Being a trauma therapist, I have had an increasing number of sexual assaults victims that have come to me for EMDR therapy to process their trauma. And while the details vary from client to client, there are a couple themes that I have been noticing recently. The first is that most sexual assaults are not what we would define as violent assaults and most victims know the perpetrators. Now this is actually more the norm than people realize, but it is worth stating so that it starts to create a picture for what I am going to elaborate on. Secondly, none of the victims said no, all of them had the ability to leave, and none of them wanted the sexual encounter...and yet they all stayed. They were all frozen in their ability to say no or walk away. This may or may not seem unbelievable, why would anyone stay around for an assault they don’t want? While I have noticed that many victims are very trapped by their own thinking that leads to them not being able to say no in the moment, which leads to shame, the bigger factor is the perpetrator’s sense of entitlement and pushing to get what they want. This is my third theme, all the perpetrators had a sense of being owed and that them getting what they wanted sexually what was important and what the victim wanted didn’t matter. None of them checked in to make sure the victim was willing and even if the victim showed reluctance, they ignored them and continued what they were doing. All of this is terrible and is leading to a lot of pain, but what I am really left to ponder is how are we raising people who are victimizers? What in our society and households is leading to people who take advantage of others for their own gain? In regards to sex, I think that early exposure to sexual content reshapes a child’s brain in ways it is not supposed to. This includes porn or high sexualized movies/tv shows(your children should not be watching Game of Thrones, you are not the cool parent by letting them. If they aren’t old enough to be having sex, they shouldn’t be watching it). As a child’s brain is still young and developing, they have a hard time distinguishing reality from fiction. This is why children will often talk about dreams as if they really happened. So when kids watch violent video games or movies or tv, their brains hard-wire the violence like they are seeing it in person. This doesn’t mean they will all grow up to be violent, but if it is not something you want them exposes to in person, it shouldn’t be on their screens. So brain exposure is one element, but what about the mentality that people are there to be used? I think there are two pieces at play. One is the way parents train their kids to behave toward others. Is kindness taught or do kids watch parents take advantage of others for their own good? Are people objects to be used to reach their own goals and needs or is it they are to be respected and valued? I believe this goes beyond sexual objectification in our society, which happens toward men and women in different ways, and is really damaging to the way we look at and treat others. People can be beautiful and have value in looks, but their true value lies on the inside and that is what people should be teaching their kids. The second piece is that I think some people are wired to be users of others. I think this occurs on a variety of levels and, to some extent, we all are looking to get something out of relationships, but I believe some people go above and become users and take advantage of people for their own purposes. There may be some people who are looking to get a need met and go about it poorly(this does not include to a sexual assault/domestic violence level, that is never about getting a need met. It is about power and control and abuse), but I think a lot of people become so twisted they truly do not think there is anything wrong with what they are doing. That is very dangerous and leads to victimization of others.
So what is the point of all this? Parents teach your kids to be respectful of others and to give more than they get from others(without being a doormat or pleaser). Don’t expose them too early to the things you wouldn’t want them to see in person, i.e. violence, sex, etc. Teach your kids the power of their own voice to stand up and say no and sometimes that means you listen to them respectfully tell you how you messed up as a parent or what rule they don’t like. Listen to the hurt that those around us want to share. Examine your own goals in relationships, is it for what you can get out of them or what you can contribute to them?
And since we are talking sexual assault, not only does no mean no, but unless you are asking and get a confident yes, don’t do it!
-Naomi Cooper Martin, LMFT