Sexual Abuse; The Hidden Pain and Suffering

By | December 12, 2017

Statue of grief and shameAs  a neophyte therapist, I was really surprised to find that well more than half of my patients, majority female, had suffered from some sort of sexual abuse.

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.


9 thoughts on “Sexual Abuse; The Hidden Pain and Suffering

  1. David Stone

    I guess that my perspectives about sexual abuse has been tempered and molded by my 69 years of life experience. It seems that a lot of abuse may be the result of parents’ and society’s failure or unwillingness to adequately educate children, commensurate with their relative maturity, to provide sex education or awareness to the children. It is a difficult subject to subtlety broach with children.
    In my father’s family there was an uncle (by marriage not blood) who sexually abused all three of his daughters from the age of approximately 8 y/o into their high school years. Later, after being married to a soldier stationed in Germany, she returned to the U.S., and filed charges against her father in an attempt to try to protect her younger sisters. My aunt (who undoubtedly had to have known what had gone on for so many years), was in denial of it all, and stayed married to the guy. Like so many child abusers, the uncle-in-law was an extremely controlling type of individual; but I think that is just a mechanism to try to hide their crimes and to intimidate their victims. Ergo, I am rather suspicious of people, esp. men, who appear to be overly controlling of their daughters. (and even their wives).
    When June and married, my step daughter was almost 14 y/o; and over the years, she had many attractive girl friends, many of whom dressed more sexily than they should have. I cannot imagine how a grown man could consider abusing young girls. I don’t believe that those types of guys are mentally insane; they are simply “morally bankrupt”; and they ignore the fact that those young girls will eventually become adult women that they may have to face. Woody Allen appears to perhaps attempted to cover up his purported misdeeds by marrying his adopted daughter. (I hold him to be somewhat like Hanoi Jane in the morality department; and would never pay to see any movie that hey are in.)
    Rightly or wrongly, I do think that there is a world of difference between teenage girls and boys when it comes to these types of experiences. For the majority of boys, not all of them, it is just an experience with an older woman; I don’t think that it is traumatically the same for boys as it is for girls. There is a big difference between a 12 y/o boy versus one who is 15 or 16 y/o or older teenage boy. The 12 y/o is still a “child” and the teenage boys vary according to their relative maturity in such things. I think that there is a substantial difference between the psychological impact (and “scars”) on girls versus what most teenage boys would take away from such experiences. You may be correct in your comment about the “premature sexualization” of young males, and overt promiscuity; but I don’t see that as being psychologically scaring in any way comparable to the impact of sexual abuse on the girls. (I can see where a 12 y/o might get a little screwed up with the experience with an older woman . . . such as some of the teacher who have been indicted and found guilty of such acts; but those, I think, are rather rare exceptions.)
    Young girls today are quite different than their mothers and grand mothers. They have grown up in a society where raw sex is so blatantly openly touted in almost every form of entertainment and the media. The basic problem being the psychological lack of maturity and understanding of sex and sexuality for these young girls. They are purportedly more brazen and aggressive than the boys were in our youth. And for a while, and maybe still, sexual experimentation amongst girls with other girls was quite a rage in both JHS and HS (according to what I heard from younger parents). So the world is changing dramatically where girls put themselves into positions of attracting these “pedophiles” of sorts; and yet the girls simply do not have the emotional maturity or psychological maturity to know what they are getting into. The sexual abusers certainly take advantage of all of this open sexuality and the lack of emotional maturity, understandings and development of the young girls.
    In some ways the publicized scandals about the Catholic priests, and the female teachers who have taken advantage of and abused young boys and girls have resulted in a lot more public awareness of these problems. However in our commercialized and sex-exploited society, these problems will never go away; the best will be to minimize such incidents by educating young kids (a forever ongoing process) and scaring the hell out of some of the potential child abusers. With the nature and failings of mankind being what it is, these problems will always be with society. As I recall reading several times, the average young girl of today purportedly have their first sexual experience when they are only 13 years old; they certainly don’t have the maturity or psychological development at that age to go along with such experiences.
    I consider myself to be somewhat of a moderately liberal CONSERVATIVE. I think that consenting adults have the right to do anything in the privacy of their lives. But with our overly sex oriented society, how does one protect the young kids from being exposed to all of this before they are mature enough to handle it? There really doesn’t seem to be any type of “solution” for all of this overt sex exposure to young kids who will have a natural curiosity about it all . . . and the sex abusers and exploiters will surely use this in exploiting young kids. All of this is exacerbated by the electronics of the Internet with easy access to porno, and the sensationalism and exploitation of sex in the media, which may make it even easier for the sex abusers and exploiters of children. In the days of our youth most kids were probably rather naïve; the kids of today are more likely to be more confused and mislead by being exposed to too much before they can psychologically understand and handle it. Will that increase the amount of sexual abuse and exploitation of the young kids?

    1. Cherry Post author

      David, as usual, you raise pertinent points and excellent questions regarding modern societal norms and over sexualization of everything as a contributory factor in sexual abuse. Incest and sexual abuse is ancient and constitutes a perversion of human behaviour that has afflicted societies throughout the ages. I do not know of any analysis there is that portrays incestual relationships as more prevalent today than before, but surely they are more reported than before.
      Cultural acceptance of incest does seem to have had some variances though, especially in ancient Egypt and even in biblical accounts. Sexual pervasion/abuse passed off as religious initiation, most recently in fundamentalist and polygamous sects of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have made recent headlines.
      If we can’t change human sexual perversion tendencies, we can at least offer more warnings to young children and teens that their private parts belong only to them and to report any inappropriate touching immediately.
      Assuring that victims will be heard and believed is important in exposing the perpetrators, but of course the presumption of innocence in most judicial systems makes this, coupled with high powered defense lawyers difficult to implement as in the case of Dylan Farrow.

  2. Cherry Post author

    Just after I had published this post. I read an article in Le Parisien online about a recent arrest of a man in Reims, who was caught on a web cam having his 5 year old daughter performing fellatio on him.
    It was an observant paid strip teaser, who was horrified and disgusted by his behaviour, who notified the police. Obtaining his IP address, he was arrested and partially admitted to his abuse of his own daughter.
    This father of two children, living with their mother, said he felt “deprived “of sexual relations with his companion and therefore had a “short circuit ” of his brain.
    This is a perfect, if not very sad example of the dynamics as I described in the incestual family.

    1. David Stone

      Yeah, morally bankrupt, and unconscionable people trying to convolute some “rationale” for their heineous, and rather depraved actions . . . and none of that washes, huh? It just reflects the underbelly of some of mankind. It is said that pedophiles are incurable; there doesn’t seem to be a way to save or to salvage people who lack real basic morality. It is always there, lying beneath the surface of their lives. Apparently the only real solution is the chemical or physical castration of htese deviates . . . but there undoubtedly would be many “bleeding hearts” who would take the position that such “solutions” would be inhumane.

      1. Cherry Post author

        There is to my knowledge, no psychological treatment that can take away pedophilic tendencies, as they constitute an ingrained sexual deviant of desire. Chemical or physical castration is affective, but agree that in our male oriented society, few would condone it, yet sterilisation of mentally retarded females was considered a panacea a few years ago.

        1. David Stone

          I would have to take exception to your statement that most males would oppose chemical or literal castration for pedophiles or sexual abusers of young kids. I think that most men would support such actions. Even in the prisons, those pedophiles and sex abusers of young kids received the harshist of treatment by the general inmate population and are subjected to harsh violent treatment and even being killed. “Normal men”, even violent criminals have no respect for these types of perverts. However, there are enough “liberal” men AND WOMEN who would undoubted oppose such actions.

          Two weeks ago they arrested several people at one of the strip bars for having a 13 y/o girl “dance” at the strip club and performing “lap dances” . . . and they were pimping her sexual services after hours. Society is always going to have people like this (shades of the times of Charles Dickens, huh?). A lot of the customers had to realize that she was just an overly developed 13 y/o girl. There is a fair amount of this with the Latino and islander cultures. The best that can be done is to suppress it as much as possible. Human nature basically remains the same, huh?

        2. David Stone

          Your comment brought to mind the rather infamous story of Joe Kennedy’s “mentally challenged” daughter Rosemary, whose promoscuity and purported “moods swings” and violent actions were a potential embarrassment for the Kennedy family. Instead of sterilization, Joe Kennedy opted to have a lobotamy performed on Rosemary, which wound up exacerbating her cognition and mental conditions. She wound up being institutionalized for the rest of her life.

          Historically, there have been numerous government programs in many societies to sterilize both male and female mentally ill persons. Sexual frustrations surely contributes to their mentalpsychological frustrations and potential irresponsible or irrational actions.

  3. Isham Smith

    Cherry, apparently this is been happening secretly for quite some time . As more victims come forward apparently that gives other victims the strength to come forward also . I’m absolutely amazed at the number that I am seeing on The news of prominent trusted people Involved in this type of behavior.This makes me wonder how bad this is in third World countries where human rights and women and children are treated so badly .
    Hugs to you

    1. Cherry Post author

      Thank you Isham for your comment. Because I am quite aware of the mentality that has existed in the United States for a very long, and because I too have grown up and experienced this as a woman, I was not surprised.
      You raised an excellent question regarding third world countries, which from what I know, is widespread physical, sexual and emotional abuse that seems rampant and well integrated in their culture. Hugs to you.


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