Sexual assault is the unwanted and unconsented sexual acts of penetration, fondling, touching and sexual exhibition.
If you add workplace sexual exploitation/harassment to the picture, it certainly would hover around 90%! Throughout the many years of practicing, this has remained a true constant.
As alarming as this is, it’s not surprising that any incident of sexual abuse can certainly contribute to all sorts of mental malaise and mental health issues.
Sexual abuse sequela can result in self esteem problems, sexual dysfunction , eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, borderline personality disorder, self mutilatory gestures, sexual revictimization, and last but certainly not least PTSD.
All acts of sexual abuse constitute betrayals of trust, especially during childhood, but also during the teen years and into adulthood. Sexual abuse cases cut across all socio economic borders, races, and nationalities.
There is by and large a conspiracy of secrecy involved, often within the family, and also with the victim, who may have been threatened with harm to her or her siblings if she/he reveals the abuse. I have seen this shield of secrecy well in play even multigenerational.
All sexual abuse victims harbour the deepest and the most hurtful of feelings; specifically shame, humiliation, fear, and guilt.
Even disclosing sexual abuse to a therapist, many do so with trepidation out of the inherent fear and shame! So it is not at all surprising that these victims are reluctant sharing it with others, much less the public!
Due to very nature of this type of abuse, these feelings can lie dormant and not divulged in the recesses of the psyche for many years, but nevertheless cause great harm.
The victim is often plagued by fears that either they will not be believed or that they somehow will be blamed for allowing or even causing the abuse.
Blatantly lying or accusation of provocation is currently the well established mode opératoire response from the sexual aggressor and their defenders.
As I go to publish this updated post, there is an election in Alabama where shockingly a sexual abuse perpetrator is supposedly ahead in the polls and even endorsed by fellow party members and the oval office!
Apparently there is a lot of complicity in this affair, be in one’s mentality or in one’s own behavior towards women.
Men in power often accuse these women of lying or even consenting. They can easily afford high profiled defense lawyers to defame them and be acquitted.
The perpetrator may indeed implant fears of retaliation or vengeance. Threats of harm to the victim or her family is used often.
The illusion of provocation is rampant. The stepfather of one of my preteen abuse patients even told me he felt his stepdaughter was seductive with him and inviting his fondling.
At times even awareness of abuse can be locked away in the unconscious and will surface many years later.
This total repression happens when the abuse is too traumatic for the young victim to assimilate and process, so therefore is put into an attic of amnesia.
This is a protective device of the psyche, but as they grow into adulthood , the veil of amnesia grows thin. However, sometimes remnants of the abuse show up in repetitive nightmares and other symptoms.
Whenever I encounter a patient with repetitive dreams of sexual abuse, unexplained night-time anxiety, unexplained pelvic pain, and sexual displeasure and avoidance, I immediately consider the possibility of sexual abuse.
I remember one patient, a woman in her forties, whose life started to unravel with the above symptoms , that later evolved into painful memories of being abused by her father.
As a therapist, one should never proceed to aggressively dig and shovel out these repressed memories as that can be very damaging, relying instead on the patient to recover those memories at their own pace, as their psyche feels the safety and support in therapy to assimilate the abuse.
Most victims are too scared and ashamed to confide the abuse and will often suffer in silence until they find the courage to divulge what happened.
Each time I see a new patient, I always ask, as part of my initial intake, if they have ever been sexually molested.
Though the majority of victims are female, there are many cases of male victims too and both can suffer from the same feelings and collaborative symptoms.
I have found though, that the male victims abused by male offenders are often more reluctant to reveal their abuse, out of fear that it would construe confusion about their sexual orientation.
When young males are sexually abused by older females, they often will not even consider this as abusive in nature. I remember one patient of mine who was molested at age 12 by an adult female, to just chuck it up to being “lucky”.
This premature sexualization of young males will often lead to overt promiscuity, which I find likewise in female victims.
When children and teens are sexually abused, they generally devaluate their sexuality, considering it to hold little reverence and honor; therefore have poor sexual boundaries and often will be promiscuous.
Females who were sexually abused by their fathers, stepfathers, brothers and grandfathers, suffer the most damage. Because they have suffered the ultimate betrayal of trust from males that should have protected them, they can normalise and confuse this inappropriate incestual behaviour with emotional closeness , as they are often told and treated special by the perpetrator.
Male victims of incest by females, be it a mother or other female relatives is quite rare. These perpetrators are usually severely mentally ill, rather than just pedophilic.
Contrary to what you may believe, the vast majority of sexual abuse is committed by heterosexuals, not homosexuals!
The incidence of abuse by pedophilic male clergy, when caught, makes headlines, but not the thousands of cases of sexual abuse by pedophilic heterosexuals, especial if it occurs within the family.
The recent letter published in the New York Times by Dylan Farrow about the sexual abuse she suffered from her then stepfather, Woody Allen, has once again demonstrated the awful plight of these victims to be heard as reliable and truthful. In her letter she describes the above feelings and symptoms described earlier.
Yes, there have been cases of false accusations, but these are really rare and unfortunately hurt the legitimate victims being heard. The majority of sexual molestation accusations are totally grounded in truth!
I feel very sorry for Dylan Farrow, as her story has been discredited in the past as revengeful imagination “placed” by her mother Mia Farrow. One can’t ignore that Woody Allen has the financial means for the most elite of defense lawyers.
Unfortunately money and fame have in the past resulted in several dismissals and acquittals in the American judiciary system, where money is more of the deciding factor than the truth.
A flaming example of this was the recent locked jury trial of actor Bill Cosby.
Cover ups are notorious in all cases of abuse, but perhaps more so in the rich and famous, who have the financial means and powerful influential networks, such as seen in Harvey Weinstein and others too numerous to name.
Mariel Hemingway confirmed in a fairly recent documentary that her two older sisters, one of whom committed suicide, had been abused by their father Jack, Ernest Hemingway’s son.
Familial coverup and denial of the harm inflicted can have multiple reasons. First and foremost is the shame involved that a family member has committed this despicable act, and the need to want to preserve the reputation of the family and offender in societal views.
I remember with horror and disgust interviewing the mother of a patient hospitalised for a suicidal gesture.
She acknowledged that she was aware that her husband had been incestual with her three daughters, but did not want it known out of financial concerns and fear that he would go to prison, leaving her with only her income.
Women who do not protect their children are co-abusers for whatever reason. In the dynamics of the incestual family, I have often seen the woman and mother “overlooking” or denying the incestual relationship.
However disgusting and bizarre this is, the co abusive mother may use her daughter as a way to avoid sexual and emotional intimacy with him, though she may often express jealousy and resentment over their closeness.
The incestuous male parent is often “obsessed” with his victim and can be extremely demonstrative of his jealousy as his abused daughter starts to date, which is another tell-tale sign.
Victims of sexual abuse may have a lifetime of scars, despite therapy. There are varying degrees of molestation, with incest being the most damaging and emotionally scaring.
Warning our children that they could be touched inappropriately and encouraging them to come to us if it occurs is essential.
The more open society can become in talking about sexual abuse and exploitation by making it safe for victims to come forth and get help is a first step.
Chronically accusing victims of lying and provocation though, will only help in abetting and the continuation of the conspiracy of secrecy that has long enabled this abuse to continue.