The recent allegations about a 1979 incident involving then 32-year old Alabama Assistant District Attorney Roy Moore illustrate, once again, that we are woefully misinformed and misguided about the reality of childhood sexual abuse and assault.
When an adult—whether a teacher, clergy member, coach, or in this case a prosecutor in a courthouse—initiates a sexual conversation or has sexual contact with a minor child, the incident is child sexual abuse, period.
The most commonly used terms to describe adult sexual contact with a person under the age of 18 include:
- Sexual encounter
- Sexual relations
- Sexual relationship
- Dating, or “He asked her on a date”
A minor child does not have the ability to give consent for sexual contact with an adult. That is why consent laws exist, and why an adult who has sexual contact with a minor child is guilty of a criminal act.
An adult, no matter what his/her status, is in an authority role over a minor child. A child does not freely—without direct or indirect coercion—enter into a relationship, sexual relationship, sexual relations, or “date” an adult. In fact, adults have a duty to protect children from such coercion and exploitation.
Some Moore apologists have argued that because the age of consent in Alabama is 16, Moore’s other accusers who were older—but still teenagers—are in a separate category from the 14-year old victim, Ms. Corfman. At the time of the alleged abuse, the age of consent in Alabama was three years younger than the legal drinking age. Today, the legal drinking age in Alabama is 21, yet the age of consent remains 16.
Regardless of what you believe is the appropriate age of consent, there is no rational basis for requiring a person to be 21 years old to consume alcohol, yet maintaining that they have the maturity to consent to sexual contact five years sooner.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse—especially women who were abused as teenagers by a respected authority figure such as a teacher or a coach—feel a toxic stew of emotions including , shame, guilt, and affection as a result of their abuse. They wonder, “Did I bring this on myself? Was it really abuse if I felt flattered, special, or ‘in love’?”
One of Moore’s alleged victims, Ms. Corfman, describes how Moore’s actions impacted her:
“I felt responsible,” she says. “I felt like I had done something bad. And it kind of set the course for me doing other things that were bad.”
(Washington Post, November 9, 2017)
When the abuse continues for months or even years, the victim often feels as though she/he is in love with the perpetrator. The impact of childhood sexual abuse creates deeply confusing and ambivalent feelings about the abuse and the perpetrator that may persist for years—or even decades.
If Ms. Corfman’s allegations about Moore’s conduct are true—and there is no reason to believe that they are not—she is likely one of many more victims beyond the three others identified in the Washington Post report.
The description of Moore approaching Ms. Corfman and her mother in that Alabama courthouse in 1979 posing as their protector is classic—and practiced—predatory behavior. The proper term for his alleged behavior is “grooming,” and its purpose is to lay the groundwork for sexually abusing the predator’s target in the future.
It’s time to start calling childhood sexual abuse what it is. To do less is to make invisible the trauma of our children—allowing child sexual predators to minimize their behavior and continue to offend and abuse.
Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW, CSAT is a relational trauma expert specializing in infidelity and betrayal trauma. She is the author of Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts. For more information please visit her website: vickitidwellpalmer.com, or follow her on Twitter @vtidwellpalmer