Female sexual abuse: The untold story of society’s last taboo

Blogger T sent me an email about this article. It is a long read, but well worth it. Western society still holds on to a lot of taboos, and one of the most egregious is the belief that women simply cannot sexually abuse anyone. It is a subject that is most often viewed with a grin and wink, very rarely taken seriously and very rarely considered a real issue. Victims of female abusers live not only under the general shadow of being an abuse victim, but also under a host of social norms that no one, even those advocating for the removal of gender roles, wants to challenge.  The article gives an example of how horribly this plays out:

The story that Sharon, who is now 40, has been unable to tell before today is one that few would wish to hear: from as far back as she can remember until the day she left home at the age of 16, Sharon, an only child, was sexually abused by her mother. The particulars of her abuse are too horrific to bear repeating in detail; this was sustained sexual violence, which she suffered silently at the hands of the one person who was supposed to love and protect her above all others.

It was at the age of 30, when she became pregnant with her own daughter, that Sharon finally summoned the courage to speak to her GP for the first time about what had happened to her. Her fear was that if she didn’t seek help to overcome her issues, they could in turn have a damaging effect on her unborn child. But her doctor’s response was: “Don’t be silly, mothers don’t sexually abuse children. You’re understandably worried about becoming a parent yourself, but don’t let your imagination run away with you.”

Later the article gives an account from a man who tried something similar:

Very few have ever before felt able to talk about the abuse because they feared they would not be believed – and those who have already come forward, to a doctor or therapist, have usually had their worst fears realised. One man, now 60 years old, recalls: “When I tried to tell my therapist of my abuse when I was 35, I was told: ‘You are having fantasies about your mother and you need more therapy to deal with that.’ In reality, my mother had been physically and sexually abusing me for as long as I can remember. The abuse was horrific, including beatings and sadomasochistic sex.”

It is sad and shameful that victims who reached out would be turned aside, and worse yet that they were turned away by people who are supposed to help athem As the article notes, many of the responses victims of female abusers receive are reminiscent of the responses all victims received before the advocacy programs began several decades ago. These are attitudes that male victims still face, both in the support community and in society.

It is worth noting that most of the abuse, according to the article, occurs in the home and that mothers usually are involved. That may be part of the reason why people are so unwilling to believe women sexually abuse children. Our concept of women and mothers as nurturers rules, and unfortunately that view has not really been challenged. While one may find the random feminist who will take issue with it, even feminists seem to equate kindness and sympathy with femininity. This cultural norm may be so deeply ingrained and routinely reinforced that it is not likely it will go away any time soon.

One of the key points about the article is how often girls are victims of female sexual violence. Of the victims of sexual violence, they are the most invisible. They are very rarely mentioned and very rarely taken seriously. There is less information and research available about female-on-female sexual violence than any other form of sexual abuse. It is not something that is mentioned in outreach programs for female victims, nor is it something mentioned by those who advocate for female victims.

This leaves girls and women who have been abused by a women with literally nowhere to turn because virtually no one will believe them.

It does not help that a great deal of female abuse occurs under the guise of caring for a child. Female abusers have a nearly perfect social situation that allows them to quite openly rape and abuse children without anyone really questioning them. Few people would question a mother taking a bath with her child, sleeping in the same bed with her child or a woman going to the bathroom with a child or spending hours alone with a child. All of these things would be questioned if the person were male. Whereas with males society is overvigilant, with females society is undervigilant. We are so unwilling to address this issue that thousands of men and women suffer in silence.

Worse yet, society regularly demonstrates its unwillingness to believe women abuse children to such an extent that abused children know “better” than to come forward. For victims of female sexual abuse, it is not a question of if someone will not believe you, but if someone will and whether it is worth the risk of being slapped down to find out.

As the article notes, there is no telling what the actual rate of female perpetration of sexual violence is. The current conviction statistics are in no way representative, and the few studies that have been done can only be considered at best low estimates. Until social views change and people are willing to accept that women can and do rape children, victims of those women will remain silent, something no victim should have to do.

8 thoughts on “Female sexual abuse: The untold story of society’s last taboo

  1. TS,

    For those interested I have a collection of studies and articles on this area. One of them is called:

    The Long-Term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse by Female Perpetrators: A Qualitative Study of Male and Female Victims

    You can find it and others (such as articles on mother/daughter and mother/son sexual abuse) here http://whataboutwhenmomistheabuser.blogspot.com/2009/06/long-term-effects-of-sexual-abuse-by.html

    A few tidbits from that study stated:

    The average age of onset of the female sexual abuse was age 5 and ended, on average, at age 12, with the average duration being 6 years.

    professional minimization or disbelief of victims’ allegations of female perpetrated sexual abuse may actually exacerbate the negative effects of the sexual abuse, ultimately inciting secondary victimization

    all of the victims who reported sexual abuse by men and women declared that the sexual abuse by women was more harmful and more damaging than the sexual abuse by men.

  2. The average age of onset of the female sexual abuse was age 5 and ended, on average, at age 12, with the average duration being 6 years.

    The age range is very close to my experience. I wonder if the average of 12-years-old being the end of the abuse has something to do with the onset of puberty. This would be obvious with boys as the women could become pregnant. With girls, perhaps it may be the disinterest in the girl’s body becoming more like a woman, specifically with the onset of the girls’ periods. I realize that is a rather technical, cold thing to say, but in the interest of understanding female abusers I think it is a valid question to ask.

    all of the victims who reported sexual abuse by men and women declared that the sexual abuse by women was more harmful and more damaging than the sexual abuse by men.

    This coincides with my own experiences and what I have heard from other men and boys. I think the greater level of damage, both physically and emotionally, may be due to the perceptions we have about women. People seem to assume that when women sexually abuse the woman wants to be penetrated. Often it is the woman who wants to do the penetrating, and as a result she may use objects that can cause far more damage than fingers or a penis. Likewise, our society views women, particularly mothers, as the ultimate nurturer. Having that perception (false as it may be) shattered can be very traumatizing.

  3. TS: “I think the greater level of damage, both physically and emotionally, may be due to the perceptions we have about women.”

    I concur all too sadly.

    When I had this issue with men in my childhood due to my father being so short-tempered, my natural reaction was to turn to my mother and other women. Look upon them as the safer bet for my well being.

    Then I receive an equal amount of abuse and chagrin from girls and women. Kind of makes me feel, nowadays, that it was my fault for being so naive to think women were any better at serving my emotional needs. Both genders have their flaws as well as virtues.

    Took me a long time to realize that.

  4. I also think that part of the reason it may be more damaging rests in the way women abuse. From what I have heard from others, it is not uncommon for abusive women to feign concern and love for the children they abuse when others are around. This seems to happen more with female abusers, in my experience, than with male abusers. That second faux face probably causes more damage because the child can see how well the woman could treat him if she wanted to or (from his position) if he deserved to be treated that way.

    I think it may also lay in our social perception that women are made to be violent and abusive by outside forces (something the professional community unfortunately perpetuates), meaning that it is ultimately not the woman’s fault that she did what she did because it was completely out of her hands.

  5. Which is pretty ironic.

    Take away responsibility, and you’re depriving women of their humanity. Something modern feminism and society seem to advocate so they’re seen as “Human beings” on an equal level to men. Kind of makes your head spin the more you think about it.

  6. I am occasionally baffled by that contradiction. The feminists who engage in that logic simply perpetuate the very thing they wish to remove. They continue to present women as essentially helpless and incapable of thinking for themselves. That is the major flaw with blaming men for everything.

  7. Pingback: The ‘gentler’ sex « Toy Soldiers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s