Examining Mother Daughter Sexual Abuse with Julie A. Brand, M.S.

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:

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
  • Control
  • Manipulation
  • Isolation
  • 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

CAPER Consulting
(Child Abuse Prevention, Education and Recovery)
2613 Harrisburg Ave., Henderson, NV 89052
Phone:  (702) 982-8156
E-Mail:  julie_brand@caperconsulting.com
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.



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Comments (18)

  • I didn’t remember the abuse until I was in my 30’s-40’s. I am currently back in therapy and struggling to actually feel the feelings of the abuse-I detach and get clinical so very, very well. I am not sure how much of this detachment means I have overcome the feelings and forgiven or if I am still in psychic and emotional denial and repression.

    I want to heal but at 66 have great fear about opening these wounds.

    • We hear so often from listeners that most people don’t remember until later in life because of all the implications surrounding it. Julie is so brave to have shared her story. She’s helping so many people with her message but it’s been difficult for her as well.

  • I was molested by two of my aunts. From the ages 2-5 i believe. I didn’t remember the abuse at first for a long time, but growing up I was always interested in sex as a kid. I remember fantasizing about having sex with women and and men at just the tender age of 8. I would wet the bed at night up until I was in 7th grade. Around 7th grade, I experienced flashbacks of the abuse and never told anyone because I didn’t want to ruin the family. Now I’m 22 years old and find it harder and harder to cope with. I swore that I would take the secret to the grave with me but it seems impossible. The flashbacks and triggers are more severe.

  • I remember a few distinct times I felt uncomfortable as a child, and have considered being abused as a child because I don’t remember a large chunk of my childhood and my mother matches every description that I’ve researched this far. It is insane and I’m not sure how to process this because it’s so accurate yet I remember nothing that would seem traumatic, but I feel it. I feel it on my body and the shivers and shakes but where do they come from? There’s no way my mother would have ever done this to me, but the facts are her, but my memory is faulty. I don’t know what to do now with any of this. I’m 20 years old and I no longer have consistent contact with my mother.

    • We wanted Julie to come on the show because we know this abuse is so prevalent but not much help out there. I’m hoping the show inspires more online groups where people can share anonymously if they wish for support. We had such a huge response to this show and the blog post. Not remembering portions of your childhood and be consistent with abuse that you could not process. It doesn’t have to be but often that is a symptom. There are wonderful counselors out there that can process this with you – just be frank with them before you come for this appointment so you know if they have the experience to help you with this form of abuse.

  • Your childhood never leaves you. The memories, even if not conscious, are buried in your bodies. I think a study should be done on women abused as children and certain chronic health conditions, to see if there is a possible link.

    I read, accredited to Buddha, three things cannot be long hidden, the sun, the moon and the truth. The truth was mentioned last, perhaps it takes the longest to come to the light, many moon and sun cycles and orbits. The truth comes out, even if we are not initially aware, in many ways, but we are often blinded by our own darkness, our eyes closed.

    My mother’s abuse, effected me in ways and determined my decisions subconsciously in my life, by finding repeatedly someone like my mother, who would ignore me, disrespect me, dismiss me , lie and abuse me, and I would try so hard to convince such a person that I was worthy of their love, by doing and trying, and then I fantasized everything would be fine, I would feel human, not a mutant, not defective, finally good enough. But I all I did was repeat a bad cycle and invite more pain into my life. I am healing but it is a life long process and probably won’t finish or complete it in this lifetime.

    Learning to honor and respect yourself and feel compassion for the child in you that tried to figure out a chaotic, confusing, disordered situation thrown at them. This has helped me and compassion for the adult that has made so many poor choices looking for love, thinking they needed it, from the worst possible places. Learning to say no, and if not heard, taking the next literal step, no words but action, like walking or running away,, this was a first baby step towards taking my own personal power back.

    • No it never does. It gets unpacked over the course of your lifetime. Many of us have had both parents that were emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually toxic. Since that is our first experience in the world, we seem to spend our lifetime working through those horrible childhood experiences via our adult relationships. You are absolutely right that learning compassion and respect for yourself – all of ages of you – is the resting place where healing can begin without seeking it through others (knowingly or unknowingly). The focus becomes about looking for your love for yourself, having friendships that are reciprocal with loving people, and not focusing on needing an “other” to fit in to societies version of normal. We can absolutely go through our lives without always seeking that other half – the missing piece in another person. The “missing” piece is within us. Once we welcome he/she in and embrace ourselves fully, we can then truly have peace in the present and with our past. Thanks so much for writing and reading!

  • I was routinely covertly molested by my mother (and also my older brother to a way lesser extent). She was always frustrated with me when I didn”t want to be fully nude just to get my hair washed out. I always felt, so exposed. I remember her washing my genitals a lot as well, till about 7. My mind has almost completely blocked out the fact that my mother would lay me and my younger sister down sometimes before school and put ointments and creams inside our vaginas. We were never given and explanation for this. Growing up, she would grab us by the genitals and tell us dirty and/or inappropriate jokes. The final sexual abuse is when she coerced me into putting ointment into my anus at 16 when I was more than capable of doing myself. I have no contact with her or my father (who raped my older sister at 7). I feel guilty for not having a relationship with my mom, dad and older brother (who would expose himself to me and try to get me to grind on top of him). That house hold was full of sexual, emotion and physical abuse and I ran away the first chance I got. I just feel incredible dirty, icky, unsafe and sometimes even shamefully aroused at the thought of being near them. I’ve been in and out of therapy and even hospitalized for severe depression and ptsd. I would love to have a “family”, but the one I have now has damaged me almost beyond repair.

    • We are so sorry that you had to go through this. You are not alone. This particular show has had so many listeners and comments we were surprised but happy. Happy because this was a topic that was not talked about but obviously relevant. It was taboo even in the mental health field but it is NOT anymore. Try not to let the guilt consume you. Just because someone birthed you does not mean you have to maintain a relationship with them. I understand the feeling at your core that something is inherently wrong, damaged, and toxic about you. This is what incest does to children and it takes a lifetime to unpack what isn’t true about us but as children we couldn’t rationalize other than to blame ourselves. There is nothing wrong with you. Please let us know if you would like a referral to a counselor and please keep listening to the shows. We cover this topic often as many of us in the organization have been through this type of abuse also.

  • As a mother of 2 daughters I have never heard of such a horrible thing.
    I can’t imagine what a mother could do to sexually molest her daughter.
    It’s so disgusting . D

  • Sitting here sobbing. I really believed my family was the only one who ever did this, and thus there was something wrong with me, because I probably just made it up. Thank you for validating something I have always known but never acknowledged. Now in my early 60s, after a life full of ‘weird’ (and often abusive relationships) finally time to face this.

    • I’m so glad this article and show was helpful. We’ve had so many emails and private messages about this topic and you are definitely not alone.

  • I recently came to terms with the fact that my mother abused me physically, verbally and emotionally, but I’m scared to think that her acts qualify as sexual abuse too. She used to walk completely naked inside the house, even when she knew my friends will come over. She took me in bed with her when I was a little girl, and she was completely naked and sometimes she talked about what my father did in bed with her, things that at that age I could not understand fully. From a very early age I remember she putting ointment on my vulva almost everyday, until I was eight, and she would wait until my friends came to see me to do it. I asked her to do it later because I was embarrased but she insisted on me laying on the sofa with the legs wide open and putting the cream on my parts with my friends watching. She used to put something that looked like a pencil up my rectum and she claimed that would help me go to the bathroom but I don’t remember ever having problems with constipation, so why did she do it? She didn’t allow me to use toilet paper if I only urinated because it was a waste of money, but she inspected my panties all the time and shamed me for being stained and called me dirty. When I got my period at 13 she inspected the sanitary napkins after I used them and called me dirty if a little blood would transfer to the underwear. I didn´t know that it was normal to be wetter during ovulation and she insisted that I was dirty when she inspected my panties during those days and they were wet. I truly thought I was being very dirty and nasty. I lived in a European country where going topless is allowed in beaches and pool areas. It’s a choice, not mandatory, but for me It was never a choice. My whole adolescent years she forced me to be topless at the pool and the beach even though I begged her to let me wear my top because I was very embarrased. She forced me to wear very sexy clothes like transparent blouses and super short shorts and walk right in front of teenage boys. Then if some boy said some obscene comment to me she woul laugh and tell me that he was right. There are many more examples. I thought this was only emotional abuse but not sexual because she is my mother. I am 47 and she is 70 now. I have always seen sex as bad, dirty and nasty. I suffered from vaginismus up until my thirties. I have lived in another continent far away from her for the past 24 years but she is still abusive when I go back to visit. She used to touch my vulva on top of my pants in a swiping movement if I bend over to pick up something from the floor. She thinks it’s a funny joke. She still did it last year and when I told her not to do it ever again she told me I don’t have a sense of humor. I am sure she would deny all the other things that I mentioned because she has denied all the verbal, physical and emotional abuse examples when I brought it up saying that I am crazy and those things are not real, that I must have dreamt them. Please, tell me that what she did to me is not sexual abuse, because I don’t know if I could handle it if it is.

    • I believe that you deserve to investigate what she has done to you with a loving and safe therapist and together make a determination about abuse. I am truly sorry for what you have experienced. Whatever label it is given, it is abuse and you deserve to be validated in the safe container a wonderful therapist would create with you. Thank you so much for reaching out.

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