Why Some People Don't Confront Childhood Sexual Abuse Until Later In Life

Photo: Courtesy of Sundance.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Tale.
In HBO's new original movie The Tale, Laura Dern plays Jennifer, a woman whose life is upended when her mother discovers a short story Jennifer wrote in middle school about a troubling relationship she had with her adult coaches. Throughout the movie, Jennifer is forced to reckon with the sexual abuse she experienced as a child, and to reconcile her own memories with what really happened.
Her journey is devastating, but it's not an uncommon one for survivors of child sexual abuse. Matt Lundquist, LCSW, a psychotherapist based in New York City, says that often survivors don't confront the repercussions of their abuse until later in life. This can happen for several reasons, but for the most part, it stems from the fact that the abuser is usually someone that a survivor trusts, which makes abuse confusing, especially for a child. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), a child is sexually assaulted in the U.S. every eight minutes, and 93% of those survivors know the perpetrator.
"Whenever there’s abuse happening with children, there’s always two parts: There's the abuse itself, and the conditions that allow it to happen and perpetuate or be covered up," Lundquist says. "There’s an agenda of coercion and/or manipulation which is often very sophisticated."
And there are plenty of ways that an abuser's "agenda" can make it difficult for survivors to confront assault. Ahead, we talked to experts about what can keep survivors from grappling with abuse.
Based on the filmmaker's own story, THE TALE is an investigation into one woman's memory as she is forced to re-examine her first sexual experience and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive. THE TALE will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand from May 26th onwards. More info and full list of nonprofit partners can be found at thetalemovie.com.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

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