When I was a little girl, my dad used to always tell me that men are perverted creeps not to be trusted. He would say “I used to be a guy that age – I know what disgusting things he’s thinking!” That mixed with the fact that my dad was sexually abusive to me led to beliefs that men only want one thing from me, and that I should expect to be victimized if I trust a man. I still hold those beliefs today even though they aren’t serving me anymore. As a child the mistrust was an adaptive protective stance; now it just leads to revictimization.
It’s been said by many metaphysical teachers that each one of us creates our reality with our thoughts and beliefs, and it seems that in this new living situation I created a reality that reflected right back to me my negative beliefs about men. I wanted to believe that my new male roommate is just a creep and that the situation had nothing to do with me, but to think that would just be playing victim, something I don’t choose to do. If those metaphysical teachers are right, there was something about my thoughts that attracted me to this situation.
I experienced this roommate as creepy and vengeful. He made clear attempts to manipulate me by lying, and was irate when I refused to allow these manipulations. He also insisted on doing “nice” things for me, like offering to drive me places, or buy groceries for me, all of which I declined, and he was also irate about this. He’s a textbook “nice guy” – someone who does “nice” things with the expectation that they’ll get something in return, and is therefore, not a nice person at all.
His actions were a perfect fit with my negative belief that men are manipulative and are not to be trusted. I found myself saying “AH HA!!! I knew it!” when my negative beliefs were confirmed, and yet when men I know do not act in this way, there’s no “ah ha, I was wrong.” I was clearly paying attention only to those actions and behaviours that matched my beliefs, and this new roommate was the epitome of my mind’s caricature of the average man; a creepy, manipulative, and whiny sore loser.
There was actually a very satisfying feeling that I got from “being right” in this situation as well. There’s no mistaking that he said some very inappropriate things to me – everyone I’ve mentioned it to has cringed a bit when I tell the story – but the silver lining was that I got to feel like I am superior to him because I “get it” and he doesn’t. I would even go as far to say that he is, in fact, stupid, for not understanding why what he did was creepy. I’ve got to let go of my need to feel this superiority too. It only fed my rage and anger, and it probably just stems from a fear of being inferior – another negative belief, but this time one about myself in comparison with men. If I’m “right” then I’m “safe,” or at least I’m aware of my surroundings enough to respond and protect myself, but the whole scene is just a tired replay of many other similar, though less dramatic scenes I’ve experienced in my life with men.
I am making a commitment to myself to change my negative beliefs about men. If believing that men aren’t to be trusted and that they only want one thing is going to lead me back to this sort of situation again and again then I am in for a lot more trouble. I guess this is a bit of an experiment of sorts. If I make a concerted effort to catch myself every time I have a negative belief about a man, even if it’s true, I’m not going to believe that all men are like this, and I am going to practice gratitude for all of the wonderful men in this world that conduct themselves with decency and respect around others. By changing my thoughts about men, I hope I’ll see a difference in the type of men I see around me. Wish me luck! Oh, and I’m moving out of this creep’s apartment on December 1st, because… fuck this.
To be a victim is disempowering in the absolute sense – there is no opportunity for healing there. I have been raped but I will not refer to myself as a victim. In my search for healing I’ve concluded that there can be no such a thing as a victim, for if there is, healing would be impossible; it would depend on what others do, and that is something I have no control over. The best I could do is attempt to influence, and hope for the best, and this is emotionally draining and frustrating at best.
The victim mentally is a pervasive and disabling part of our culture. It is woven into the way we speak to each other, into our language, when we say “you make me so…” or “he makes me feel…” or “she made me…” Whether the feeling is positive or negative is irrelevant, when we believe others have the magical ability to make us feel something, we believe ourselves to be a victim. But how can I say that in the awful scenario or rape, for instance, that the person raped is not a victim?
Let’s be clear, a person who is raped has had a horrible thing done to them, but no one can control how they will react to and feel about the rape. In the climate of a victim mentality culture, however, most people who have been raped expect that others should do or say something to make healing possible for them. Feeling retraumatized and revictimized by the reactions of others is common. Many people who have been raped report that the reaction of the community, that often protects or apologizes for the rapist, was just as, if not more traumatic then the actual rape itself. I can attest to this since this has been my experience. I was expecting my friends, family, and community to rally around me, and instead I was met skepticism, silence, and even anger. In order to heal, it has become blatantly apparent to me that I cannot rely on others, and I cannot wait for them to “come around” to my point of view. I have allowed myself to be “revictimized” because I felt powerless, because I felt like a victim, because I believed that others have the power to give me my health and happiness or take it away.
A victim is by definition powerless. A victim has no control, and is at the mercy of others. I am convinced that even if a person forces another to submit to them physically, power – true power – has nothing to do with a physical offence. Only the perpetrator’s fear, self-hatred, and feelings of powerlessness can inspire such acts in an effort to regain the lost sense of power. Again, it is magical thinking at work when the perpetrator believes that power can really be taken or exchanged between individuals. If your friend felt powerless could you offer to give him some of your power by choice if he insisted he was hopeless? Could you choose for him? No.
Understand that the definition of power I am referring to has nothing to do with money, or politics, or hierarchy. That has to do with material control. I’m talking about another person’s ability or inability to control your internal state of being, of feeling, of thinking. It cannot be done! Only YOU have the power to control your inner state and that is the only true power that anyone can ever have. All other “power” is an illusion, but the illusion undoubtedly looks very real simply because so many of us buy into the belief that we can be made to feel like a victim by someone else.
I know all this and yet the victim mentality is still the default explanation my mind resorts to whenever I feel imposed upon by others or by situations. It is like a software program that runs in my brain, and healing is going to require my full attention and a commitment to changing the false belief that others can “make” me feel anything at all. Even in the positive instance, for example, when I feel swept off my feet by a lover, I must recognize that the feeling comes from me, and not from them. Another might not feel such lust or love toward that person as I do, therefore my feelings comes from me and only me, and have nothing to do with the inherent qualities of that person.
To heal I must change my fundamental beliefs I have about the world and myself, I must see things through new eyes. What it really comes down to is destroying my belief in a lack of free will, my belief in thought control, for when I acknowledge my real power I see that no one can control my thoughts. In fact, to believe such a thing is in the interest of those who wish to “take power” away from me. It is to their benefit that I believe I have no control over my emotional reactions to them, that I fear them and fear how they can “make” me feel.
Once again I must be aware of the flip side of the coin here. If I allow myself to have the belief that others can take my power away, then I must also believe that they can give it back to me in a gesture of “helping.” The only real help others can give is to show me how to help myself, to inspire me to be the change I want to see. But the belief that another can simply give me power, that I can simply buy my healing from a therapist or a pharmacy, is nothing but a illusion, and indeed it is “giving away” my power to another. This is dangerous, for it even allows for self-interested corruption to function under the guise of helping. There is nothing wrong with seeing a therapist, as long as I am not expecting them to “heal me,” but instead expecting them to partner with me and show me the work I must do for myself. In terms of taking pharmaceutical drugs, I can’t see any potential for healing, only numbing.
The expectation that others need to do something differently or change in order for me to heal or be happy will forever be unfruitful. No one is going to give me anything, even if they wanted to they cannot. Even the truly benevolent do not have any power to help me, just as the truly evil do not have any power to hurt me. It is a choice, and I must defend against my false belief in either sense and take my healing into my own hands. I must work with others who inspire me to find that truth again and again, others who know this and practice it in their own lives. When I take stock, it’s true that the only time I’ve ever experienced any real healing is when I took responsibility for my own health and happiness. Others can point toward the path, but I must walk it myself.
This has been a difficult post for me to write. I intended to have it written a couple days ago, but I find myself in repeated resistance. Every time I write a few lines, I invariably find a distraction. This is a subject of immense interest to me in my quest to understand why I was sexually abused by my father, but for the same reason I find it a bit hard to stomach. I hope this is helpful for others on the same quest or for those who are simply trying to understand the question of “Why?”
This post is meant to clarify the reasons why men sexually abuse children. It is a continuation of Part I which discusses drug-assisted rape. The title, “Why Men Rape,” is appropriate when discussing child sexual abuse because rape was part of my experience of being sexually abused as a child, and also because I find it hard to call the involvement of a child in adult sexual activity anything but nonconsensual. The short answer to “why” is… because offenders made the choice to offend, albeit with a compelling feeling to do so. I wish to explore the common pattern for how men come to make that choice.
My main source of information has been a book by Douglas W. Pryor, titled Unspeakable Acts: Why Men Sexually Abuse Children. Pryor conducted a pioneering study of thirty convicted sex offenders, and gathered data on the thoughts, experiences, and behaviours of these men. It is the first in-depth, qualitative, and narrative-based study of its kind.
As was already established in my post on rape culture, the characteristics of the average child molester are virtually indistinguishable from those of the average man. The way they walk, the way they talk, they way they seduce, the way they objectify and sexualize others. However, one factor appears to influence which men choose to sexually abuse children – and that is experiencing sexual abuse in their own childhood but not understanding it as such.
This can mean having fond memories of being sexually abused, and framing that abuse as affectionate and/or erotic rather than traumatic. Offenders who did experience the sexual abuse of their childhood as “unsettling and confusing,” were typically blamed by parents or other nonoffending adults and made to feel responsible for the abuse, or they were simply ignored and given the impression that it wasn’t that big a deal. In any case, the perpetrator was not understood to be an abuser per se, and the victim was given no feedback to suggest that there was anything wrong with what the perpetrator was doing to them, and that is was their fault it was happening.
The larger cultural context of silence and secrecy around taboo subjects like incest and sexual abuse also do nothing to curb the young victim’s blurred sense of acceptable boundaries, sexual respect, and personal physical space with others.
So with their own abuse framed as not having been abuse, these men went forth into the world, and often when they were around children who were the same age as they were when they were abused, they experienced some unexpected sexual feelings arising in them. This was generally precipitated by a cluster of negative life experiences, which occurred in mostly random combinations, although there were only six general themes that those interviewed experienced: feeling trapped, sexual problems and boredom, loss of male authority, engulfment in masturbation and porn, major emotional shocks, and feelings of sexual inadequacy.
The men chose to cope with these challenges by feeling unhappy and disconnecting emotionally, and yet they still strongly desired an outer change in their circumstances. It is my observation that these men feel powerless in their lives and have no sense of being able to change their circumstances, or failing that, to change their own state of being in order to experience their circumstances differently. Many appeared to feel as if they had no choice in the matter of offending and felt that their urges were simply “uncontrollable,” and thus found ways to justify their actions so that they could live with themselves.
The moment of shifting in adulthood from being a nonoffender to an offender was clearly demarcated in the memory of nearly all thirty of the convicted sex offenders. They could pinpoint the specific moment and circumstances in which they made their “shift.” The fact that this is remembered so clearly indeed shows that the men were aware that they were making a choice which would take them across a moral boundary, but they could not deny the strong sexual feelings that arose in them, often for a specific child victim.
And this is the critical point of no return: the transition into offending is completed precisely because these men are able to reframe their sexual feelings for a child as acceptable in order to justify their actions, no doubt a remnant from their warped understanding of their own sexual abuse history. As Pryor notes, “without this interpretive bridge, the crimes reported by the men here would not have occurred.”
After making the shift and choosing to offend, multiple methods of approaching and engaging their victim were tested and locked into if compliance resulted. During their career as an offender, the men often felt guilty about their behaviour, but numbed it with busyness, alcohol, TV, etc., and some even projected their guilt onto the victim, lecturing them about their immorality. In every case they found a way to justify their behaviour, often putting the responsibility on the victim to stop the abuse.
It’s like their whole childhood repeating itself! And situations that bring up their pain will persist until these men heal from the abuse inflicted on them in their own childhood. I view their poignant moment of crossing the moral boundary into being an offender as their psyche trying to show them they have a wound to heal. The issues they have from their own childhood abuse are still with them and are literally reflected perfectly in their own reactions to life’s circumstances. Some men even chose child victims who had specific features that reminded them of their own abusers, such as hair colour. It’s really all just a convoluted effort to heal something.
These men put responsibility on the victim to stop the abuse since they were made to feel responsible for their own abuse. Their feelings of powerlessness, perhaps from not being able to control the abuse in their childhoods, led them to feel unable to change their circumstances, to feel like a passive victim of circumstances. This is really important to get. We all have the power to change our state of being if we don’t like the circumstances we’re in, and thus change the way we feel about the circumstances. Sometimes we can simply just change the circumstances, but not always. Still we’re all ultimately capable and powerful. The only thing standing in the way is negative beliefs. These child molesters had no life experiences to illustrate that they had this power, nothing to show them that they could choose to change their belief that they are a passive victim.
Silence and secrecy are what keeps this twisted little circus rolling, and branding offenders as monsters doesn’t help. The depths of my own anger surrounding this issue make it difficult to say what I’m about to say, but it is indeed the true that these men deserve some compassion from society. It is not to excuse, but simply to understand. In fact, it is in the best interest of child victims that we feel some compassion since the ugly stigmatization with which child molesters are branded can leave an offender feeling even more trapped and unable to reach out for help, which only exacerbates the issue and leads to more offences. This Louis C.K. stand up bit has been called a tasteless joke, but he is indeed on to something with his idea that we take it down a notch when it comes to “kid having sex people” because at least then “you get the kid back.”
~ “Every situation properly perceived, becomes an opportunity to heal.” – A Course In Miracles
In researching for another post, I came across some interesting data pertaining to rape culture. Since it’s nearly always an exercise in extreme patience when trying to explain to men why rape culture is a real thing, I was relieved to find some qualitative data to back up the important message I’ve been trying to convey to the men I know. It’s not that all men are offenders, it’s just that our culture socially sanctions certain behaviours, which has a disinhibitory effect on those who choose to offend.
Douglas W. Pryor, author of Unspeakable Acts: Why Men Sexually Abuse Children, conducted a pioneering study of thirty convicted sex offenders, and gathered data on the thoughts, experiences, and behaviours of these men. It is the first in-depth, qualitative, and narrative-based study of its kind, and Pryor found some general patterns which explained why some men choose to sexually abuse children, which will be further explored in an upcoming post, Why Men Rape – Part II.
Unfortunately, it did not really come as a surprise to me when Pryor also noted that his data unequivocally state that the only difference between the sexual behaviours of child molesters and pedophiles, and that of the general population of men, is simply that the molesters and pedophiles engaged in certain manipulative and coercive behaviours with children, rather than with adult women. Otherwise the two groups are virtually indistinguishable.
This is quite a bold and unnerving statement, so why would I find it relieving instead of nauseating? Because the idea that we live in a culture that condones rape is simply denied by most men – at least that’s been my experience – so I welcome all the supporting evidence I can find. A man who is willing to let his guard down and really listen to a woman share her experiences of how she is routinely objectified, harassed and violated in society is a rare kind of man. Heated arguments often arise during such conversations, with the men claiming that they have never thought about a child in a sexual way, or have ever entertained the thought of raping a woman. It’s not that I don’t believe them, it’s just that their personalized take of it is meant to be proof that because offending has not been their experience, that rape culture simply does not exist by extension. Pryor noted that, “Interestingly, nearly all the men I interviewed said the same things before they became offenders. It is difficult for men to accept that they might be participants in a culture of rape or sexual abuse.”
Pryor’s thoughtful response to rape culture deniers has been to have the men simply answer a specific set of questions, namely: “Have you ever asked or tried to talk a girlfriend or your wife into having sex when she did not want to? Have you ever looked at a child and thought or commented strongly about his or her looks? Have you ever looked at a group of young females and noticed that some were attractive even though you did not know their ages?”
In answering these questions Pryor hopes to show men that although not all men are going to commit sexual violations, that there is still an existing and very much accepted cultural framework that facilitates offending for those who chose to offend.
So the predominant viewpoint that sex offenders are extremely “odd” or “different” from other adult men is simply not true, and only serves to absolve the entire male gender from all responsibility in facilitating a culture of rape and abuse.
So is it a crapshoot which men end up choosing to sexually victimize children? Not exactly. Pryor further notes that in comparing offenders with the general population of men, “one exception is the data on the early childhood histories of the [offenders], in particular their reports of a greater incidence of childhood sexual contact with adults than is commonly found in the general population.” So there are other factors influencing who offends and who doesn’t, and certainly not all men who are sexually abused as children grow up to be offenders, but the taboo nature of child sexual abuse keeps our perception of sexual offenders and the average man completely separate when there are actually more similarities than differences. By putting all the blame on offenders, by dehumanizing and stigmatizing them, men (and women) in general choose not to take responsibility for their contribution to the ease with which some men can and do sexually offend against women and children.
~ “I don’t believe rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is. Have you ever wondered why we [women] are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there’s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.” – Andrea Dworkin
Every time I start to feel disconnected and alone, I’m going to remember tonight and last week. It’s amazing how many people say “me too” when I mention that I was sexually abused as a child.
Last week I met up with some new peeps who are also interested in German New Medicine. I had met one of them at the seminar a couple weeks ago, and she wanted to introduce me to these four very awesome ladies. We met in a coffee shop, and while discussing how I came across GNM, on one of the many tangents went on was my trip to Peru and the the subsequent address I made to my family regarding the sexual abuse in my childhood. I’ve been talking more boldly about it lately – it puts shame in it’s rightful place, and people never react in the negative or harmful way I thought they might (though ironically it was my own family, the people who are supposed to be there for me the most, whose response to my breaking the silence was the most damaging for me).
Two of the four women said that they had similar things happen in their childhood. It seems that although each story is unique in many ways, we have a common bond over our shared quirks and oddities. Eating disorders all around. Family problems. Learning to trust our own feelings. Revictimization. Problems with authority. Drug and alcohol problems. Sex problems. So much in our existence is the same and yet I often feel like I am out to sea all alone. Like I have to walk this road without help, because who after all is going to know what it feels like to be me. Who else is going to understand what it feels like to have a suicidal hatred of your body because 50% of its DNA belongs to someone who did unspeakable things to said body?
Tonight I met up with someone I haven’t seen in years, and it was the same story. In the process of catching up, I got into the nitty gritty again, and he said “me too.” As soon as he realized I understood what it felt like to be him, he couldn’t stop talking about his pain. He said he never really talked about it with anyone, not like we were talking about it. I could tell that it was an incredible relief for him to finally tell someone what effect the abuse has had on his life, and have them really know what he was talking about!
In talking about my experiences, both those from childhood and those of healing in the present, I have found nothing but relief as well. All the walls that first seemed to separate me from others began to dissolve and I feel I’m free to just be what I am, rather than play at wearing a mask. Keeping the subject taboo, keeps us shrouded in shame. It separates us further from the truth of who we really are.
~ “Honesty is the best policy.” – Benjamin Franklin