The media is beside itself trying to understand why Shawn Hornbeck, the youngster kidnapped four-and-a-half years ago, remained a captive despite being on his own much of the time.
All the would-be psychologists on TV and in the press have been speculating wildly, coming up with a myriad of reasons such as a case of the Stockholm syndrome, for example, as to why the youngster did not flee his alleged captivity when he had many opportunities to get away from his alleged kidnapper.
None of these people know what they are talking about. They don’t have the vaguest idea of what goes on in the mind of a young boy who has been sexually abused by an adult, as I assume was the case with Shawn.
I do. Only those who have had that horrific experience can understand what undoubtedly happened to Shawn Hornbeck, and I’m one of them.
When I was eight years old I was sexually abused by a man who ran an after-school day camp. And after that first molestation, I was literally blackmailed into silence by him, making it possible for him to continue to molest me for a year without fear of being exposed.
People who wonder why child victims of sexual abuse remain silent about their experiences have to understand that after that first episode the molester takes ownership of the youngster for a variety of reasons including shame and threats to tell his parents their child is a sexual deviant.
In my case the reason why I didn’t run away although this man was molesting me for a year was simply this: he owned me.
As I wrote in my book, “Twice Adopted,” which I urge parents to buy and read carefully for their children’s sake (you can get it at Amazon.com), “It doesn’t matter if you are molested once or a thousand times; it’s the first incident that does the damage. That first act solidifies the molester’s ownership of you.”
Although I have no way of knowing if Shawn allowed himself to be photographed in a compromising situation as I was, if that was the case with him the molester’s ownership was solidly confirmed.
I allowed my abuser to take nude photos of me much against my will. He used those photos to blackmail me into silence by threatening to show them to my mother. That thought terrorized me. And it was enough to keep me silent.
I thought that if my mother saw those pictures she would know that I was what I then believed myself to be — evil. Another hold a molester has over his victim, you see, is his understanding that his victims come to believe that the molestation is their fault, and their deep shame and guilt ensures their silence.
A lot of people who are now speculating about the reason Shawn Hornbeck failed to flee are implying that he could have escaped countless times. They do not understand that his captivity did not involve being physically shackled and chained, but instead he was mentally imprisoned by fear of the exposure of his shame. He would have seen himself not as an innocent victim of sexual molestation, but as his molester’s partner in it.
That feeling of partnership grows out of the victim’s belief that even if they consider that the first sexual act was the abuser’s fault, they share the blame for all the subsequent acts.
And if there were photographs, as there were in my case, the threat of his parents ever seeing them and believing their son was the real guilty party is terrifying.
From my own experience, I know that it’s easier to put a gun in your mouth and pull the trigger than it is to tell your mother or your father what some man has done to you.
My advice to all the amateur psychologists telling us what happened to Shawn is to just plain shut up. If you haven’t been there, yourself, you don’t know what you are talking about. Leave the kid alone, he’s been through enough grief.
©2007 Mike Reagan. If you’re not a paying subscriber to our service, you must contact us to print or web post this column. Mike’s column is distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Cari Dawson Bartley email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561.