This week, the public learned of allegations that ‘Mythbusters’ host Adam Savage sexually assaulted his younger sister throughout their adolescence. Miranda Pacchiana says the television star raped her repeatedly during 1976-1979, during which time she was 7 to 10 years old and Savage was 9 to 12 years old. The shocking claims shook many fans, who were left wondering if these accusations were true, and if so, how they were fooled into respecting and admiring Savage.
As a therapist with decades of experience in treating victims of sexual abuse, I am well aware that incest is not as uncommon as people think. 1 in around 3 girls are sexually abused in childhood, and 1 in 7 boys will be as well: And the most common culprit is often a family member, with the majority of those culprits being family members of the victims.
Child sexual abuse is an epidemic that ravages countless childhoods, and it’s generally not the stereotypical stranger coming in the window that we may picture. It’s coming from within the house, within the family.
While these accusations against Savage have not yet been proven, they need to be thoroughly investigated and his sister’s story must be heard. Although this story has just broken publicly Savage’s sister has been open with her family for decades about the abuse, saying that she even sought an apology from her brother years prior.
In the meantime, his family has come to his defense, including his mother. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean that his sister is not telling the truth. Parents can and do publically defend their children’s sexual misconduct (famously, Michelle and Jim Duggar defended their son Josh when it was revealed that he sexually assaulted his sisters during their childhood. Without denying that it happened, they offered the excuse that son Josh Duggar ‘just curious about girls’ ).
I have seen this firsthand with my own clients. Often times, parents do turn a blind eye to sexual abuse, not because they don’t deeply love their children, but because they are not able to face the earth-shattering reality. Other times, they make excuses or downplay the abuse, especially when the perpetrator is male, giving the infamous ‘boys will be boys’ shrug. Before blaming these parents, we have to remember that no one has a template for dealing with these unconscionable crimes, and many times parents fail to act or respond appropriately because they simply don’t know how. This was especially true in generations past where sexual abuse was a hidden secret that was never publicly discussed.
Often times, the parents have their own legacy of abuse that prevents them from being allies and protectors for their own children. If a victim of sexual abuse has buried trauma, she may be even more inclined to force herself to look away from any signs of abuse in her own children, because looking deeper would trigger her own PTSD and childhood demons. So, on a subconscious or semi-conscious level, the parent actively works not to see the abuse happening in their own home, because doing so would require them to face the gigantic trauma stored inside their own hearts.
While we don’t know what happened inside the Savage household all those years ago, we do know that childhood sexual abuse is real, and that it leaves many victims in its wake. If Adam Savage did assault his sister, it’s possible he did so because he was abused himself, as many times children act out sexually when they too have been victimized. Nine-year-old children do not turn into rapists overnight, and such behavior would be a grave warning sign that sexual abuse happened to the perpetrator as well. This is not to excuse sexual violence, but rather to help us better understand WHY this happens and how we can help to stop it from happening in the future.
Whether or not the case is founded, it will have an impact on our culture and childhood sexual abuse victims everywhere.
We very rarely speak of sibling incest and sexual abuse on a national level. So when the topic becomes pop culture fodder and discussed around the water cooler or on social media, it can be very triggering for these men and women who have a history of childhood sexual abuse. It can cause long-buried emotions to arise, and maybe even cause victims to decide they want to step forward for the first time…or perhaps make them realize that they would never dare to step forward after seeing their loved ones’ reactions to these allegations.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse, please reach out for help, such as by contacting RAINN or by doing a virtual or in-person therapy session. There are also support groups for incest survivors (some of which are being forced to meet virtually due to COVID-19)
Remember, you are not alone. They are people just like you who have survived this horrific ordeal, and they can help you through your storm.
Last, I would urge people who are NOT victims to be very careful when discussing Hollywood cases like this.
You might think you’re just opining on people who you will never meet, but you never know which of your friends may have a history of sexual abuse. Chances are, you probably know someone who has been impacted by incest, either personally or through a loved one’s experience, so choose your words to heal and not harm.