This has been one of those weeks plagued by a breakout at the idiot asylum. Stuart Hall gets 15 months for sexual offences spanning 18 years. Charles Saatchi accepts a caution for assaulting Nigella Lawson, not because he was being anything more than playful with her, but to make all the aggro go away. Tom Martin wants to explore whether there’s a correlation between gold digging and why women are less funny than men. And who can forget John Waters’ psychotic planet where Irish women tyrannise their menfolk and don’t really appreciate the inherent bliss which is pregnancy? A bliss disconnected from the manner of conception or the viability of the foetus.
After 30 years as a trauma therapist, I am jaded. Even my husband’s horror at these news items didn’t get through to me. People are intrinsically stupid and I’m going back to my writing. Then I read Jinan Younis’ posting, What Happened When I Started a Feminist Society at School.
What a brave woman. After an incident of sexual harassment by strangers, she forms an organisation to help herself and her classmates meet the anachronistic challenge of misogyny. Obviously this brings a backlash of abusive and threatening comments from male peers, because that’s what happens when women speak out. Jinan’s school does what society always does to women – stops them from expressing that something’s wrong. Out of concern for their safety, of course. Yes, that makes a lot of sense. Let’s not upset the dear misogynists lest they become naughty.
My 17th year, the place where Jinan Younis is now, was done a long time ago, but her article reminds me that it’s just now happening for hundreds of thousands of young women and men. And so this week, I’m setting aside my writing to share a few things that I’ve learned. This is not empirical data. These are anecdotal events from my years as a trauma therapist, that I pass along to those of you who, like my husband, still respond with horror.
First let me say that I am not an activist. I don’t have the temperament. Nor does my son. When he transitioned, he said he wanted to live his life, not spend the rest of it trying to change society. I told him about my mother, a professional woman with seven children who one day in the 1970s wore a pants suit to church where she was the choir director. After Mass, several women in the congregation thanked her for breaking the dress code. My mother said that she’d put on the pants suit without thought to the wider ramifications. She was living her life, not making a statement. The point being, I told my son, they’re the same thing. For me, living my life meant being a writer and trauma therapist. Which means I've gotten close and personal with victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
Domestic abuse. This week, people have said more times than I wanted to hear that Nigella Lawson’s experience somehow outs the problem of domestic abuse. The jaded part of me wonders how society hasn’t noticed before. In many places such as Glasgow, there are whole courts dedicated to domestic abuse. There’s not a Murder Court or a Petty Larceny Court, but there is a Domestic Abuse Court. How marginal can domestic abuse possibly be when we need courts dedicated to it?
Domestic abuse is a complicated thing. Abusers don’t smack a woman they meet in a bar and so she goes home with him to live a life of physical violence. It starts very subtly and progresses in an insidious way, like a slow acting disease. Most of my clients are remarkable women. The organisers. The heads of departments. The gregarious barkeep who tossed drunks out on their ears. The women first on the dance floor and last off. The artistic. The alluring. The intelligent. The compassionate. Great mothers and educators. The heart of the family. The object worth attaining and possessing. Someone so accomplished, as a matter of fact, it’s satisfying to destroy her.
That, in my experience, is the face of the domestic abuse victim. Women who can survive decades of extreme physical and emotional violence, usually with the aid of some powerful drugs and no external supports, who, given 2 short years of therapy, are often able to resume their lives.
Unfortunately, funding sources typically expect domestic abuse victims to get past 20 years of terror in 12 short weeks. We acknowledge that PTSD in soldiers takes longer to address. We have the research to show the correlation of symptomatology between domestic abuse and victims of war. We also know that the psychological effects of abusive trauma increases exponentially to the level of intimacy with the abuser. But hey, someone damaged in the ‘defence’ of our country deserves more support than the women trying to raise the next generation.
And now sexual abuse. I once worked in a homeless shelter for women with an admission criteria of either a history of abuse or of substance misuse. In the time I worked there, only one woman didn’t have an addiction but all of the women had a history of abuse. The majority of them also had a history of childhood sexual abuse. This can be the future for a sexually abused child. Her life sucks. Her whole life. Not just the incident of sexual intrusion, but her whole, entire life gone in some pervert’s ejaculation.
That was a discrete population of homeless women, so perhaps extreme, you say. Remember what I wrote above. The psychological effects of abusive trauma increases exponentially to the level of intimacy with the abuser. In other words, it hurts more if you know the person. Most sexual abuse of children is perpetrated by someone the victim knows or respects. It’s how the predator works. There is a bond of trust, so the child does what she’s told to do. The predator has tentacles in the child’s life, can use knowledge about the child to control her or, in the case of celebrity paedophiles, their societal power to subdue her resistance. Society colludes, hushes the child in the same way Jinan Younis and her classmates have been hushed.
How is that child ever expected to form a healthy relationship? Sexual abuse objectifies her. There it goes, self esteem, out the window. You are nothing but an object. A sexual object. You give your body and you get love. Or intimacy. Or just physical warmth because let’s face it, without self esteem, what else do you think you're worth receiving?
Not only is the ability to have a normal and intimate relationship, sexual or platonic, permanently impaired by childhood sexual abuse, but often these victims are pathologised by the very institutions meant to treat them. I have had countless clients with sexual abuse histories, both childhood and adult rape, who could not have their medical issues taken seriously if their sexual abuse history were known. Headache? Because of the rape. Abdominal pain? Because of the rape. Antiphylactic reaction? Because of the rape.
We didn’t listen to them then. We don’t listen to them now. We medicate them into silence.
So. Stuart Hall’s eighteen years of sexual predatory behaviour equates to a 15 month sentence, only half of which will be served. The poor old fart. The fathers of Hall’s victims are horrified. The brothers and uncles and husbands are horrified. Men are horrified. Women are horrified. Why are there not laws to reflect this horror?
I don’t know. My poor pea brain can’t wrap itself around the fact that Nick Griffen can utter sexist and sexual things about Nigella Lawson and still have a job as MEP. But there’s undoubtedly a correlation between people like Nick Griffen being allowed to speak and the silencing of women like Jinan Younis. And we need to address it, rather worry about inciting the bastards.