Sunday, February 1, 2009

Unit 2 Lesson 2, What is Abusive?

One thing that many people do not realize is that sexual abuse does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone - old, young, male, female, wealthy, poor, Christian or not. And abuse can happen anywhere - school, church, in the home, at a neighbor's, on a date, etc. Often, victims of sexual abuse will minimize the abuse in order to hide the pain, saying things like, "it's no big deal", "he/she didn't mean anything by it", or "the abuse hasn't impacted my life". Regardless of the duration or nature of the sexual abuse, it is a big deal and it has affected your life negatively!

Let's discuss what sexual abuse is -

Freedom to choose is a key component in the issue of sexual abuse. Were you given the right to choose or did someone force their desires upon you? A person does not consent if she/she does not have the ability to choose or refuse the sexual activity. Age, circumstances, level of understanding, dependency and relationship to the offender are all factors that can limit a person's ability to choose.

Most people can easily understand that a young child is too young to consent, but what about the elderly? I recently read about some people ranging in age from 19-25 who worked in a nursing home. They were supposed to be taking care of residents, but found it entertaining to sit on their laps, give "lap dances", fondle their breasts, flash their own bodies, etc. It seemed harmless to the offenders, but this is sexual abuse! The elderly victims were confined to wheel chairs, dependent on these people for their care, and/or lacked the ability to communicate what was happening. They could not consent; therefore, these acts are criminal.

Most states have determined that the legal age of consent is 17. But many kids are dating well before that, and they view themselves as much more mature and grown-up than they are. Some adults prey on these teenagers and establish "relationships" with them that are completely inappropriate and criminal. A 15 year old girl, no matter how smart and sophisticated she thinks she is, cannot consent to a sexual relationship with an adult. This adult might buy you gifts, tell you that you're his princess, agree with you that your parents are controlling and treating you like a baby, etc. But there is nothing right about an adult having a sexual relationship with a minor. In this case, the adult is manipulating the victim. This is not an affair. This is sexual abuse.

A similar circumstance would be someone who is being pursued and forced into a relationship by his/her employer. The power he/she has over the employee constitutes sexual abuse, as the victim lacks the ability to give genuine consent. This can happen to anyone at any age. If someone has power over you and you feel you have no choice, you lack the ability to consent.

Sometimes in the repeated sexual abuse of a child by a family member or friend of the family, the abuser seeks to get the "consent" of the child, though the child is too young to consent. If this happened to you - if you gave this kind of permission out of guilt, childlike loyalty, fear, or any other reason - recognize that you were not capable of making an adult decision. This "consent" does not render guiltless the person who abused you! You were responding in the only way you knew how. You were a child - adolescents are not adults!

Think about your own abuse situation and identify the factor(s) that prevented you from being able to choose. Age, level of understanding, dependency/relationship to the abuser, fear of consequences, physical strength or intimidation, another??

Types of sexual abuse -

A lot of people have a hard time understanding sexual boundaries. If you were raised without healthy ones, you might be really confused about what is accepted and what is not. Following is a list of behaviors that are sexually abusive when not consented to. Some of these are not crimes, but all of them are damaging and offensive.

(As you read through the list, make note of the ones that have happened to you. Also make note of the ones you did not realize were sexually abusive. If you have experienced other sexually abusive behaviors, add those to your list.)

Physical sexual abuse:
  • Touching or fondling a child or an adult without consent
  • Excessive tickling and physical restraint
  • French kissing a child
  • Excessive enemas or excessive concern about genital hygiene
  • Intercourse/oral sex or sodomy with any child or with an adult without consent
Examples of visual sexual abuse:
  • Exposure of child to pornography
  • Exposure of pornography to an adult without consent
  • Force, manipulation, or coercion of another to observe masturbation or the sexual activity of another
  • Exposure of the genitals to non-consenting party or to a child
Examples of verbal sexual abuse:
  • Exposure of a child or non-consenting adult to sexual jokes, teasing, or graphic sexual descriptions
  • Exposure of a child to repeated remarks about the child's developing body
  • Refusing to allow a child privacy for bathing or dressing
  • Name calling of a sexual nature - calling a child a "slut" or "whore" is sexually abusive
Examples of covert - without the immediate knowledge of the victim - sexual abuse:
  • Observing another person nude without their consent
  • Videotaping people having sex without their consent
Examples of ritualistic sexual abuse:
  • Forcing a person to participate in religious activities that include sex
  • Sexual activity that involves chants or incantations
Sexual abuse does not have to involve physical contact; in fact, it often begins with non-contact types of abuse that invade the emotional and psychological boundaries of the victim. And most of the time, sexual abuse does not involve intercourse or force. The abuser is rarely a stranger.

I remember reading this list for the first time - it was surprising and heartbreaking. I'd remembered so many obvious touching incidents, but didn't even realize the more "subtle" abuses that happened to me -- and I'd forgotten some too. My father loved pornography - there were boxes and boxes of magazines throughout the house. My siblings and I, and even our friends, would look at them. I remember all the boundary-less ideas I had about sexuality and my body as a little girl and into my mid-20's. A lot of those ideas came from the images we saw in the magazines. Also, I'd forgotten about the discovery my mother made as we were moving out of our house. My dad had drilled holes in the bathroom ceiling and was apparently watching us bathe (from my bedroom above the bathroom). Thinking about that takes me back into a place of hurt and anger all over again at my mother. She had proof that he was watching us and still chose not to believe me.

Some victims are confused about the reality of the abuse. Vague memories from long ago can seem unreal. Many people have images of "pictures and frames - like in a movie" or remember their abuse as if they're watching it happen to someone else. Sometimes a person may remember a situation and see it as sinful or morally wrong but fail to recognize it as abuse. And many people suffer from memory blocks. I have chunks of time that I don't remember at all.

Psalm 51:6 says, "Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom." You have begun the healing process, and it is important for you to see and know the truth. Pray this scripture regularly, asking God to make your thoughts clear and to lead you to accurately determine fact from fiction in your life.

This lesson is a hard one - seeing in print the different types of abuse and applying the reading to our own lives; remembering the awful things that happened. Remember that YOU ARE INNOCENT and that YOU DESERVE TO MOVE OUT FROM UNDER THIS DARKNESS. You are not alone. God will carry you through this each and every day. You are always in my prayers.

1 comment:

JourneyBegins said...

Thank you for this clarifying list. I very much would like to join the online support group using 'Shelter From the Storm' it still occurring?