January 25, 2016

When Your Abuser Is a Woman - Part 3

Today we complete our series with guest blogger Humphrey*. This week, he speaks about the dynamics that allow for abuse to occur and then go unhealed for years.

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“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” 

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” This quote is taken from the film Spotlight, and the village refers to the Catholic community of Boston, USA, which colluded in protecting priests from facing the legal consequences of sexually abusing children

The quote is an adaptation of an African proverb, which crops up in various forms in different languages, the common theme being that a child does not grow up in isolation in one family, there is a wider community that contributes to the child's upbringing. In my case, I grew up in the suburbs of London, and that community included schools, friends, and unfortunately the abusive family next door.

The quote from the film made me think a bit more about something my therapist tried to explain to me a while back. He wanted me to see the abuse I suffered as something that happened in a context. I think his point was that if my family had been a little less dysfunctional, the abuse could never have happened, or would have been stopped immediately. 

A less dysfunctional family would have been able to have a quiet chat with the six year-old me, and would have reassured him that he did nothing wrong and was not to blame, but that he would no longer be spending any more time with the teenage girl who lived next door. That chat would have prevented him from developing a negative self-image driven by guilt and shame, and a point of view of complete isolation from every other human on the planet.

But my family did not talk about such things. They were English and reserved and embarrassed about sex. I did tell my sister the first time I played doctors and nurses with the girl, before the games became more sexual. Her response? "That's disgusting." No more was said about it for several decades. 

It took me years of therapy before I could talk to my father or sister about it. Their response now? 

"We didn't know."

Unfortunately my mother died before I was ready to talk to her about the abuse, and I will never know if she knew. My father swears that she didn't know. 

I used to spend hours at a time engrossed in my toys and Meccano, and would not respond when spoken to. It got so bad that my parents would call me "autistic" or "catatonic". I dissociated to the point where they just could not get a word out of me, for hours at a time. This went on for years. But they "didn't know" there was anything wrong. A less dysfunctional family would have realized that I was traumatized, and maybe taken me to a child psychologist.

My father was deeply involved in an affair with a woman at work, he tried to leave us for her when I was eight, but guilt got the better of him, and he stayed. After that my mother and sister resented my father and all men in general, and my parents bickered and argued constantly for the next twenty years. And of course none of it was ever talked about. We're English, don't you know. It was not an environment in which you could talk about emotions, family dynamics, and you certainly couldn't talk about some weird sexual experience that was making you feel like a total freak.

My parents refused to cut my hair, preferring me to have long hair. As a result, many people did not know if I was a boy or a girl. It got to the point where I myself did not know if I was a boy or a girl. Along with a female-dominated household, abuse by a female, and general scorn for all things male, this contributed to confusion about identity, gender and sexuality, which still persists to this day.

I went to a Catholic school from the ages of six to eleven. Sex was a sin. Sinners went to hell, end of story. I quickly learned to keep my abuse secret. Not that I knew it was abuse at the time, I just knew I was doing something bad, something disgusting, something sinful for which I would go to hell. 

There were nuns at the school, some of them were sadistic and vicious and would break rulers over your knuckles in front of the whole class. From the ages of eleven to fourteen, I went to a state school were I was bullied mercilessly. I retreated deep into my dissociative shell and have few memories of this period. My parents have since told me that it was impossible to talk to me for hours after I got home from school during this period. Eventually I told them about the bullying and they moved me to another school. Things improved for a while until I stepped into the world of drink, drugs, sex and music.

I left home at eighteen and moved into a squat in South London. On my nineteenth birthday, I was chased and beaten by gangsters with baseball bats and knives. I ended up in hospital with stitches in my head. My friend had knife wounds all over his back and many more stitches than me. His mother never forgave me for being a bad influence on her son. At this stage of my life I had no conscious memory of the sexual abuse, I had completely buried it.

I can see now that it wasn't just the actions of a teenage girl that caused me to be sexually abused and traumatized. She couldn't have done it if the family, school and community had been functioning properly. And the effects of the trauma would not have been nearly so bad if I had been in a more supportive environment in the twelve years that followed. It's not just one person that abuses a child, it's the whole fucking village.





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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.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

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.

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"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...


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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.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

January 11, 2016

When Your Abuser Is a Woman - Part 1

Were  you abused by a female? Do you often wonder about how this has impacted your life? You are not alone! I'm so excited to bring this series to you, written by Humphrey*, an amazing guy who is also a survivor of abuse.

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What the hell is wrong with me?

I have always felt that there is something wrong with me, that I am “not right”. Even at the age of eight I remember thinking that I could not cope as well as others, that I was “paranoid”, quite a big word for a small boy. 

Was I born this way? No. So what happened to me? 

Well, something did happen to me, something that I have had a lot of trouble identifying and naming for what it was – sexual abuse. An older girl sexually abused me. She lived next door and was seven years older than me. It began when I was six and continued for about one year. I remember her turning fourteen during this time. 

These days there are accepted definitions of childhood sexual abuse, one of which is an age gap of five years or more between children involved in sexual activity. But at the time I did not know I was being abused, and I did not realize it for many years.

I grew up in England in the 1970s and 80s, and sex was not talked about much. It was seen as naughty, something to make jokes about, or just pretend it doesn't happen. 

In popular culture, child molesters and sex offenders were usually portrayed as seedy middle-aged men. A common caricature was the "flasher", a man wearing nothing but a raincoat, who would jump out of bushes and expose his naked self to an innocent victim. The flasher was the archetype of sexual transgression – he was the sex maniac, the pervert, the collector of dirty magazines, the sex shop weirdo, all-round creepy guy, and he was the rapist. He was also the boogeyman that would lurk in the woods, waiting to kidnap children and molest them. 

I did not know anybody like this. I knew my family and the family next door and it all felt very safe. 

So my experience with the girl next door fell way outside of the culturally accepted context of sexual abuse. I literally did not know that I had been abused. 

I still struggle to define what happened as sexual abuse, even now, forty years on. Surely people who molest children are adult males, maybe priests or celebrities, who would suspect the girl next door? Even the phrase “girl next door” has a ring of innocence about it, evocative of first crush, first kiss, first love. If you were to ask people what a child molester looks like, few would imagine a teenage girl.

It was commonly believed that sex was something bad that men did to women. Unfortunately, this myth continues to the present day. Society at that time did not seem to accept that women had their own sexual desires. It was accepted that men chased women for sex, women did not want sex, all males were sexual predators, and rapists were just men with high sex drives.  All of these ideas are bullshit. 

Also, I was brought up in a family that was proud of its feminist principles. My mother and older sister were quick to criticize sexism in any form. All of which made me feel more shameful and confused when, as a teenager, I discovered I had quite a strong sex drive of my own. I literally felt ashamed to be male.

This is why it was so hard for me to accept that I had been sexually victimized by an older female. I suppressed the painful memories, locking them away in a compartment of my brain, labeled, "Does Not Compute"

I was in my early twenties before I was able to consciously access the memories. But I still did not define it as abuse. Deep down I knew it was wrong, but I could not put my experience in the same category as those children you read about in the news – the ones who were kidnapped, tortured, ritually abused, raped. It was just “something weird” that had happened to me. 

In my thirties, I saw a therapist who was the first person to define my experience as sexual abuse. It took another ten years before I could honestly say to another person, “I was sexually abused as a child”, and believe in my heart that it was true.

The difficulty I have had in naming the abuse has been, I believe, equally damaging as the abuse itself. It has caused me to blame myself for what happened to me, and to blame myself for every emotional problem I have had since. My reasoning was that the teenage girl couldn’t be blamed, because she was young and innocent and a girl, therefore there must be something wrong with me, and that "something" is related to sex. So I imagined myself as the pervert, the sex maniac, the weirdo. I kept my feelings and fantasies hidden and unacknowledged. I became separated from my own sexuality.

This shame and guilt has caused me many problems throughout my adult life. I often think that people are judging me. I often think that I am in trouble. I feel like there is something wrong with me. I feel like I am different to other people and can never be normal. I feel like there is a dark stain on me that people can easily see. I feel like I am not good enough. I feel like I will never fit in. I feel like I can never belong.

So – what the hell is wrong with me? Perhaps there is nothing wrong with me, except the belief that there is something wrong with me. There were definitely some things done to me that were wrong, and which were not my fault. I can take no responsibility for the actions of others. Logically I know this to be true, but emotionally I still take on the blame. It’s a legacy of the abuse.



Check back next week for Part 2 of Humphrey's story...


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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.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

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