Earlier this fall, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault, resulting in a political firestorm of controversy and contention between abuse advocates who want women’s stories to matter, and senators looking to safeguard their political agenda by securing a conservative Supreme Court justice. The President even weighed in on the validity of Dr. Ford’s attempted rape claim. His tweet prompted the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag, which has produced thousands of sobering disclosures from victims of sexual assault, giving insight into why they chose not to report the abuse. Many expressed a debilitating fear of judgment or backlash. Unreported sexual abuse is an enormous blight on our society. Dr. Ford’s heroic testimony created for us a learning opportunity that must not be missed, as we attempt to navigate these multifaceted times.
Our cultural norms must change to create an environment that supports women’s experiences; and a victim of sexual abuse must not be bullied by questioning her or his handling of the traumatic event. (Ford, for example, was just 15 years old.) Considering the courage, it takes for the abused to face their stories of deepest shame, why would we question and casually dismiss them (like the President did) by questioning how bad the experience actually was? Why would we re-traumatize someone so flippantly? Sure, all the facts are not yet fully known, which is the very reason why we should not be indifferent about something so deeply painful and violent. It’s important to note that research studies have been conducted in the US and in Europe determining that only 2 to 6 percent of sexual abuse allegations are false. I understand this topic from many sides: as a mental health therapist who works with sexual abuse survivors, as a sexual abuse survivor myself, and as a recovering misogynist and abusive man.
A number of clients in my private practice explain how they are scoffed at, dismissed, or even ignored by authorities when reporting sexual harm. Authorities who are not trained to respond in an educated manner may embarrass the victim as s/he attempts the courageous act of speaking out about his/her experience. While the simple act of reporting is costly and often triggers additional pain for the victim, a loss of self-efficacy is inevitable when the report is denied or diminished.
In an effort to help my clients process and heal from their pain, I help them delve into the years of shame around their bodies being violated. Many victims personally know and care for their perpetrators, creating an environment where they would not have been believed at all, or their trauma would have been minimized or dismissed. “It’s just boys being boys.” “I’m sure he didn’t mean to touch you.” “Well, what were you wearing? You have to be aware not to bring on his advances.” These and similar sentiments have been expressed to many victims in an attempt to silence their voices and prevent them from rocking the boat or disrupting the family system. These comments unconsciously encourage victims to internalize their harm and communicate that their bodies are worth less than the systems (families, churches, or organizations) many aim to protect.
So these men and women try to forget; they become addicted or learn to hate their own bodies; they tell no one as means of survival. Their families are often unwilling to talk about uncomfortable topics and their religious communities choose to ignore it completely. Or the HR department says they will handle it, but there are no discernible consequences. And these wise and courageous victims learn how to live with less hope and more caution.
I also know this topic from a victim’s standpoint, though not from a woman’s. This adds another layer of complexity to my perspective: because of my male privilege, I’m more likely to be believed than a woman.
After experiencing childhood sexual abuse, I felt paralyzing shame, overwhelming fear, and a complex array of seemingly contradictory emotions that were way too difficult and intense for me to articulate. The abuse came from my best friend’s older brother. He touched my penis while we were all wrestling. I felt so uncomfortable, I immediately backed away and asked him why he did that. He responded that he wanted to see what it felt like. That was the end of the conversation, and I did not know what to do next. Frozen, I thought about telling my parents, but knew nothing good would come of that. I talked to my best friend, and he confided that his brother had touched him before too. I did not want to get anyone in trouble; I also wanted to keep playing with my best friend. I weighed the options and, in my 12-year-old mind, not saying anything felt like the best decision. Looking back, of course, I wish I had spoken up, but I am kind enough to myself now to know it wouldn’t have made a difference.
I am also aware of another scene of abuse regarding an older man I trusted, a memory that I had blocked out altogether. It took me nearly 25 years to recall, and I was well into my career as a sexual trauma therapist when it resurfaced for me. Suddenly the deep violation, the searing betrayal, and a torrent of questions about my experience all came flooding back into my mind. I eventually summoned the courage to tell that story, but still it hurts. My chest tightens, and my throat becomes lumpy, and tears fill my eyes.
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Source: Christian Post