No one likes to be accused of sexual abuse. People find it particularly troubling to be accused of sexually abusing a child. That is true even if the person committed the act.
However, one cannot complain when it is one’s own words that prompts people to label one a child abuser. Case in point:
In her newly published collection of personal essays, Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham describes experimenting sexually with her younger sister Grace, whom she says she attempted to persuade to kiss her using “anything a sexual predator might do.” In one particularly unsettling passage, Dunham experimented with her six-year younger sister’s vagina. “This was within the spectrum of things I did,” she writes.
The article recounts Dunham describing checking inside her one-year-old sister’s vagina to see where babies come from. According to Dunham, she found something inside there. She told her mother, who apparently did not question why her seven-year-old daughter was looking inside of her little sister’s vagina, and the mother removed several pebbles Dunham claims her sister put inside her vagina.
Another article gives context to Dunham’s words regarding her sexual interaction with her sister:
Dunham writes of casually masturbating while in bed next to her younger sister, of bribing her with “three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds . . . anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.”
That is a poor choice of words at best. It is supposed to be a joke, but comparing oneself to a sexual predator generally does not prompt laughs, particularly not when one is supposedly recounting actual events.
Dunham took offense to the accusations, and went on a “rage spiral” on Twitter:
Her sister may find it funny. One can find humor in anything. Yet, whether there is humor to found is not the issue. The issue is that what Dunham describes is technically child abuse. This would be less of an issue if Dunham had not presented herself as a rape victim. Her response to criticism of her own description of repeatedly engaging in admittedly predatory behavior smacks of how sexual predators tend to view their actions. It makes all her advocacy for campus reform concerning sexual violence all the more hypocritical.
I use the true meaning of hypocritical: to feign believing something one does not genuinely believe. Either Dunham thinks that coerced sex counts as sexual abuse or she does not. If she does not, then her advocacy is false. If she does, then her Twitter reaction is the flailing of a sex offender.
Granted, I will give Dunham some leeway. She was seven-years-old at the time, so she could not legally face charges. It is not clear that there was any malice or gross attempt to abuse her sister (although we do not know if this sexual curiosity ended as the girls got older). There is also this:
Her father, Carroll Dunham, is a painter noted for his primitive brand of highbrow pornography, his canvases anchored by puffy neon-pink labia; her photographer mother filled the family home with nude pictures of herself, “legs spread defiantly.”
If her parents were as loose with the rules and as lax with boundaries as Dunham describes in her book, then her sexual interest is hardly surprising. Many children exposed to that kind of sexuality act out.
What is inexcusable is Dunham’s flippant reaction to the criticism. She admits to engaging in sexual activity with her one-year-old sister. At seven-years-old one would think Dunham would know that you cannot do that sort of thing with babies.
More disturbing is the support Dunham received from her Twitter followers. Imagine if Dunham were male and admitted that at seven-years-old he used to bribe his toddler sister with candy for kisses or looked inside her twelve-month-old vagina to find out where babies come from. How many people would retweet and favorite his “rage spiral” outrage over being called a child rapist?
Fortunately, the replies to the tweets take Dunham to task. Hopefully she has learned a valuable lesson: being the “fat feminist” actress does not give you pass on child abuse.
Yes, she was a child at the time, so it is a little much to call her a sexual predator. However, that does not mean her “experimentations” were not questionable. This is not a case of two siblings checking out each other’s bodies or playing around out of curiosity. This is a case of an older child clearly taking advantage of the younger child through coercion and age.
That does not mean Dunham needs to be locked away, however, let us not pretend that this is not a big deal, particularly not when Dunham presents herself as a rape victim.