I just spent the better part of the morning reading anonymous stories of sexual abuse on twitter. Stories that people had sent to a more prominent account so their stories could be heard without exposing themselves. There were 50 plus stories and I couldn’t help but be moved to write.
I’m moved to write because I have my own stories, several in fact. I’m moved to write because coming from an extremely conservative Christian background, I know the harmful effects of “obeying your elders without question”, “complete shame regarding sexuality” and also the negative impact of “patriarchal history and it’s effects on women” all too well.
Despite all that, I must say, I’m not quick to jump on a bandwagon.
Anyone that knows me, knows I’m extremely pragmatic. I can almost always see both sides of a story and I typically feel empathy for both sides as well. Some might call it “devil’s advocate”, some might call it annoying, but it’s me. Even if I’m passionate about a topic like “why GMO food is potentially harmful.” If someone said GMO food is the worst thing ever created and should be obliterated from the earth, despite my own leanings, I’d be quick to point out, that it’s solved hunger problems in third world places that were continuously starving and has made huge strides in water and energy conservation. And despite its unknown long-term effects, in the immediate it provides life. While I personally choose to avoid it, both of those things are true, and I’m the type of person who can’t ignore that.
However, this article isn’t about GMOs, it’s about the rising exposure to rampant sexual assault throughout the US. It’s about how we have to recognize that there are many aspects that HAVE TO BE ADDRESSED on both sides for change to take place. Powerful people (both men and women, though historically, men) exploiting their power over those weaker both women, children and even weaker people groups dates back to our earliest historical narratives. Having a place for people to share their stories is A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION, but it can’t stop with just sharing. There have to be HUGE cultural shifts for this to stop.
These are some of the most important things I feel like people need to recognize when talking about this topic. So, here goes…
1. people are desperate for relationship
All people desire relationship. We are desperate for it. Babies, children, teens, men, women, cisgender, transgender, people with “out of the norm” sexual preferences are all desperate for love and acceptance. We all want a place where we can FULLY be ourselves and still be accepted.
I see this when my young children, freak out and throw seemingly psychotic tantrums, and five minutes later despite discipline, crawl into my lap and beg to be accepted once again.
We see this with young people and teens, jumping on every trend, willing to do or try anything to find the right “group” of people to accept them.
This past week, Anthony Edwards came forward and said he was abused as a teen by a producer. He openly said he had an absent father and was desperate for community, relationship, for someone to bond with. I point this out because so often, people are victimized because they are also looking for love. They don’t want an exploited love, but the search is innately in all of us.
I’ve read many times that adults who prey on children, often mistake a young child’s desire for affection as a sexual advance. Most likely that predator has their own “issues” causing them to misinterpret the child’s developmentally appropriate search for love as sexual, but this is a real thing.
This point is critical to the discussion, because while there are people that are solely “assaulting” as forms of violence. If we boil the issues of both the predator and victim down to one, most of the time, it will come to this. They are desperate for relationship, for intimacy, for acceptance and they DON’T KNOW how to healthily express this dire need.
2. people are innately sexual beings
I don’t want to go super Freudian here, but sexuality is basically interesting to all people. It is in our DNA to procreate, and it’s in our human DNA for it to feel good.
It’s our job as adults, as parents, teachers, relatives, and humans to protect children and teens from being exposed to rampant sexuality before they understand what it means.
3. a lot of people have “out of the norm” sexual preferences that they often have no place to express.
People are weird. One of my children (won’t name which one) likes to pick his boogers and eat them. He literally told me yesterday, “You want to know why I do it, mom? I like the way it tastes.” Great! This is a behavior that he will never have a place to express and all I know to do is educate him and chastise him and remind him, but this is socially not an acceptable behavior. In most places, this behavior would be looked down upon. This wasn’t a learned behavior. He never saw it anywhere, innately he had a preference for this.
The same goes for sexuality. And over the last however many thousands of years, a lot of things have been acceptable and at other times those same behaviors have been super unacceptable. And there were a lot of seasons were powerful men basically did whatever they wanted. But at the end of the day, regardless of conservative backgrounds or societal norms, a lot of people probably have a lot of very unconventional desires, that sometimes they don’t want to have and I’m sure that’s a very lonely road to walk.
4. our puritanical american roots cause SHAME around almost all sexual dialogue.
So, not sure how much you know about American history, but basically America was settled not so much for religious freedom, but as a way to flee from the religious infiltration of the Catholic Church on the newly “reformed” religion of Protestantism. This seems like ancient history, but it’s relevant because the Pilgrims also sometimes referred to as the Puritans or Separatists are literally a group of people who wanted to practice a very specific type of Christianity when they came to America. Their worldview is pervasive in all of American life (hence why high schoolers still read the Scarlet Letter in school.) If you don’t know what their worldview was, in a nutshell,
“When the Puritans landed on the rocky east coast of America in the 1600s, they brought with them the belief that sex should be restricted to intercourse in marriage, hence the sentiment on the left. All non-marital and non-reproductive sexual activities were forbidden, including pre- and extra-marital sex, homosexual sex, masturbation, and oral or anal sex (even if married). Violations of the rules were punished by fines, whipping, public shaming (yes, with “scarlet letters”), ostracism, or even death.”
This is relevant because a HUGE REASON that so many victims don’t come forward is because of shame. This is also why there are so many unwanted pregnancies and abortions because teens and young adults lie to their parents and trusted family members about having sex, and don’t get the real life help and advice they need BECAUSE OF SHAME. This is a reason why people cheat and lie about it too because there is so little room to have honest dialogue around the topic of sexuality and this is a HUGE contributing part of the problem.
Now in this amazing moment in time, when tons of women, children, teens and even men are able to come forward and share the stories of what’s happened to them looking to heal and move on. We still shame them. We MOST DEFINITELY SHAME THE PERPETRATOR and we often shame the victim too, usually by questioning their story. This perpetuates the problem.
I don’t want to sound too much like I’m defending predators in the paragraph above, but I warned you that I’m a middle of the road pragmatist. Often times predators are victims in their own right. Victims of actual abuse that was modeled for them, or done to them. They are imprisoned by their desires and poor mental health (yes, even narcissism and sociopathy) are personality disorders that should be treated. This leads me to my next point.
5. power causes both predators and victims to do crazy things.
Power is a dangerous thing. It goes to our heads, literally, years back I watched the Ted Talk on “power posing” by Amy Cuddy. And she provides data that even just raising your hands up into powerful postures releases testosterone in the body and decreases cortisol the stress (fight or flight) hormone. Everyone alive has had a moment wherein anger or sadness you broke down or lashed and moments later wished you could take it back, but in that moment hormones and adrenaline and emotions were the only thing in control.
This is important to note because a lot of times, “sexual assault” has nothing to do with sex, it only has to do with power. Which is its own condition that needs to be treated. And this is important, because as a victim if you can take back the power by telling the truth, by letting go of shame, the power shifts to you. Weirdly a lot of times victims give their perpetrator power by being shamed and by being quiet. Yes, sometimes this is because they believe a negative result will happen. I read a news article today where after a woman called the police, her ex-boyfriend came back and assaulted her again, so yes, you need to use your head. But if you can determine you are physically safe, take back your power.
Time and time again you hear stories of strong people that become victims because they found themselves in a situation where the power was unequal. Be vigilant about what kind of situations you find yourself in.
6. if you want your sex and sexual acts to have no repercussions, then it’s best to keep them within sacred relationships.
After all that talk above about how bad puritanical society was I know this sounds pretty puritanical, but let’s face it, sex is the ultimate act of giving yourself to another person. When it’s not seen that way, that’s when so many of the #metoo stories start to begin. That doesn’t make it right. No means no. But when we view sex as the ultimate act of giving yourself to someone else, then most likely this will only be done within the bounds of an excessively trusting relationship. And if it’s done within those bounds, you are much less likely to find yourself the victim of an assault. Obviously this does not apply to violent rape, incest, molestation, or any activity where the victim does not want to be present or has no choice.
You may be on the other side of this, where you’re just looking for fun and you’ll take the consequences along for the ride. But if this is your path, make sure and watch out for people that have less than equal intentions. Be upfront and honest about your intentions and set boundaries, even if they are just to have fun.
7. shame is problem that we aren’t addressing enough.
I basically wrote an entire monologue about this in point 4, so I won’t continue on, but seriously we need to start talking about shame and what it does to people. Shame is often why people don’t come forward. Shame is what causes families to protect perpetrators in their family. We should be proud of people that want to get help.
8. most victims don’t know where to go for emotional healing.
This!! Literally this. Most people don’t know where to go for healing. This is awful, why are there not more resources for people that have dealt with this, I’ll just take a stab at why, SHAME. Victim shaming is real. You have to be so vulnerable to share that situation and most people don’t have transparent relationships where they feel they can go. However, there are more and more resources becoming available. Start searching the internet. I listed a few below.
Check to see if you have access to a mental health provider, if you have insurance this is often covered, search for women’s issues, trauma, sexual trauma to get the best help possible
Tell a trusted friend or family member – not bearing it alone matters.
9. there’s not enough focus on rehabilitating perpetrators
I know states have “offender programs” and I’m glad for this. I think this is a great step in the right direction. But for every violent crime committed where someone actually goes to jail, there are many more situations where someone doesn’t go to jail. What about the person who decides they want help on their own. What about the person on the date who pushed someone too far and wants to be able to counseled or helped. What about the person whose confused? Addressing mental health (especially for men) is shamed heavily in our society and it has to stop. As a society, we have to be focused on not just stopping bad behaviors, but helping people to have mental shifts about the way they see and interact with the world.
I literally could find very few resources online, aside from offender programs, but here are a few that I found.
Again, check to see if you have access to a mental health provider if you have insurance you may.
10. powerful predators almost never act alone.
Complicit quiet parties are part of the problem. This goes back to point 5, when someone is your boss or your source of income, or they have power over you, it can put you in a tricky position.
However, let’s pretend for one minute that no amount of money or job status could convince anyone to be a “complicit quiet party”, well the scene would change very quickly. Literally, if everyone committed to stopping injustice when they saw it, the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world would pass away pretty quick. If you’ve been complicit in these situations, tell someone, stop bearing your own shame. If you know a person and you did nothing, go back to them and apologize.
11. subjectivity cannot be forgotten
There are three sides to every story, the two people involved and the truth (which neither of the people involved may ever be able to see.) I know even in my attempt at being unbiased in this article, I am still biased, because subjectivity exists.
“Date rape” situations especially can be so subjective. One participating party thinks you are giving them “sex eyes”, but you’re actually giving them “kiss me eyes” and if one cue is taken wrong a situation can quickly get out of control. Add alcohol to the situation and you may have a problem.
There are many cases where this is never the case, there’s no “subjectivity” in violent rape, incest, molestation or random predator activity. However, in a lot of sexual situations that begin mutually and ended up not so mutually, it’s each person’s due diligence to make sure that you set boundaries ahead of time. Say what you mean and mean what you say from the get-go.
Let’s open the dialogue about this entire topic so that we can have progress as a people group. It’s time.