Wednesday, 10 February 2016
SEXUAL ABUSE .V. PHYSICAL ABUSE
My credibility as a CSA survivor is somewhat diminished by the fact that I was not sexually abused while in the care of St. Anne's Convent, Orpington. Those who were sexually abused would argue that we who were not, have no idea how they feel. Their abuse, the majority would say, was far worse.
I am curious to know what constitutes sexual abuse? I don't know if there is a scale that exists, and I wouldn't dare try to google one for fear of a dawn raid. As a young girl about town in the 80's, I was often groped on the bus and fondled on the underground, and if I wasn't, I wore more lipstick. Nothing starts the day better than a wolfwhistle, a fag and an expresso. I jest of course, not with the wholfwhistles, but gropers can be swiftly despatched with a sharp elbow or a swift kick - when did girls become such wusses?
What constitutes sexual abuse in the workplace? I once had a creepy boss who had a tendency to stick his bald head between my double 34DD's and my typewriter keyboard. Was that 'abuse'? It was peculiar, but was it abusive? I found it hilarious, and to be fair, he was far from the only one. As a legal secretary, I had one boss who asked me to stay late so he could show me his secret stash of handcarved phallic symbols, I was broke at the time and on the clock, so I thought what the hell. Such was my experience working for lawyers, I thought most of them were giant dicks anyway.
In trying to understand how sexual abuse occurs and in how it is so much worse than physical abuse, I can only draw on my own experience. Life is not so much about what happens to us in this life, it lies in the way we react to it. I was 'groped' as a child, but it didn't wreck my life. Being physically and mentally forced to believe in and abide by a religious lifestyle that was totally alien to me however, brought me black eyes, multiple bruising, hair ripped out and social isolation.
In the convent environment, those 'favoured' by the Uncles and nuns received privileges that were denied to the girls and the younger children. We were envious of their outings, their new clothes, the fact that they were allowed to stay up and watch telly all night. The way they were treated was polemically opposite to the way in which we were treated. I understand now that they were victims too, but it didn't feel that way at the time.
The reason most of us didn't tell was because we were punished as a group. If one of us 'told' we would ALL suffer. It was a very effective way of keeping the more rebellious among us in check. Whilst we didn't care what happened to us, we cared very much what happened to our siblings, friends and the little ones. We formed a bond between us that has spanned 40+ years. We covered up for each other and we took punishments for each other, it was us against them.
I hid the physical abuse from my beloved Dad, because of how much it would have hurt him. For those sexually abused, that fear, I am sure, multiplies. Nobody wants their horrible, intimate sexual experiences broadcast to the nation, and most of all, they don't want their nearest and dearest to know about them.
My advice to them, is stick with your instincts, you have no need or obligation to drag up the negativity from your past. Whilst the graphic descriptions have an established voyeuristic readership and the full attention of the child protectors, they are destructive to the author. Reliving trauma over and over doesn't make you feel good. Reminding yourself of all the bad things that have happened to you is a recipe for lifelong clinical depression. Self pity is negative and destructive. Our brains are far more advanced than the Freudians, they file the bad stuff away in the corner to gather dust and we should learn to leave it there.
But is sexual abuse worse than physical abuse? On personal level, I would prefer a stroke on the bottom to a punch in the eye. On an institutional level, how would a child given the option of eating a plate of vomit and/or being locked in the coat cupboard all night, see it? Physical abuse was of course, far more prevalent but it was an accepted part of the society's culture, so it is harder to prove. And if you throw in psychological abuse, you open the floodgates. What kind of fucked up ideology drags small children from their beds at 6.00am every morning to go stare at the grotesque image of a half naked man dying on a crucifix with blood pouring out of his wounds while a priest tells them how wicked they are. Girls especially who kicked off all life's ills by opting for fruit from a different vine.
There is more than an abundance of the homo erotic to Christianity. From the carefully chiselled muscular figures of Michelangelo to the naked male cherubs on the walls of almost every ancient church. Jesus is bachelor supported by 12 equally sexually abstinent male followers and one fallen hussy they saved from a stoning. From a sexual and voyeuristic perspective, the bible is filled with stories of male heroism, David faced Goliath, Peter founded the Vatican, Jesus. a hot single guy in his early 30's, was the Saviour.
For this reason, the majority of the sexual victims were boys. Abusers believe they must follow the teachings of the bible, the teachings of the bible allows and indeed encourages the disciplining of young men. As for the distinction between physical and sexual abuse, the spankings, whippings and sensory depravation made no difference to the male or female victim's behaviour, so exactly who was benefitting from it? What is to say there was no sexual motivation behind the physical abuse. From a personal perspective, it was just as degrading being dragged to the ground by my hair and given a good kicking in front of my friends.
Unfortunately, physical abuse does not have the sensationalism or popular appeal of sexual abuse, sexual abuse will always elicit the most media response. Unless it reaches the proportions of Baby 'P', it will remain the less interesting sister. The physical abuse of children is a murky area. The government has no right to tell parents how to discipline their children, and physical abuse is far from confined to institutions. 85% of us come from dysfunctional homes. But that is a statistic just like any other, what is functional?
Returning to those affected by sexual abuse. Most victims will have been men, and the male of the species are not known for sharing their innermost thoughts. And they shouldn't be forced to. All those who have put their sorrows behind them are the ones who have been successful and who have thrived. They were the invulnerable children, the ones who didn't allow their bad, early experiences to throw them off their goals. The best form of revenge is live well.