The Long Standing, Rampant Sexual Abuse of Women and Children

The brave #Me Too Women who are speaking out, amidst strong denial, are revealing the tip of a long standing, frightening iceberg that has long threatened the well being of families.

The training to become a psychotherapist is arduous, demanding, and complex. My concentration was clinical social work and family therapy. I well remember studying basic curriculum; taking more electives than were required; receiving excellent supervision of my clinical work with individuals, couples, families, and groups; as well as taking many courses concentrating on sex therapy.

However, during these years I did not learn about the constancy with which sexual abuse is inflicted on the vulnerable; the kinds of ongoing sexual compulsions that destroy the lives and spirit of children, partners and colleagues; or how confused many are about the relationship between abuse and love. I had to learn about the impact of these destructive forces for myself.

Reliable studies of abuse are conservative as most incidents against women and children are unreported and research standards vary. Studies of the Crimes Against Children Research Center by director David Finkelhor report that 28% of youth in the U.S. between ages 14 to 16 have been victimized over the course of their life time. According to RAIN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) 93 percent of victims under 18 know their abuser. Research from the Department of Justice indicates that the sexual assault of youths 12 to 17 is 2.3 times higher than for adults. According to further U.S. government studies, every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted.

Three years ago award winning film documentarian, Jennifer Fox, asked me to become a consultant to her first feature film, THE TALE, based on a true story of abuse at age 13 by a trusted coach, which premiered to acclaim at Sundance on January 20, and will be distributed by HBO. Until finally awakened from her destructive state of denial, the victim, played by Laura Dern, believed what her perpetrator groomed her to believe — her childhood abuse and subsequent sexual awakening were love.

During a three and a half hour initial meeting, Jennifer asked how sexually abused children heal. After finally recognizing that abuse has nothing to do with love, I know of three paths that can lead to a fulfilling life, personally and professionally. The surest relief comes from an apology from the abuser. In over 30 years of work with adults abused as children, I have seen this responsible behavior only three times. Each time the abuser was a trusted family member.

The second best road to healing involves confronting the abuser personally, often with legal assistance and direction. Predictably, this approach is met with denial and counter-attack, which usually leads to at least one family member supporting the perpetrator. A third approach is working through the violation in therapy, even if, as one client explained, “the pain in your heart is eased, but not removed.”

The #Me Too Movement, birthed by brave professional women, has had dramatic impact in opening eyes about horrific abuse inflicted by powerful, respected, relied upon figures, with ramifications that only months ago were unimaginable. However, what remains unrecognized is the day-by-day degradation many women endure. When this abuse becomes physical, children are injured or die trying to protect a battered parent.

I have worked with massage therapists, whose clients demand to be masturbated, and if this is refused, when alone, they masturbate in the sheets, which the therapist must remove. (Steve Wynn is not an isolated case; salons do not want to antagonize their regular clients.) I know women whose breasts have been stroked during massages (by supposed professionals), as well as while they are strapped down in ambulances after accidents. I have also known mothers who cannot forgive themselves for allowing their children to enter medical exam rooms alone, where they have suffered abuse in myriad ways.

As hard as what follows is to wrap one’s mind around, as a prelude to sex, with frequency women are urinated on or expected to urinate on their partners. At times, it is insisted that they drink and eat bodily waste. Further, children and partners are forced to allow household pets to lick the most intimate parts of their bodies. To refuse these perverse sexual demands predictably leads to physical abuse, as well as withholding financial support for children and household.

These searing indignities go on and on — because they can. What is called for are more laws to protect the vulnerable and more social workers and mental health professionals in our schools to assist and comfort children. Above all, nationwide awareness and a united “Enough is Enough!” is necessary, augmented by sexual education in schools, faith communities, and houses of worship — where the young learn that love is not control or ownership, that no sexual act should be imposed on another, and that sexual abuse has nothing what so ever to do with love.