The Dynamics of Child Sexual Abuse: Betrayal by the Parental Figure


I offer this essay as an attempt to understand why a victim of sexual abuse would be reluctant to go public with her (I acknowledge that males are also victims of abuse, but as the allegations here relate to female’s I will use the female pronoun) story then or now. I also distinguish between the sexual abuse of a child and an adult. While the betrayal of trust of an adult and her therapist or doctor is extremely damaging, at least at that level the adult can usually take care of herself. A child simply can not.

I apologize if this background information is already familiar to you, but I would rather not assume that it is. It seems rather amazing that people are so demanding and angry that more victims have not come public. I remind you that both the William Rodarmor and Lis Harris articles have interviewed women claiming to have sexual relations with Muktananda. At least one woman was still an active member of Siddha Yoga at the time of the New Yorker article.

Children are completely dependent on the adults in their lives from the moment of conception. They are completely helpless and if the parents are not responsible in the pre-natal care, for example, the effects can be lifelong. A mother who drinks heavily may easily cause brain damage in her child. A mother who smokes may stunt the growth of the yet unborn infant. The fetus is literally connected to the mother for its very existence. If the mother dies, so does the fetus.

After the child is born, this level of "life and death" dependency continues for many years. Social intervention (child protective services for example) aside, the mother and/or father continue to provide the basic necessities to sustain life: water, food, shelter and hopefully some emotional interaction and love. The infant cries feeling pain when she gets hungry or thirsty. She feels physically uncomfortable, feels pain, if she gets too cold or wet. The good parent will provide comfort as it is required and provide social interaction, a feature as necessary as water, even before it is asked.

As the child is unable to conceptualize thoughts as you are, as when you read this essay for example, she responds from a very "primitive" awareness. While there are many different theories of child development, I do not feel it necessary to align with one or another. Rather suffice to say that in general, they all agree that the awareness of the newborn is unable to comprehend as we do as adults. Newborns do "comprehend" the difference between pain and comfort or love. They comprehend the difference between life and death on a very basic level. We as adults, unless we are working or living in a place that brings the possibility of death to our doorstep, are normally not in touch with this basic foundation of life.

As the child grows she develops will, choice, the ability to understand words, the ability to express herself with language: verbal, pictorial and eventually written. The society in which a child is raised affects how soon the individual is expected to be self-sustaining when it comes to basic needs. In the tribes of South America a girl is considered ready for marriage by menses, 13, 14 or so. The tribe expects and raises the child with this in mind. And there is a strong extended family as well that continues on with the support and raising of the child - parent to be.

In the industrial societies, a girl is not expected to marry legally before 18 or so. There are still exceptions to this. In some Arab societies the child is "ready" for marriage as a young teen. Again the child is raised with that in mind and again there is a strong tribal support of that child - parent to be.

Usually, in the west, a child is still dependent, emotionally and physically, on the parents or custodial adults until at least their late teens or early twenties. The process of individuation is gradual and gentle. It can certainly be rushed by crises, illness, death etc.

A child believes to her core that if the parental or custodial figure abandons them that they will die. A 7-year old is simply unable to walk out of her house and simply take care of herself if a parent is abusing or neglecting her.

Children, in addition to being totally dependent on the parent, are also totally giving and loving of themselves towards that parent. In return they are completely dependent upon the emotional approval of that parent. Why? Because that is the way we are wired as human beings. A parent’s disapproval of the child, in a normal family, can be used to help teach and guide the child’s development. In an abusive family, that same disapproval can mean something quite different. It can be the precursor to further abuse and/or possible abandonment and eventual death.

In the abusive family, the parent is often aware that he (again perpetrators can be women but I will use the male pronoun for this essay) could go to jail, as society and other members of the family would disapprove of his actions if discovered.

In this essay I will focus on the perpetrator who is known to the child as opposed to the stranger who assaults the child: the abusing father, uncle, brother, baby-sitter, family friend, priest, minister, teacher, doctor, or guru who has occupied a place of trust and dependence in the child’s life. Some predators "groom" their victims and the families, spending large amounts of time building trust, dependency and a "loving" relationship before actually physically assaulting the child.

With the abuse there are frequent threats made against the child. These threats may include death or be more subtle: if the adult is found out the adult may be taken away. This also threatens the child’s sense of her welfare as she is also physically and emotionally dependent upon that very same adult who is abusing her. The loss of the adult is seen as a direct threat to the child’s existence.

Children are told that no-one will believe them if they do tell. While this is often true, the child has no direct experience in this matter. Remember, up until now the child has trusted in and believed the adult in question. That trust and belief does not simply get turned off, rather it remains in conflict with the dynamics of the abuse. Even adult victims of sexual abuse are often not believed and attacked.

Some children are "rewarded" and given presents by the abuser. They are told they are special and that they have a special and secret relationship. As the child often feels confused and ashamed by what has happened, it is easy and comforting for the child to go along with this charade. And behind this facade of specialness there still exists the threats of reprisals as well. In a family or community where the attention of the parent or teacher or guru means everything, what else is a child or young adult to do?

How does the child respond to the abuse? There are many factors. The age of the child is critical. At a pre-conscious level, the first 6-12 months for example, the child may or may not remember the abuse. (This is open for debate though as psychologists are finding that children born in a more natural manner have a greater capacity for awareness and memory even earlier than what was once thought.) How the abuse is perpetrated is important. If physical pain is involved, generally it is considered more traumatic to the child. If direct threats of abandonment or death are used it is more traumatic. And of vital importance is the reaction to the child from those other adults around her that she trusts. Do they blame her or support her? All this is imprinted into the victims personality.

The emotional development and the family support the child has is important. If the child is living in a chaotic, alcoholic family that is isolated from the extended family, school and neighborhood it is much more difficult for the child to reach out.

Children will often incorporate the abuse into their life. It may manifest as physical illness, trouble sleeping or eating. The child may have nightmares and often has trouble concentrating. Depending upon the degree of the pain (physical or emotional) the child will start to disassociate herself from the event. This psychological defense is used to protect the child from the actual pain of the event and the pain of reliving the event in memory. The child may, in more extreme cases, develop extra personalities to help her cope with the trauma. The child may become self-destructive.

As the child grows she may become overly sexual with peers and adults, having learned that this behavior is often rewarded with material things and emotional attention. The child may develop alcohol and drug problems. Eating disorders are common. The child turned adult may simply put the episode out of her mind. Suicidal behavior is not uncommon in some cases. Involvement in destructive and abusive relationships as teens and adults is frequent as the emotional child, in an adult body, struggles with trying to work out the past in present relationships. Some of these children avoid sexual relationships as they get older as it is too threatening to revisit any behavior or feelings that are similar to the abusive acts.

Most child sexual abuse is discovered by others. Medical personnel are trained to watch for sexual abuse and are required by law to report suspected abuse. Teachers are trained to watch for changes in behavior and also report suspected abuse. These professionals and others can be held liable for not reporting abuse. They have the ability to make a phone call, they know who to call. Certainly in this society, in the past 10 - 15 years, there has been a concentrated effort to educate children and parents alike to be on the lookout for abusive sexual behavior. This has caused the increase of self-reports and adult intervention. However, there are just as many who are still terrified of going public, of having to relive the pain and the shame of it all.

The earlier an intervention can be made and with the proper therapy the sooner a child or adult can begin the road to recovery. A year of sexual abuse, by a trusted one, may take 10, 20 or more years to heal. Not that the scar ever really goes away. How can you erase the past? The best that can be hoped for is that the victim learns that they were not responsible for the abuse. (This may be an obvious observation to the outsider, but it is a common response by the victim. And many adults do blame the victim as well. The wife blames the daughter for being more appealing to the husband and further blames the daughter for she is at risk if the husband is taken away.) If the victim comes to this realization she may be able to lead a productive and happy life, including healthy romantic and sexual relationships.

If the victim has developed other problems, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, an eating disorder or mental health issues, then those problems need to be addressed before one can look at the underlying cause. This may take years.

Some adults simply take the abuse, put it into a room in their minds, and lock the door. They choose not to deal with it in therapy or in public. They live their lives the best they can and while they are aware of the abuse, and continue to exert effort to keep the door locked, they will simply ignore it or tell themselves, it’s over with and there is nothing that can be done, or should be done about it. What’s the point? There is a price for this however. The woman has to shut off part of her emotional life to keep the door closed and it will eventually limit them emotionally elsewhere in their lives as a result.

While it may be considered just and appropriate, and applauded in the movies, the victim may simply never be able to directly confront the perpetrator. She may simply choose not to. Sometimes it is simply too painful. It may have taken years to deal with the original abuse in therapy (if the adult has even dealt with it) and the pain of "going public" may be too much to endure. The shame of being looked at by the public may be too much. And there will be those who still do not believe the victim. She would have to confront the angry and disillusionment brought on by her allegations. In a real way this could easily turn into a re-traumatization of the original abuse.

Who are we to judge how a woman chooses to deal with this trauma?

In the ashram there are further dynamics that need to be acknowledged. The child’s parents, to whom the child is dependent upon for her life, have placed the guru on the pedestal, to be all-knowing and all-perfect. So the child struggles to accept this "great gift from the guru" and somehow tries to make sense of it. Remember it is taught that the guru is perfect in action and word. Any attention or gift from the guru is taken with great awe. People fight for a better place in line hoping to catch the eye of the all-powerful one as he walks by. A glance or a word or a touch is cherished for years. At the same time the guru teaches that sex is to be avoided. Rather take the sexual energy and use it for enlightenment.

So the child is given the "most special gift" by the guru. What is she to do? She is molested and given material gifts as well. Who is she to tell? Will she be believed? Does she think it is special and doesn’t believe it was bad? Or is she ashamed and fearful to talk about it. After all, all the adults in her life, the ones she would turn to, are in awe of the guru as well.

While this essay has focused upon the victims who are children, there is the area of abuse when a figure such as a minister, doctor, therapist or guru, takes advantage of his "parental" position of authority and sexually abuses adult women. It is generally against the law and all professional ethics for a person in the "elevated" role of helper to become sexually involved with adult patients or clients. The reason is that even if the women is of age, she is considered to be vulnerable due to the power difference inherent in the relationship, be it client-therapist or devotee-guru.

Many of the same dynamics apply here that apply to the child. Fear of abandonment or expulsion from the group is strong. The need for approval and acceptance does not stop when a person reaches adulthood. Feeling special is a powerful manipulation. The guru has chosen me instead of the others. At the same time, the same confusions exist. How is it that the guru is being sexual with me when he has stated you should be celibate while in the ashram? Well, if he makes the rules, you could assume that he can break them, or is beyond them. He is after all perfect and above the law. Just let us keep it a secret as the others won’t understand. This is simply the same type of rationale used by a sexual perpetrator who is abusing a young child.

There are many levels of denial and rationalization that have developed around this issue of Muktananda having sex with teens and young adults. Some simply do not believe it happened and say there is no proof. The only real proof for these people would be if they were there themselves. If a woman came forward, as some did in the articles by William Rodarmor and Lis Harris, would she be believed? Or would she, as I suspect, be abused further by the loving and devoted followers of Siddha Yoga? Is it unreasonable for them to be fearful of reprisals? I think not. If this woman was still a member of Siddha Yoga, she would risk expulsion, since SYDA has never publicly acknowledged that these acts even took place. She would risk harassment by fellow devotees.

Then there are those who believe that since Muktananda did not ejaculate while he was penetrating the girls and women, that it was ok; that since he did not ejaculate, he must not have been receiving pleasure and it was "tantric" and beyond normal comprehension. Who are you kidding? Of course he received pleasure. There are many people who practice non-ejaculatory sex, for many reasons. It is said to be good for one’s health and is said to be helpful for raising one’s level of spiritual awareness. In Asia, it is considered good fortune to have sex with girls who are young and virgins as then their energy, "shakti" in Siddha Yoga terms, "chi" in Chinese terms, can be taken into the older male and used to support their health. Don’t think for one minute that it wasn’t pleasurable to Muktananda. Of course it felt good, how could it not? (If you are not convinced, I invite you, if you have the will power, to be sexual, without ejaculation for a period of time; the results may surprise you.)

Some then believed that he used this method to "bless" the female devotee. And since Muktananda was enlightened, he was beyond the pleasure of it and wasn’t affected by it. Was Muktananda affected by the cold and the heat? Was he affected by his heart attacks? Did he get hungry? Of course he did. As long as you are in the body how can you not be affected by the body? Well, what about the male devotee? How is it that you have to be female to get the "special blessing"? I don’t remember reading anything about this in the B. Gita or the Shiva Sutras.

Some believe that since they had such powerful experiences with Muktananda and so many others had such wonderful experiences, that he simply could not have been capable of such acts. Where does it say that because a person is powerful in one area of their lives that they can’t be corrupt in others? The list is long of spiritual teachers, east and west, who were caught with their pants down.

Can you see how our mind needs to make excuses so it doesn’t have to face the truth? For you and I are victims, to a lesser extent of course, as well. We need(ed) to believe in the guru, who was all-powerful and all-perfect, and was not. We were told one thing and have learned that it was not so.

It would be all very neat and wrapped up if several women came forward and said, "My name is ___ ; and I had sex with Muktananda on ___: and he did ____to me." Since several women have said this anonymously, in the above referenced articles, I guess the fact that they have chosen to keep their privacy has bothered some people. I would hope after reading this essay that perhaps you might understand why they choose to do that.

So, if you choose not to believe that these molestation's took place, should you let that lessen the importance of the other problems that have been well documented elsewhere in this web site and in the "O Guru" article? I should hope not.

Some people are upset that no-one on this web site has revealed their history of sexual abuse in Siddha Yoga, that somehow that it would make it more acceptable and believable if such a person posted their story here. Well, as this web site is obviously a grass roots attempt at publishing the other side of SYDA, how could I expect to guarantee any particular story from any particular person?


January 1997