Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Thoughts On Oprah Show On Women Sex Offenders

The previous Oprah episode on child sexual abuse (Mon. Feb 8) focused on an interview she did with 4 men who were convicted sex offenders with child victims.

Yesterday's show was different beyond the gender of the offender. Rather than being an interview with one or more women offenders, it was primarily an interview with a man, Greg, who had been the victim of a woman sex offender who was also his mother. His sister, April, who survived less severe abuse was also interviewed. This difference takes nothing away from this show as this perspective from 2 survivors is something we must never forget when we think about offenders.

With the belief some people have about what childhood sexual abuse does to boys because of the claims of many boys and men convicted of sexual abuse it is important to demonstrate that becoming a sexual abuser is never predetermined even when abuse seems normal to that child as the abuse is happening.

Greg: The sexual abuse began when he was around 8 yrs old, but grooming wasn't seduction of pretend kindness in the way described last week by the 4 interviewed sex offenders. His mother beat him into complying with sexual abuse. If he complied to his mother's satisfaction then he got the least non-sexual abuse. His mother was more verbally and physically gentle during sexual abuse but he continued to associate sexual abuse with the brutality of physical abuse. His mother, like many sexual abusers and rapists who target non-strangers, told him that he seduced her. His mother was the center of his universe so he wouldn't have stopped her abuse of him.

This childhood abuse continues to haunt him. Part of him was lost. It was easier for him to admit to being physically abused than to admit to being sexually abused. He described his mother as someone who controlled his body.

He coped while the abuse was being done to him by thinking of the person who sexually abused him as a separate person from his mother. In school he craved normalcy and others saw in him what he wanted them to see.

His mother was an alcoholic who prostituted herself beginning when he was about 7 and after she started to abuse him she started prostituting him (age 8 or 9) to adult men. If he couldn't block an erection, he felt like subsequent abuse was his fault.

Oprah said something about the manipulative thinking and narrative used by abusers related to their victim's physical responses which seemed to trigger the recollection that his mother and the men who paid to sexually abuse him would tell him that he liked the abuse using his body's natural response as their proof.

His mother told him what she and those men did wouldn't have happened if he didn't respond sexually. He had earlier talked about viewing the abuse as consensual and at that point he listed the cause of the change in his thinking as his body maturing sexually to the point of being able to have an erection. However, this description of what abusers told him about his body's response is more likely what really caused him to think of the abuse as becoming consensual.

He was told it was consensual and I suspect if he didn't agree or appear like he agreed he would pay for the truth in an increase in some type of abuse.

Oprah made a speculative remark about his mother being a damaged person who obviously had a lot of pain in her life and who didn't know how to love her children. Some will see that as minimization and possibly gendered minimization, but I disagree since this general idea that hurting others is rooted in inner pain or inner brokenness is an idea I've heard from Oprah when she wasn't talking about rape or sexual abuse. In the show where she interviewed men who committed sex crimes against children she seemed surprised that 1 of the 4 men had never himself been sexually abused.

Oprah made a remark about the shame causing more harm than the actual contact and Greg agreed. This is something that many people are likely not to understand and which could be misused by some to separate out the emotional impact from the sexual abuse itself. Shame related to abuse causes victims to change the way they act and react but this shame is caused by the abuse and I believe it is also caused by the way abusers manipulate victims in order to make victims take on responsibility for their own abuse. I also believe that the commonness of direct and indirect victim blaming from people who are not abusers contributes to victims feeling shame.

His mother wanted him to feel fear. People suspected what was happening in his home was abusive in part because his mother's behavior in public but adults in the neighborhood only told their children to stay away from him and his family. In school, obvious signs of general abuse and neglect were ignored or were used to torment him.

Greg's younger sister, April, was also sexually abused by their mother. This abuse fit more into the MO of the sex offenders Oprah interviewed last week and went on for a couple of years until Greg intervened on his sister's behalf. When April was around 7 Greg realized that his mother had allowed a man to pay to sexually abuse or rape April and before that man could touch his sister he told sister to hide and then took his sister's place in an attempt to protect her. He worked to make it difficult whenever his mother again tried to prostitute his sister.

The abuse stopped when he was 11 after he called a relative repeatedly and they were removed from their mother. He talked early in the interview about his mother being his world and not taking action to stop the abuse, but this action when he realized that his sister was in danger and after disrupting the abuse against her highlights that he didn't internalize his mother's rationalizations and that he was willing to shake up everything he knew.

His sister, April, understood that something bad was happening to her brother and it was clear that she was terrified. Her admiration for her brother then and now came through clearly.

Greg still has regular nightmares about the abuse. As a teenager he became promiscuous and couldn't maintain a relationship. He was afraid to tell the woman who became his wife about being an abuse survivor. Having someone you trust violate that trust has a huge impact on being able to trust others who are not abusers.

Greg said that education saved him. It gave him independence and opened the door to his getting help. His adult son talked about his dad and it was clear that Greg's fears that he would turn out to be a parent like his mother in some way never became a reality. Being abused doesn't mean you turn into an abuser. Being an abuser is a choice.

This last statement is key especially in evaluating how Oprah described Greg's mother. Greg's mother could be a damaged person who didn't know how to love without that removing her full responsibility for her choice to abuse her children and her choice to let adult men pay her to abuse her children.

The discussion ended with information about RAINN including providing their helpline.

This episode focused on this one woman as a sexual abuser, but it is important to highlight that the men who paid this woman to gain access to a child must also be viewed as sexual offenders even if they would never harm children without paying first. Too often abusers who pay to abuse tell themselves and others that their victim was no innocent child and therefore what they did was not abuse. This is a lie.

If the laws in any jurisdiction allow this lie to make someone immune from full prosecution those laws must change.

If Greg hadn't been motivated to shake up his world at age 11 to protect his younger sister he might have continued to be prostituted until many people would stop looking at him as a true victim. If his typical response to abuse of being promiscuous had happened while the abuse was continuing many people would view his consensual actions as nullifying the validity of his claims of being abused. This exact type of baseless attack is why there is a continuing need for rape shield laws.

His staying wouldn't have been a choice to be abused yet many people allow their ignorance to convince them that complying at some point does equals consent. This happens even when children are abducted by strangers.

I can't remember the number of times I've heard someone talking about rape say, "If it happens more than once it's consensual." Most of these people think of themselves as being opposed to rape when this type of statement encourages abusers to be repeat offenders and contributes to victims of systematic abuse feeling shame and misplaced responsibility for the abuse done to them.

When those who are working against prostitution talk about the average age of entry being low many people continue to view this as just a number rather than looking at this from the perspective of the children being prostituted. Greg cooperated with abusers who paid his mother, but that never made him any less of an innocent victim of his mother or of the men who she let in their house and it never made any of those men who paid Greg's mother into lesser sex offenders or non-sex offenders.

Update: at least for now the full episode of this show Women Who Molest can be watched online.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:57 AM   2 comments links to this post


At February 16, 2010 4:26 PM, Anonymous gidgetcommando said...

I can't remember the number of times I've heard someone talking about rape say, "If it happens more than once it's consensual."

Sadly, it's just more denial from people who want desperately to believe it can't happen to them. Submitting to an abuser is not "consent." It's actually a very understandable survival technique for someone who can't get out of the situation. If someone you should be able to trust violated your trust, boundaries and very autonomy by rape, what else would that person do if you didn't comply? Hit? Cut? Kill?

At February 16, 2010 5:37 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

Agree many survivors of sexual violence feel shame but that is because the perpetrators manipulate the victims in order to make them believe they not the perpetrators are responsible for supposedly allowing the perpetrators commit such acts.

Then society too blames the victims and this just adds another layer of blame on to the victim - whereas in fact accountability must always be levied at the perpetrator.

Correct men who pay pimps and procurers in order to commit sexual violence against these children are equally as accountable as the pimps.

Submitting to the perpetrator's demands/threats in no way means the victim is agreeing to be subjected to sexual violence. When the perpetrator has greater power than the victim then no way can a victim be perceived as 'consenting to being subjected to sexual violence.

Shame related to abuse causes victims to change the way they act and react but this shame is caused by the abuse and I believe it is also caused by the way abusers manipulate victims in order to make victims take on responsibility for their own abuse. I also believe that the commonness of direct and indirect victim blaming from people who are not abusers contributes to victims feeling shame.

Most victims of sexual violence do not grow up to become perpetrators but society conveniently uses this myth in order to deflect attention away from how our hierarchal and male-dominated society justifies male sexual violence against women and children.


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