized fantasy—teacher-student (e.g., Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau
2) Co-abuser often with male partner (coerced, at least initially)
3) Predisposed, acting alone
From the research it appears that unlike male offenders, all female sex offenders know their victims. They are related to their victims (e.g., mothers, step-mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters, cousins) or are friends of the family, such as neighbors, teachers, etc. who use the relationship to gain access to and to abuse their victims. Some perpetrators report having been sexually abused themselves as children, but not all. Many have undiagnosed, untreated mental health problems (as they’re evaluated after their arrest).
A second interview on the topic “resiliency” in survivors is posted here.
Julie Brand, M.S
(Child Abuse Prevention, Education and Recovery)
2613 Harrisburg Ave., Henderson, NV 89052
Phone: (702) 982-8156
Web site: www.caperconsulting.com
Julie A. Brand is a powerful advocate for mental wellness through her own firm, CAPER Consulting: Child Abuse, Prevention, Education and Recovery, but during her two-and-a-half-decade long career as a guidance counselor in middle and high schools Julie watched over children with a fierceness she would not begin to understand until her late thirties. She dedicated CAPER Consulting to confronting the subject of mother-daughter sexual abuse and educating other professionals about the complex dynamics of maternal incest and how to intervene effectively on the behalf of victims.
As early as 1988 Julie was nominated by her colleagues for the Reader’s Digest “American Heroes in Education” program because of her child abuse prevention work. She began teaching workshops that were popular at other school districts and spoke at national conferences on the subjects of child abuse, adolescent depression, and bullying related to sexual and gender identity. By 2000 she had written a successful grant to establish a “lending library” with resource materials on child abuse. She also trained her colleagues though in-service courses on how and when to report cases of suspected abuse.
At a more personal level, Julie’s counselling positions allowed her to encourage the children in her charge to focus on resiliency whenever she believed they might be exhibiting stress-related behaviors that were related to their own family dynamics. She believes “children know the difference between something done accidentally and something done ‘on purpose’” even though they may not be able to articulate it until they are older.
Now semi-retired, Julie continues her advocacy of children’s mental wellness by sharing her own experience as a survivor of emotional child abuse and mother-daughter sexual abuse. Julie reports that the latter topic is “under-recognized, under-researched and under-reported” in her 2007 book, A Mother’s Touch: Surviving Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse (Trafford Publishing). She explains that it was only after her mother’s death that she began to understand how her own childhood may have informed her career choice and how it helped her to recognize some of the more subtle signs of abuse in others.
In 2005, Julie began offering private workshops and full-day training courses nationally on the topics of “The Best Kept Secret: Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse”, “Resiliency 101: From Victim to Survivor” (since 2009), and “A Close-up Look at Female Offenders in Positions of Trust” (since 2009). Last year she launched a new workshop, “Providing Therapeutic Support for Victims of Female Perpetrators”.
Julie earned a BA (English) at the University of Oregon, Eugene, an MS (Counseling and Guidance) from North Dakota State University, Fargo, and has done additional postgraduate work in her field.