Friday, October 27, 2017

Me, too

It isn't a new story, not to me. Not a new thing, sexual assault, rape, harassment, but having listened to dozens of victims (fine, survivors) tell their stories over dozens of years, surprisingly it never gets boring.

A man in his thirties talks about his experience as a young boy, age six, and a rabbi (rabbi!) who took his youth. You see, it is not only the priests, this is cross-cultural.

Or a woman in her twenties. She writes the details in long-hand, cannot talk about what happened to her. She is married now, hates sex.

Another man is introduced to porn and sex as a schoolboy, an older cousin. My patient cannot maintain a relationship, cannot finish what he starts, hardly ever initiates. He is addicted to online porn.

A prostitute tells me that she's had sex with hundreds of men, was told that it was all she was good for. She believed it for the longest time.

A mother brings in her daughter, says that incest is in the family and she fears that her daughter has been molested repeatedly by an uncle, her brother. The daughter will not talk about it. The mother discusses her own trauma, the abuse she suffered from him.

A young woman in her early thirties tells me that she has a choice. She can "date" her boss, or she can look for another job. There's a company retreat, required attendance, and she knows he will force the issue there.

A college student on break for the summer comes to therapy to get over an acquaintance rape. She'd been drinking. He walked her home.

Another woman recalls the tragedy of her life, a violent rape. He slit her throat, left her to die in the snow. She was under the influence, blamed herself for years.

Now there's #Me, too.

Women are opening up the proverbial can of worms, telling their stories to anyone who will listen. We are telling the world on Twitter and on other social media sites, screaming to other women that we are not alone. This happens.

Who doesn't have a #MeToo story? Find me that woman and I will tell you that likely she's (a) been very lucky or (b) she can't remember, lives in denial, head in the sand (this happens). Prove me wrong, tell me how a little girl, a young woman, a little boy, a vulnerable man, can avoid this abuse of personal boundaries. Because rape happens even if you wear long sleeves, long skirts, wear a bag over your head. It makes you all the more of a challenge, is all.

Therapists have to work out their own Me Too.  Most of us, by a certain age, have told our story countless times. We do it in classes via the small group, designed to be intimate, set up to smoke out our interface. We've had our own therapy, encourage our patients to speak with us about their experiences. Better out than in, purge it. Now this opportunity is available via social media, so much support for the survivor, no blame any longer for the victim.

This is something phenomenal and unexpected. That women would come out, one after another, after another, a seemingly endless chain of stories, amazing. That it is the rich and the famous are in the spotlight as predators, all the more incredible, but it comes as no surprise.

We might grieve that #Bill Cosby got away, a hung jury, and that #Bill O'Reilly has somehow crawled under the rock he came from. But #HarveyWeinstein has not escaped an unrelenting public eye. He will likely go to jail. And from there he'll make the movie about himself, ugly and shocking, like him. If he is smart all of the proceeds will go to the international fight against sexual assault

I'm not sure in the ten years of blogging anonymously that I've ever done a #MeToo.
Now would be the time, no? Being female, I have more than one (I think I counted four, including the father of a friend, I was 16). Here's the least emotionally damaging:
In college, a junior. I have an apartment in a co-op, am resident advisor. I accept a date from a man I know peripherally on campus, not even from class. He walks into the little apartment, closes the door, puts his hands on my shoulders and attempts to push me to the floor.
My adrenaline is greater than his, and maybe my anger, and I wrest myself free, push him out the door, lock it. Collapse. I kept the story a secret for years. It is why, to this day, FD tells me that he pities the man who tries to assault me.
This is no joke, however, having to fight off sexual assault, and it is something that I fear, as do most other women when they go out, even to their cars to go to the store in the evening, and men, too, who have been the objects of sexual assault.

That story, however, is hardly a #Metoo.  It is a survivor tale, not a victim story, and I never had him charged with attempted battery or assault. We could call it a Not me! in fact. In the treatment of rape Not Me is what we're after, but it is rare, this transition from victim to survivor, and placing the blame where it belongs, on the perpetrator, not ourselves. But that was sheer luck, pushing him out the door. If he had a gun or a knife, would I have been so bold?

There's a post on this blog, first steps toward treating rape, and it is far and above the most read on this site. Because most of the time we don't get away, and we're searching for those first steps in recovery, if not for ourselves, then for a friend, a relative.

Rape (the preferred legal designation is sexual assault) is a 1 out of 3 phenomenon for women, 1 out of 8 for men. It is possible there is even more of this crime now, or maybe less, I'm not sure. But it should be a 0 out of 3, 0 out of 10. No means No is not a new mantra.

Sexual assault begins as a violation of physical boundaries, and as such, has far reaching emotional consequences, several likely diagnoses will present soon after the event. A short list:
post-traumatic stress, 
sexual dysfunction, 
addiction to alcohol and drugs, 
intimacy fears, 

The body memories, the pain, the pregnancy and disease that go along with the trauma, these physical manifestations magnify the emotional pain.

But still, most telling is that the stories we are hearing now have been the dirty little secrets for years, feeding self-blame and anger, embarrassment, stigma, marginalization.

We might compare the experience of sexual assault to a different type of crime. Consider the man who has been a victim of frequent muggings. He tells his therapist that he this happens often, probably because he isn't a big guy. He appears vulnerable, and he is. But he tells everyone when his wallet is surrendered to a masked fellow with a gun on the street, near the alley. It doesn't even faze him anymore that this happens. He's learned to carry only one credit card.

When you read a MeToo story in the coming weeks and reflect upon your own, think about finding a way to share it, even if it anonymously. Even if it is a where do I begin, kind of thing, as it is when it comes to how many times we women are molested in our lifetimes, or approached for sex that we don't want, coerced, physically forced. We are vulnerable, and when we are young or old, unarmed and disempowered, we don't know what to do, so we do nothing.

What should we do? Tell someone, preferably a rape victim advocate, even years later. Or call the state coalition against sexual assault. Ask for someone trained on the crime at the emergency room, if it just happened. Make sure to ask for a rape kit, too.  And get some therapy, even if you think you don't need it.

Last night I listened to an interview on NPR. A female lawyer who specialized in defending sexual assault victims said that she wasn't sure that on the job sexual harassment training really does any good.* She said that the online training offered at most jobs with over fifty employees is sometimes good, never great. And she wasn't sure that any training, honestly, made any difference in the corporate world, where promotions are dangled, demotions expected. I always suspected as much, and after the prevention workshop phase of my life ended, segued to treating known perpetrators.

The lawyer's message, that prevention efforts haven't been shown effective, and that maybe it is impossible to eradicate sexual assault, seems terribly dark. But she ended on an upbeat note:

When well-respected, affluent men are outed for sexual assault, when the producers at Amazon, the managers at Fidelity, the Harvey Weinsteins, Bill O'Reillys, and even past Presidents (George H. W. Bush) must apologize, we are making progress. These high profile men influence the decisions of other high profile men, and if they go to jail, all the more so.

We can only hope.


*You might remember that I developed a series of these, offered them to corporations and schools. Online training made me obsolete and I abandoned the initiative.


linrob63 said...

The strength of my character
was not enough
to lift his 200 pound will.

He was violent. He was cruel.
I was 12.

M Reed said...


therapydoc said...

Oh G-d LR, words can not express.

Sarah said...

so saddened to see this on your page, and the pages of so many (all?) strong wonderful women I know. It's all of us. I believe there is power in telling our stories, and there is power too in admitting that we have stories to tell. Thank you for joining this chorus of brave women. You are not alone. We're all here with you. I've been reflecting lately on the power of shared experience; maybe this is the first step....we're all in this together. We have each other. And we are strong.