Resources, personal stories, communication techniques, and strategies for survivors of sexual abuse who are ready to break free from the past and return to their genuine self.
January 19, 2016
When Your Abuser Is a Woman - Part 2
Today we continue our series with guest blogger Humphrey*, an amazing guy who is also a survivor of abuse. This week he shares about the struggle to stop minimizing what happened to him -- something many survivors struggle with.
"It wasn't that bad"
For years, I minimized my abuse by telling myself things like "It wasn't that bad", "It wasn't like the kidnap/horror stories you hear in the news", "I didn't get physically hurt" and "It didn't feel traumatic at the time".
When I think these thoughts, I am telling myself that nothing bad happened, and by extension that I have no valid reason for the problems I am experiencing in my life today. So I end up blaming myself. If nothing bad happened, then all my depression, anxiety, anger and shame must be down to other reasons, like perhaps I'm just messed up in the head and there's nothing that can be done about it. Or perhaps I'm weak, or crazy, or weird. All of these are lies.
One of the most damaging lies I've been telling myself is, "She was just a teenage girl, I can't blame her, everybody knows teenage girls are innocent when it comes to sex, she must have been abused by someone else". This story does several things, and none of them are good.
Firstly, it minimizes the abuse by stating that she couldn't possibly have sexually abused a younger child because of her age. This invalidates what I experienced in real life, and creates confusion in my mind. I don't believe it could have happened but it did happen. For years I was in denial that anything happened at all. Then for many more years, I was in denial that it was sexual abuse.
Secondly, it makes excuses for the abuser, shifting the blame away from her, saying it wasn't her fault. This inevitably leads to me blaming myself. I still find it hard to blame a teenage girl for abusing a younger child. Yet even though she was below the age for consent for sex (16 in the UK), she was above the age of criminal responsibility (10). I am fairly sure that her father was sexually abusing one or both of his children (the girl had an older brother), but thinking about this does not help me. It shifts the blame away from her and onto her father. They were a dysfunctional and abusive family. I have to tell myself that it is irrelevant to me whether the father abused the son or the daughter. That is none of my business, and it is not my problem. It was the teenage girl who abused me, not her father. She is to blame. She had a choice and she chose to sexually abuse a small child. She went through a "grooming" process with me to gain my trust, and she made me keep the sexual games as a special secret. She knew what she was doing and she knew it was wrong.
The myth of the male as sexual predator and the female as victim has been very harmful to me. This myth does not match my personal experiences, from childhood through to adulthood. Women are just as capable as men of being emotionally and sexually abusive, manipulative and downright evil. It's true that men are, on average, physically stronger than women, and unfortunately some men exploit this physical advantage to gain power and control over women. Such men are a disgrace to humanity. But this can make us blind to the other stories of abuse, where a small child's vulnerability was exploited by an older person, male or female.
The idea of the "innocent teenage girl" is not very helpful in my case. If I believe that she was innocent then what happened must have been my fault. Even though I was only six years old, somehow my "evil male-ness" manifested itself as deviant sexual behavior. These words seem ridiculous now, but for years I believed this interpretation of events. Teenage girls are no more innocent than teenage boys. In fact, girls generally develop through puberty earlier than boys, so it might actually be true that teenage girls are more sexually aware than teenage boys of the same age.
Teenagers experiment with each other sexually and this is a normal part of growing up. Doing it with a six year-old child is not so normal. It is downright perverted and it is not the younger child's fault.
One therapist told me to imagine my story with the genders reversed. That is, imagine a teenage boy involved in sexual activity with a six year-old girl. Suddenly it is obvious that it is sexual abuse. This concept has helped me greatly in accepting that what happened to me was indeed sexual abuse of a child.
Another lie I've told myself is that "when it comes to sex, I started early". I've had male friends try to congratulate me for having had sex so early in my life, even expressing jealousy that they had to wait so long before their first sexual experience. I cannot begin to describe how damaging this attitude is. It's the equivalent of telling a rape victim, "You must have enjoyed it". This is a problem faced by many male victims of abuse. It is fueled by another myth, that men always want sex, and are always looking for opportunities to have more sex. To deconstruct this myth I need to point out that a six year-old boy is not a man, and he is not yet a sexual human being. He has a need for intimacy and love that is not sexual. Anyone who manipulates that need into a sexual feeling is an abuser.
So nowadays when I catch myself thinking "It wasn't that bad", I remind myself that it was sexual abuse of a child, it was real, and that child was me.
Check back next week for Part 3 of Humphrey's story...
Humphrey* is a sound designer and audio producer, who has played in bands, been a DJ, music producer, and award-wining filmmaker. He waited twenty years after leaving school before going to university and getting a Masters Degree. He grew up in England and now lives in Australia. He is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. His blog is No I'm Not OK, where he writes about his deeply personal battles with anxiety, depression and anger.