By Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, CIAYT
Eileen (not her real name) is as silent, beautiful and perfect looking as an egg; she is fragile like an egg too; her flawless veneer is easily cracked. She acts tough but closes herself off from intimate contact; she’s an artist, a truth seeker, a teacher who tries to right injustice whenever she sees it. Like many women she has also experienced violent sexual predation which has left her wary; too frightened to accept the closeness and intimacy she craves and deserves.
Her silence started in childhood, when she learned it was safer to keep still and avoid her father’s punishment. Her older brother was her abuser. She told her parents about him, expecting to be protected. Instead they got angry with her and accused her of lying. She was severely disciplined and became the family scapegoat.
It’s easier for some parents to convince themselves (and others) that tales of assaults are lies. That’s part of the story. Although I can’t say for sure, I think they knew the truth about their son, hid it from themselves and others, and so tacitly allowed the abuse to continue. Eileen’s mother and father would rather be parents to a liar than to a rapist. Eileen was sacrificed to keep the family looking perfect. Her father was a preacher in a small town.
Her silence did not keep her physically safe and the emotional consequences have ruined her ability to maintain close relationships that aren’t marked by rage and violence. She is always on the defensive. She has learned how to live with PTSD.
Eileen has a partner. She loves, fears and hates him and they fight continually, but nevertheless they stay together, both complaining about the other. Eileen can’t speak about her fear and neediness, so instead she plays out her rage. Sometimes their fights get physical. Eileen is lonely and empty inside, unable to speak the truth of her needs, recreating her childhood hell in a present which could be much different. How many people go through their lives like this?
I don’t know of a single woman who has not been abused sexually, including myself. #Me too is a powerful enumeration of individual histories, one by one by one adding up to an unknowable mega number. This countless weight of innumerable individuals finally makes us shout, “ENOUGH! Stop here! Times up!” Many women, and men too, have experienced sexual violence. This is not a women’s issue. Sexual abuse is not about gender.
It’s not about sex either. There’s a myth that the sexual allure of the person who is raped is the cause of the rape, and so it’s not the rapist’s fault at all, things just got out of hand. This is a major shift of responsibility, a confusion of cause and effect. “S/he made me do it. It’s not my fault.” The perpetrator plays innocent victim.
Sexual predation is about the lust for power and revenge expressed through sadistic sexual violence.
Beginning only lately, very belatedly, the histories of sexual abuse are starting to be revealed, and abusers are called out by name. Let this initiate safer times for us all, men and women both.
#Times up is a movement against sexual harassment supported by Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Lawrence, Shonda Rhimes, Jill Soloway, Ashley Judd, Emma Stone and Taylor Swift. They and the many other women at the 2018 Golden Globes Award night showed their solidarity in speech and action. Oprah Winfrey was especially eloquent in her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award.
The evening itself was run by the very power system these women are fighting against. How’s that for irony? Time’s not quite up.
Times not up for Eileen and the countless people, men and women, children and adults, who suffer from anxiety, depression and PTSD. I wish I could say times up and make their suffering end.
I remember in the late 1960’s there was, for a short time, a newsletter, NYRF (New York Radical Feminists), which included publishing the names of dangerous men as warnings to their future possible “dates.” I used to read it to protect myself.
NYRF relied on people speaking out honestly about their experience. People are not always honest, of course. I read that newsletter just as I read Facebook and Twitter now, with a healthy dose of many tons of salt.
I thought about it, but I never wrote for NYRF. Of course, nowadays I write for social media all the time, just like everybody else. I think the opportunities we have today to voice our stories can protect us all. Let’s keep on speaking up.
Times UP! Speak UP!