Living and dying in the shadows

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Louis Kenneth Neu, 26-year-old cabaret singer of Savannah, Ga., left, is pictured on trial, Dec. 15, 1933, in New Orleans for the slaying of Sheffield Clark Sr., a Nashville, Tenn., businessman, in a New Orleans hotel. His attorneys set up an insanity plea for defense but Neu, claiming to be “perfectly sane”, has repeatedly expressed the wish that “they would hang me quick and get it over with.” He confessed to beating Clark to death just a week after he had similarly killed Lawrence Shead, a theater manager of Paterson, N.J. Others are unidentified.

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The world treated them like criminals. And that made them victims.

In an America where their very existence was illegal, gays were forced into dangerous shadows. At a time when being out meant being arrested, lonely men looked for love in dark parks, public bathrooms, and Times Square bars.

Often, they only met their murderers.

James Polchin’s “Indecent Advances” tells the grim tale. Advertised as “A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall,” it focuses on what it meant to be a gay man in the first half of the 20th century: A target.

Polchin begins his story after World War I, as millions of American soldiers and sailors returned home, ready to celebrate. The Jazz Age was starting, and young men were eager to join the party.

Author, James Polchin

Having defeated a foreign threat, though, the American establishment now turned its attention to domestic ones. While the government hunted down political subversives, police departments and the armed forces searched for “sexual deviants.”

That crusade pushed the propaganda that gay men were dangerous perverts, eager to molest children and recruit innocent youths. It fed a paranoia that justified almost any action against them, from legal entrapment to brutal vigilantism.

In 1919, worried about corrupting influences, the Navy asked sailors to catch off-base seducers by going undercover. Some were even urged to go under the covers. In Newport, R.I., sailors were told that just going home with a man wasn’t enough. Only a “full act” would guarantee a conviction.

The practice was eventually dropped, but only because of public outrage at what good clean American boys were being asked to do. Ridding the streets of homosexuals was still seen as a moral crusade.

Ernest Kehler, right, 24, Canadian-born boxer, is shown as he was brought to New York police headquarters from Toronto, Dec. 20, 1939, to face charges in of slaying Dr. Walter Engelberg, first secretary of the German consulate in New York. Man at left is an unidentified police officer.

It was a growing one, too. In New York in 1918, there were 238 arrests for homosexual solicitation. Within two years, that number more than tripled. Police regularly raided bars in Greenwich Village. Sweeps of Bryant Park, a popular cruising spot, were common.

Being gay in public was a crime. But being gay in private could be fatal.

The stories were grisly. In 1933 in Paterson, N.J., Lawrence Shead, a movie-theater manager, was found in his apartment, beaten to death with an electric iron. When the killer was nabbed, he claimed self-defense. Shead had made a pass, the killer explained.

New Jersey declined to prosecute, allowing the suspect to be extradited to Louisiana, where he was wanted for killing a wealthy businessman. In that case, though, robbery, not sexuality, was seen as the motive. The suspect was convicted and hung for that crime. Getting away with murder was possible.

The message was clear: Gay lives don’t matter.

In 1945, ballroom dancer Burt Harger disappeared from his Manhattan apartment. Then his body started showing up, in pieces. Police arrested his roommate, who confessed to killing Harger with a hammer and cutting him up in the bathtub. He said he’d just thrown the last piece, the torso, off the Staten Island ferry.

The reason for this gruesome crime? Harger came on to him, the roommate said. Convicted of manslaughter, his sentence was 10 to 20 years.

It practically became a pattern. In 1948, there was a rash of hotel room murders in New York: a merchant seaman in Times Square, an NBC executive in Albany and a Canadian businessman in the Waldorf-Astoria. Nothing connected the crimes, except the perpetrators’ excuse: Self-defense. The other guy made a pass.

Some prosecutors pushed back, insisting these were premeditated crimes. Robbery was the underlying crime; smart thieves knew that gay men were reluctant to go to the police. Prosecutors argued that these were cold-hearted killers, taking advantage of their victims’ own isolation.

Yet juries sympathized with the killers.

For example, the victim at the Waldorf-Astoria, Colin MacKellar, always stayed at the posh hotel when he was in town. He also always drank at the bar, known as a discreet pick-up joint. One night the middle-aged MacKellar befriended a hunky 19-year-old patron. After several rounds, the older man invited the younger one to his room.

The teenager beat MacKellar to death. Then he went to the movies.

When arrested, the suspect’s defense was the older man propositioned him. He was just protecting himself, the teen insisted. That might have gotten him released, too, if the prosecutors didn’t discover the kid had a long history of haunting bars, meeting older men, and robbing them.

Even then, he, too, was only convicted of manslaughter.

The homophobia grew, convincing many Americans that the scariest problem wasn’t gay bashing, but gays. In 1954, a handsome airline steward, William Simpson, was found in a lover’s lane in North Miami, shot to death. His wallet was missing. Police eventually arrested two young men.

They admitted to “rolling” gay men, first hitchhiking along Biscayne Boulevard, then robbing whoever gave them a lift. “Getting money from perverts,” they called it. The defendant who shot Simpson said he panicked, thinking the man was going to rape him.

The press and public couldn’t help but sympathize – with the defendants.

“Third Sex Plague Spreads Anew,” Brevities (November 2, 1931)

“Good Guys – Not Toughs” the Miami Daily News editorialized. “5,000 Here Perverts, Police Say” the Miami Herald reported. Other stories warned of a secret colony of sexual deviants. Politicians vowed to “run them out of town.”

Once again, the defendants were convicted only of manslaughter.

Even when people worried about crimes against gay men, they weren’t concerned about the victims. No, people were far more concerned with gays in the neighborhoods bringing down property values. And they feared how homosexuals endangered heterosexuals.

In 1955, in his syndicated column “Dream Street,” Robert Sylvester churned out hard-boiled prose about a rapidly decaying Times Square, home to sleazy bars and short-stay hotels. “The Bird Circuit,” he called it, were gay hangouts where thugs waited for gay men to pick them up, go back to their rooms and rob them.

It was a terrible thing, Sylvester wrote because it put truly innocent people at risk. “It probably isn’t important if a homo is roughed up by some hoodlum,” he concluded. “The important thing is that when there are no available homos, any unprotected citizen makes a satisfactory substitute.”

By the ’50s, some gay activists, notably the members of the Mattachine Society, began to push for acceptance. The movement


Illustration from Psychopathology by Edward Kempf (C.V. Mosby Company: St. Louis, 1920)

grew. In 1967, after the police raided the Black Cat Tavern in San Francisco, supporters politely protested. Two years later, when cops tried the same thuggish tactics at the Stonewall Inn, patrons fought back in the streets.

Times were changing. When the Supreme Court ruled, in 1972, that state governments could refuse to employ homosexuals, a Daily News editorial agreed but made a modest plea for tolerance from private employers. “Fairies, nancies, swishes, fags, lezzes – call ’em what you please – should of course be permitted to earn an honest living,” the editorial stated.


Ralph Edward Barrows, 20, formerly of Grand Rapids, Mich., smiles and waves his hand, which is handcuffed to that of another prisoner, in a train at Hoboken, N.J., March 7, 1950, as he leaves for the state prison at Elmira, N.Y. Barrows was sentenced to 40 years on a manslaughter conviction for killing wealthy Canadian businessman, Colin Cameron MacKellar of Montreal. MacKellar was found dead in his Waldorf Astoria suite on Nov. 5, 1948.

Compared to some attitudes, this was practically liberal.

The cries for real liberation were growing louder. As Stonewall proved, gay people were no longer worried about what was permitted. Instead, they were intent on what was owed.

They were no longer going to be quiet and ashamed, they were determined to be loud and proud. And that pride, already on display, will be on the march next Sunday.

Complete Article HERE!

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10 pieces of advice for helping a partner who has been sexually assaulted

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According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, around one in three women and one in six men in the US will experience some form of contact sexual violence during their lifetime. People who have been sexually assaulted are more than capable of being in healthy and fulfilling relationships, but if your partner has experienced sexual violence, you may be lost on how to support them

Obviously, every person is different, as is their relationship to sexual assault. INSIDER consulted with psychologists and relationship experts to come up with the best pieces of advice for being in a relationship with someone who’s been sexually assaulted.

Don’t press your partner for details of the assault

Some people will want to share the details of their experience. For others, talking about the trauma may feel like reliving it.

“After a sexual assault, it can be re-traumatizing for the person to recall the experience in detail. Your partner may experience flashbacks of the assault as a result of PTSD. This may cause unwanted emotional reactions and further harm your partner,” licensed clinical social worker LaQuista Erinna told INSIDER.

Allow your partner to share as much as they want and make it clear that you’re willing to listen, but don’t push them to give details of the sexual assault.

Never put pressure on your partner to have sex

It goes without saying that you should never pressure any person to have sex at any time, but survivors of sexual assault may need more care when it comes to how and when you initiate sex.

“Sexual desire and sexual arousal can be difficult to achieve for someone who has been sexually assaulted, and it can take time for the survivor to feel comfortable sexually again,” psychotherapist and clinical traumatologist Silva Neves told INSIDER.

Giving your partner the time and space they need to feel comfortable with sexual intimacy is essential. Allow them to set the pace and don’t try to pressure them into physical contact before they’re ready. Talk to them about how they’d feel comfortable with you initiating sexual contact and keep that dialogue open.

Focus on incorporating consent into all aspects of your relationship

It’s crucial for all couples to talk about healthy boundaries both in and out of the bedroom, but having open conversations about consent is especially important when someone in a relationship has been affected by sexual assault.

“Your partner has had an experience of their boundaries being violated, and it’s important for you to emphasize that boundaries will be honored in your relationship. This may seem obvious to you, but it can be so powerful for your partner,” licensed sex therapist Vanessa Marin told INSIDER.

Talk about how you say “yes” and “no” to each other, and if your partner already knows there are certain things that don’t feel safe or good to them. It’s also important to understand that consent can be withdrawn at any moment and needs to be re-given in each new instance of intimacy.

Recognize that physical closeness of any kind might be challenging for a survivor

It’s understandable that sexual intimacy after a sexual assault may be difficult and complicated for a survivor. But other types of intimacy or closeness can also present challenges.

“It’s not just sex that can be difficult after a sexual trauma. Physical intimacy of many types can be challenging: holding hands, snuggling, hugging, even sharing the same bed. Patience, sensitivity, and clear communication are key,” clinical psychologist Forrest Talley told INSIDER.

Don’t assume that physical contact that isn’t overtly sexual will be comfortable for your partner. Instead, regularly check in with your partner about what kinds of touch make them feel safe and in control. Be aware that their preferences might change over time or even day to day.

Focus on giving your partner control over their body during sex

During a sexual assault, a person loses control over their body in a very profound way. As a result, they may feel uncomfortable with intimate activity that make them feel out of control.

“When engaging with a partner sexually after an assault, give them control. Let them make the first move, decide which positions work for them, and use verbal consent when you are escalating a sexual encounter,” sex and relationship counselor Niki Davis-Fainbloom told INSIDER.
Keeping your intentions and boundaries clear can help a survivor of sexual assault feel safe and respected.
If sexual intimacy is challenging, work on finding other ways to express love

Sex isn’t the only way to express love and desire in a relationship. If sexual intimacy is still too difficult for your partner, focus instead on finding non-physical ways to express affection for each other.

“How does the survivor feel the most loved? Is it with a touch? Hearing kind words? Having something done for them? Receiving a small gift? Or spending quality time with their partner? It is different for everyone, and you won’t know unless you have open discussions about it,” Neves told INSIDER.

Building up a non-sexual language of love and respect can help a couple dealing with the effects of sexual assault maintain a close bond even if physical intimacy is challenging.

Have a discussion about potential triggers

Sexual assault can traumatize the mind as well as the body. Some survivors may experience panic or anxiety when exposed to things that seem perfectly innocuous to their partners

“With careful, calm, and non-judgmental discussions, the partner can learn where the triggers are for the survivor. Triggers could include particular smells, parts of the body, heavy breathing, certain sounds, or specific words,” said Neves.

Triggers can be places, too. Having sex in places other than your bedroom may be a trigger or simply visiting a certain part of town can bring back harsh memories. Discuss any potential triggers with your partner and try to be sensitive to them.

Know that every day is different

No matter how long it’s been since their sexual assault, every day since will be different. Things like the news, speaking with old friends, or even anniversaries can bring up old feelings.

Just like every survivor’s experience with sexual assault is different, their feelings can also vary day to day. Again, check in with your partner and let them know that you’re there to talk — or to give them space — if they’re feeling particularly raw.

Learning about the common impacts of abuse can help you better understand your partner’s needs

If you’re in a relationship with someone who has survived sexual assault, it’s sometimes possible to misinterpret the effects of your partner’s trauma as a personal statement on your relationship.

“The best thing you can do to be a supportive partner is educate yourself about the impacts of sexual abuse. Learning about some of the common impacts of abuse can help you understand that these kinds of reactions are about the trauma your partner has been through, not about you as a person,” Marin told INSIDER.

For example, if your partner doesn’t feel much desire for sex, you may think that they’re not attracted to you. If they flinch when you touch them in certain ways, you may think that they don’t trust you. Learning about how sexual assault can impact a person with the help of a licensed mental health professional or free online resources can help you understand what your partner may be going through.

Be honest about your own concerns around sex and intimacy

If you have a partner who is a survivor of sexual assault, it’s natural to want to let them take the lead when it comes to sex and intimacy. However, you should also remember to be honest about your own needs in a judgment-free, no-pressure manner.

“It is important to consider your partner’s stage of processing the sexual assault and proceed with sensitivity. At the same time, failure to identify your needs can eventually lead to harboring resentment,” licensed professional counselor Aimee Yasin told INSIDER.

Make sure you’re communicating your willingness to work with your partner’s needs while still being open about your own concerns and feelings. Bottling up your emotions or ignoring the topic of sex altogether can ultimately work against the relationship.

Take advantage of resources for survivors and their partners

There are several different anonymous and confidential resources that offer advice and services not just to sexual assault survivors, but also for their partners.

Anyone can call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 to speak with a professional counselor who can direct both survivors and porters to local resources or simply offer an understanding and anonymous ear. The RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE can also help anyone affected by sexual assault receive support, information, advice, or a referral.

Complete Article HERE!

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10 Things To Do If You’ve Been A Victim Of Sexual Assault

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It’s not too late to get help.

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Sexual assault is typically something you think will never happen to you—until it does and and you find yourself in desperate need of help and support.

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, so it’s a scary (but common) reality—and one that can leave you feeling anxious, fearful, sad, angry, or a combination of those things.

“It’s a natural human state to be overwhelmed with this kind of traumatic event,” says Jessica Klein, a licensed clinical social worker and adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern California. “The thinking part of your brain really can’t process everything that’s happened.”

Thankfully, there’s help for sexual assault victims, whether your assault happened thirty minutes or three years ago. If you’ve been assaulted and need to know what your next steps are, here’s a timeline of all the various ways to get help—from the first minutes after your assault to the days, months, and years that follow.

1. Evaluate your surroundings and get medical treatment ASAP.

In the immediate aftermath of your assault, it’s time to think about your health and safety. Evaluate your surroundings and get yourself to a safe place if you aren’t already in one. Then consider calling 911 or going to a hospital, even if you aren’t visibly injured or are unsure whether you ultimately want to involve the police.

“After your safety is secured, medical treatment is often an immediate need,” says Kathryn Stamoulis, PhD, a licensed mental health counselor in New York City. “Even if you are reluctant to undergo a medical examination for the purposes of reporting your assault, trained staff can provide you with emergency contraception, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and referrals to a counselor.”

2. Try not to change your clothes or use the bathroom.

Something important to keep in mind: You can decline or discontinue your forensic examination (a.k.a. “rape kit”) at any point if you become uncomfortable, says Stamoulis.

According to RAINN, you don’t need to commit upfront to reporting the crime in order to have an exam performed, but it’s a good idea to get one, anyway: Should you choose to report your assault later on, you’ll have gone through the necessary steps to collect evidence.

RAINN also advises against doing anything that could damage that evidence in the time between your assault and your exam, like bathing, changing your clothes, or using the bathroom. (FYI, even if you’ve done these things, you can still get an exam.)

3. Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone you know and trust for immediate support.

It may be helpful for you to stay with a local friend or family member in the hours after the assault, says Stamoulis. Being around someone familiar can be extremely comforting and reassuring.

If you are a student, she says, many schools and colleges have counseling centers or victim advocates on campus to help support you through the aftermath.

4. Try to make yourself feel as safe as possible.

In the short-term, you will be dealing with the traumatic effects of your assault. This might include feeling anxious or depressed, having nightmares, having difficulty concentrating, or struggling in your relationships, says Stamoulis.

During this time, it’s important to prioritize your physical and emotional needs. That might look like taking time off from work, finding babysitters or extra childcare assistance if you have children, or even replacing the locks on your doors.

All of these needs are normal, and you should feel free to ask for whatever helps you. Try not to judge yourself—there’s no way to predict how your body and mind will respond to the trauma.

5. See a trained counselor who specializes in sexual assault.

Well-meaning friends and family members may not (or cannot) offer you the best advice for your particular situation, so Stamoulis strongly recommends seeking professional counseling.

A trained counselor, she says, will know the best practices for helping assault victims cope and can educate you on what to expect during your recovery. (If you’re having trouble locating a counselor in your area, RAINN’s crisis hotline can refer you to someone.)

“Sexual assault is different from a lot of other traumas because our society tends to blame the victim, [which] is another way of being traumatized,” Stamoulis explains. “A therapist who specializes in treating sexual assault survivors understands the unique needs of someone who experiences a trauma that is often shrouded in shame and secrecy.”

6. If you didn’t report your assault or receive a forensic exam, take those into consideration again.

If you didn’t receive a forensic exam immediately after your assault, there may still be time; in some states, Klein says, evidence can be collected and preserved up to 96 hours later. And even if you’re beyond the forensic window, reporting your assault is absolutely not a “now or never” proposition.

“Law enforcement is getting better at understanding why people don’t report immediately in the aftermath and not having forensic evidence is not a dealbreaker,” she says. “There are other corroborating factors they look into, and you never know who filed a report against that perpetrator before you—or who might file one after you, since many perpetrators are repeat offenders.”

7. Know the lifelong risks associated with sexual assault.

Being a victim of sexual assault puts you at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, and substance abuse problems, per Mental Health America.

So if you’re feeling really down, having trouble with your daily functioning, or relying on unhealthy habits to cope with overwhelming emotions, seek help from a qualified therapist ASAP.

8. Remind yourself that healing isn’t always linear.

The road to recovery in the wake of sexual assault is not always a straight line. Stamoulis notes that some people find themselves doing well emotionally for a long time, then suddenly struggling with intensely negative feelings again.

If this happens to you, she recommends being kind to yourself (making sure you are eating and sleeping well, monitoring your stress levels), as well as eliminating any identifiable triggers, like watching the news.

9. Know that you may need to confront your trauma again.

The healing process is a complicated one that unfolds over time, but you will likely need to address your trauma head-on at some point. That may be done through professional counseling or through reflective mediums like art or journaling. Stamoulis calls this process “post-traumatic growth” and says it’s a key component of long-term healing.

“When you’re working through the trauma, you’re not trying to get rid of the memories completely, but trying to gain a different relationship to the memories so you can think about them in different [less triggering] ways,” she says.

10. Realize that everyone’s healing process looks different.

In the long-term, it’s important to be aware of your unique needs during recovery and to choose activities that help you move forward in a healthy way.

“Some people find that they want to make meaning from the experience by volunteering with other victims or fighting for social justice, while others want to put it completely behind them,” says Stamoulis. “There is no right or wrong response.”

If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, you can call 800-656-HOPE to receive confidential crisis support from a trained specialist with the National Sexual Assault Hotline. It’s free and available 24/7. You can also chat online with a support specialist.

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

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‘I couldn’t deal with it, it tore me apart’:

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Surviving child sexual abuse

As a boy, Tom Yarwood was assaulted by his musical mentor. Decades on, telling the story has not become any easier

In telling of the sexual assaults I endured as a child, I have always had the sensation of speaking into the void. I usually offer only the bare bones of the story, because I want my listener to fill in the emotional content, to tell me what I felt, what they might have felt in my position. I want them to explain to me how I could have suffered, when I felt pleasure, and how I was not to blame, though I didn’t resist. But their response is always underwhelming: they seem to understand so little about this kind of thing, less even than me. And it’s all so exquisitely embarrassing that I soon move on, apologise for myself, repeat the usual reassurances. It was nothing, really, it didn’t matter, I coped.

Each telling is a new humiliation, a new disappointment. And yet, like an idiot, I always go on to attempt another. Six months or a year later, usually when I’m drunk, at four in the morning, suddenly I can imagine it again – the moment someone will explain me to myself at last. Because on the one hand, I really do tend to think it was nothing, what happened. But on the other, it never leaves my head, the image of it, the stink of it, and he never leaves me, he is always there, the loathsome, pathetic man. And there’s this enduring longing to relieve myself of the weight of my silence, my slow-burning despair.

Still, something in this picture has shifted lately, since my father’s death three years ago, and my 40th birthday not long after. In childhood and youth, I knew, with the heroism of the young, that I would vanquish the effects of the abuse, by 20, then by 30, or by 35. The idea it might stay with me, in me, was as inconceivable as my own death. But now I’m closer by far to 60, the age at which my father had his first heart attack, than to 12, my age when the other man first laid hands on me. It has dawned on me that the assaults are with me for good. And so in talking about them again, I’m less inclined to defer to others. This time I will stand, for once, at the centre of myself.

As a small child, I was obsessed with classical music. My parents bought a piano from a junk shop in Ludlow, read us stories about the great composers. We didn’t have a television at home on our Shropshire housing estate, and so I spent a lot of time sitting in a little green velvet chair by the record player with my eyes closed, elaborating wild fantasies about my musical heroes as I listened to their symphonies. I started piano lessons at the age of four, but rarely practised, preferring to delight the neighbours (I felt sure) with endless improvisations, generally fortissimo and con fuoco.

In the summer of 1987, when I was 11, my mother took me and my siblings on holiday to Europe. My father was working abroad at the time, as he often did. In Bruges, we came across a grand exhibition of musical instruments, where I was thrilled to have the chance to try out a harpsichord. While I played, a man approached my mother and told her I was gifted. He said he was a conductor – a specialist in baroque music – and would love to foster my talent. Phone numbers were exchanged, and a couple of cassette tapes offered to my brother and sister and me – his own commercially produced recordings of Handel and Purcell. He was evidently a prominent figure in his field.

That autumn, my father took me to London to visit this dazzling new mentor. We spent the afternoon at the conductor’s house, playing the harpsichord and talking about music. I was self-conscious, and desperate to impress. He was charm itself, but I found something faintly peculiar about him. He had a manic, childlike energy, a tendency to clowning in which I detected no genuine mirth, and beneath it I sensed he was very tense. Still, we got on well enough, and my father trusted him sufficiently that I went back to see him for another day of music-making a few weeks later.

Before long, I was spending whole weekends on my own with the conductor, sleeping in his spare bedroom in London and attending rehearsals and recording sessions with him and his orchestra. There was little formal teaching, but I got to listen to some good live music, and doubtless soaked up some other valuable lessons – not least how to make tea, and set up a music stand – and occasionally we looked at scores or listened to recordings together. He would sometimes drive me all the way back to my parents’ house in Shropshire himself, and stay for supper.

My anxiety around him never abated. It wasn’t only the unnerving air of inauthenticity about his manner. He also seemed very driven, and he could be vituperative towards timewasters. Then there was the social gulf between us. My parents were bohemian members of the new middle class, but the conductor was an upper-middle-class product of the public school system. All was well in his world when people cleaved, outwardly, to the “sensible” values expressed by the authority figures of his childhood – headmasters, barristers, clergy. Those who made a fuss of their differences were “mad”. More unsettling still was his disdain for children of a certain kind – the vast majority, I suspected – the rude ones, the dirty ones, the ones who were not good.

He introduced me to alcohol, mixing gin and tonics for me, and cocktails sweet and heavy with cassis or curacao. I was drunk when he assaulted me for the first time. It was early on a Sunday afternoon, and he was in the kitchen, making a bland English bachelor’s lunch of pork chops, potatoes and frozen peas. He seemed to find something about the peas amusing. With wildly contrived laughter, he tossed them about the kitchen, pretending he was dropping them. I was embarrassed for him. He tipped several peas down my T-shirt, and chased me into the living room and around the sofa with the rest. I’m not six years old, I wanted to say. I grew out of this sort of thing quite a while ago.

He dropped a frozen pea down my trousers and wrestled me on to the sofa, undoing my trouser button. I ceased to struggle when he grabbed my penis. “Ah, the pea!” he said, as he tugged at it. After a while, he pulled down my pants, and complimented me on my first pubic hair, which I had noticed only days before. Nothing more was said as he went about his business. I did not move a finger. Afterwards, he cleaned me up, pulled up my trousers and did up my fly, telling me meanwhile that this was what boys did, and wasn’t something to worry about. We returned to the kitchen and the pork chops.

Not a single day has passed in the three decades since this incident without some effort on my part to cut through the tangle of dark thoughts and feelings it induced, and to understand the insidious effects it has had on my life. The physical sensations were pleasurable. But I did not want any kind of sexual contact with the conductor. I found him repugnant, and had he asked me whether I wanted him to continue at any point, I would have said no, and meant it. I had experimented sexually with friends in childhood; I had turned down sexual overtures from other friends. In this respect, I knew my own mind. And this is why it always seemed so strange to me that I said nothing, and didn’t resist.

I still remember the all-consuming shame I felt on being manhandled by a bigger creature, at relinquishing control of my body to another person, against my will. And I remember too how destroyed I felt at the exposure of my sexuality to an adult. The secret, underdeveloped heart of my psychosomatic being – still fraught with danger, still hedged around in thorns – had been torn out and thrown quivering before me, in full public view.

But it is only in recent years that I have gained the distance from these horrors – the sense of security in myself – to acknowledge their intensity. As a child, it was impossible for me to face my victimhood, impossible to own and name what had come to light.

I withdrew into a kind of mental panic room. This is nothing, I told myself. This doesn’t matter. This is him. This is not me. I will remain aloof. I will rise above. I marshalled all my contempt for the conductor and all my knowledge of sex. He thinks I find him attractive, but in fact I find him repulsive. I saw him, the adult in control of me, as a child – a “silly” child, as my mother would say, still fixated on other children’s penises like this. It was an extension of his general puerility, his weird clowning, his fake laughter. How pathetic, how contemptible, how sad. I had reversed our roles in my imagination – a fatal self-deception.

The panic room became a prison, a lunatic’s cell. This, I hazard, is the snare in which many victims of childhood sexual abuse find themselves – they are traumatised, but unable to face the fact. For almost three decades, I could not look back (or look down) at what the conductor did to me, but had to keep moving on, moving up, clinging to a reassuring sensation of balance like one of those weighted toys that always rights itself, no matter how hard you hit it.

Now that I can gaze more steadily at the ancient scene, I am struck by how very strange it appears. How strange it sounds, to have sex, to feel your body consumed by that fire, and actively to deny to yourself that you are involved in it at all. And how strange it looks – the child’s mute stillness, and the adult’s complete camouflage of his own desire, his voice never wavering from an even, nannying tone, as if he were teaching chess or changing a nappy.

The memories of the abuse still return many times a day, stirred up by chance impressions – scents like the soap the conductor used, or of his sweat, music that reminds me of his – even, of course, my own sexual thoughts and erotic sensations. And with these impressions come the associated emotions – the shame, the fear, the grief. But I always recoil instinctively from naming them, from facing the half-known horror that paralysed me during the assault. Lots of boys go through this, I might tell myself. He didn’t mean any harm. I’ll survive. Anything but the truth, the big taboo, the real words of power: I didn’t want it, I couldn’t deal with it, it tore me apart.

The loneliness was terrible. The abuse came between me and my parents, my siblings, my peers, sapped art of meaning, experience of joy. I felt a constant, immense pressure to speak, but something always seemed to intervene at the last minute, catching my words in my throat, forcing them back down, sickeningly, into my belly. I was, I can see now, the dream victim for a predatory paedophile. My father was often absent, and my mother’s attention was taken up by my adopted younger sister, who had severe behavioural problems. Since toddlerhood, my older brother and I always felt that we were holding the fort: the idea of turning myself into a problem child was anathema.

After the first attack, I buried my head in the sand, imagining that perhaps it had been a one-off, like a trip to Alton Towers. But on the next visit, I woke up late at night to find the conductor sitting on the edge of the bed with one hand under my duvet, stroking my thigh. He assaulted me again, and another sleepless night ensued.

I started working on my mother, trying to communicate my distrust of him. For a while, after several more assaults, it worked: she stopped phoning him, and each time he called, she found an excuse for me not to see him. Then, to my horror, he appeared on our doorstep in Shropshire – like a sexual Terminator, quite unfazed by what I thought of as the vast gulf between my family and the city. Although it makes me feel unhinged to think of it now, I had an overwhelming fear of what might come out if he were crossed, and so I insisted repeatedly to my parents that everything was fine.

When he had me strapped into the passenger seat of his Volvo, he drove a little way, pulled into a layby, took off the Schwarzenegger shades he wore when motoring, looked at me with wide eyes (his face, as usual, too close to mine), and told me that he knew he had upset me by what he had done, and that he promised, absolutely promised, that should I please him by resuming my visits, he would never, ever touch me again.

After that – and after he had been redeemed entirely in our family conversation – the assaults started again, becoming steadily stranger. He would pick me up and carry me up the stairs like an infant, apparently expecting me to find this humiliating horseplay as amusing as he pretended it to be. He would insist on bathing me. And as the assaults escalated, he took to putting a pillow over my head so I didn’t have to involve myself in what was going on – but I found this the greatest mortification thus far. It suggested he imagined I had thoughts and feelings about what he was doing, whereas I needed him to understand that I was not there.

It didn’t matter to me what he did, so long as he would let me be alone, inviolate, in my head. As an adult, I notice people often want to know the mechanics of the abuse you went through, and especially whether it was painful. Did he beat you, cut you, tie you up? If not, you sense, perhaps you’re making a bit of a fuss over nothing. The law also seems to operate like this, with its intricate scale of sexual transgressions, escalating in perceived severity, above and beyond the mere fact of exploiting a child for your own erotic gratification.

Pain and physical injury are traumas in their own right, but I suspect that the insult specific to sexual abuse in childhood is simply to have another person take ownership of your body against your will – to destroy your sense of sexual self-possession – after which everything can feel, indifferently, like rape.

Perhaps that is hard to imagine if you haven’t been through it yourself – if you haven’t felt forced, for the sake of your psychic survival, to dissociate yourself entirely from your erotic response, and then struggled to put these two aspects of your being – you and your capacity to feel – back together, to get them to work again as one.

I went to Eton on a music scholarship at 14, entering the school in the second year. The conductor had suggested it to my parents, after I was offered similar bursaries by Shrewsbury and Westminster. I came top of the music exams during my first term there, competing against boys who had spent years at choir schools and had enjoyed Eton’s excellent music tuition for a year longer than me. And that term I also told a wonderful new friend about the abuse, bursting into tears as I reassured him it was nothing. He told a senior music teacher. The teacher did nothing.

The conductor assaulted me more than 20 times over the course of three interminable years. The last attack came after a gap of several months, when I was 15 – old enough to acknowledge what he was doing. I objected repeatedly, and he overruled me, repeatedly, returning to my bedroom three times through the course of a single night, and finally getting what he wanted when both of us were haggard with sleeplessness, well after dawn.

At 16, I finally plucked up the courage to tell another adult at Eton the story in person. I gave them no room for doubt that I had hated my encounters with the conductor, but they explained to me that such incidents often cropped up in boys’ lives, and generally originated in the younger man’s admiration for the older. If there was no force used, they said, there was no reason to suspect harm.

Though I had long feared it, the revelation that the grown-up world as a whole couldn’t understand what I had been through came as a shock. My anger, my shame, and the ceaseless war between them – all this was my fault, it seemed, a fault in me. I was, in short, crazy. My immediate response was to give up music. It was a cry for help, a deliberate act of self-harm – killing off the great love of my life – but no one took much notice.

(It amazes me that I had kept going with music for so long; it is so tightly bound up with sex in our brains and bodies. My skin used to crawl every time the conductor called a favourite piece “erotic”, but somehow I had succeeded in imagining that there was music like his and music not like his, sex like his and sex not like his. Those lines became hopelessly blurred after I told my story to an adult at Eton. Touchingly naive adults such as my parents aside, the world was teeming with paedophiles and their sympathisers, and I was damned if I was going to open my body and soul to share the food of love with them again.)

I spent puberty and adolescence trying to construct in fantasy a relationship with my sexuality that was pristine, personal, free of the stain of rape. But when at last I went to Oxford and plucked up the courage to pick up another man for the first time, a friendly PhD student in his mid-30s, I was shocked to find that this mental construct had not taken root in my body. Something within me just wouldn’t move, wouldn’t melt, wouldn’t let go. Anger followed, shame, despair – all muted by stoicism. This is just me, I said to myself, this is my fate, I’ll get by. As a young adult, I developed an anxiety disorder to set beside the depression and insomnia that had plagued me since the first assault, and became prone to panic attacks.

The voices of denial – denial not that children have sex with adults, but of the fear and shame that shackle them, and of the violence of the act – always leave me feeling faintly deranged.

First came the voice in my head during the assaults. Then came his voice, explaining that the abuse was just a fact of life, an inevitable expression of my nature as a boy. And later, there were the voices of those from whom I sought help during my 20s – the mentors and teachers and parents and police and therapists and boyfriends – in whose responses I always found some admixture of bewilderment, embarrassment, incomprehension or indifference.

But only recently did I notice how closely these voices echo one another. It strikes me that our resistance to confronting the horror of child sexual abuse has common roots in human nature. The silence of victims and the general silence must also have reinforced one another over the millennia. I imagine those to whom I looked for help were simply as fearful as me – as fearful and more ignorant. I should have been bolder all along.

In 2007, when I was 31 years old, I heard from a friend that the conductor had been arrested and charged with sexually abusing four other boys in the 1980s. I am sceptical about the value of retributive justice, but I decided to join the prosecution. I needed to tell the world the truth.

The conductor was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. I had no desire to see him punished, but I took this jail term as an indication of how seriously our society regarded his crimes. It seemed rather light. In his ruling, the judge apparently drew attention to the fact that the conductor had recently married and had a child, arguing that in doing so he had entered a new phase of life.

Searching the internet for commentary on the case not long afterwards, I found the loudest voices were those raised in my attacker’s defence. In classical music discussion forums, his admirers persuaded others that his “alleged” victims could well be liars, and had most likely suffered no harm anyway. And in the Observer, the poet James Fenton used his opportunity to comment publicly on the conductor’s conviction – the most prominent proven case of child sexual abuse in the history of classical music – not to consider the hurt he might have caused to the talented young musicians he assaulted, to their hopes of fulfilling themselves through music, nor to ask how the music industry as a whole had so long allowed the conductor to get away with it – but to argue passionately that his mistakes in life should not be allowed to damage his career. Fenton was relieved that the judge had allowed the conductor to keep associating with children: “To be debarred for life from working with the male treble voice would have been a harsh fate.”

In all this, I saw further evidence of our culture of denial. And I see it too in the way the music industry has welcomed the conductor back since his release from jail. Singers and instrumentalists with MBEs and honorary positions at the Royal Academy of Music go on appearing with him in the world’s most famous concert venues – the Wigmore Hall in London, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the KKL in Lucerne, and so on – and fans go on funding his performances and recordings.

They have restored to him the power and status with which they had entrusted him before, in putting their talent, labour, property and good names at his disposal. And they have done so despite the fact he abused all this – abused them – to gain the confidence of families and attack their children, and even though he called his victims “liars” and “loonies” during the trial, and has not expressed remorse.

There’s nothing more we can ask of the conductor himself. He apologised to me when I was 13, and went on to assault me again: another apology would be meaningless. And he has served his time. I don’t want revenge. I don’t want to dwell on the past. And there are doubtless many other moderating thoughts to which I should also give voice – about the value of mercy, for instance, and about how blessed my life has been in other respects.

But it has fallen to me to say something simpler here. I did not ask to be one of the ones who had these words to speak. They were a burden given to me a long time ago. I might have felt less crazed by others’ silence, or by their denial, had I spoken them earlier – shouted them from the stage of a London concert hall 30 years ago, perhaps, into the darkness of the stalls.

They are the words for which I have reached so often, the words I needed to hear when I was a child. Make of them what you will.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why So Many People Ignore LGBTQ Dating Violence

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These people shared their experiences.

By

Talking about dating violence is complicated, particularly when it can take many different forms, some far more subtle than others. When we think about domestic or relationship abuse, we often think of physical violence. That’s certainly one component, but it’s not the only one. We tend not to think about other symptoms of abuse, like the debilitating impact of gaslighting, constant check-ups, and financial control. Misunderstandings surrounding abuse and the ways it can manifest means that it can be difficult for the person being abused to identify it when it’s happening, but it’s sometimes harder when these abusive behaviors are taking place within an LGBTQ person’s relationship.

In 2012, a Stonewall report found that one in four lesbian– and bisexual-identifying women experienced domestic abuse in a relationship, two thirds of which say the perpetrator was a woman. It also stated that nearly half of all gay and bisexual men have experienced “at least one incident of domestic abuse from a family member or partner since the age of 16.” Published research focused on the experiences of trans and non-binary people remains extremely limited, however, in 2010, findings from the Scottish Transgender Alliance indicated that 80% of trans people have experienced “emotionally, sexually, or physically abusive behavior by a partner or ex-partner.” Despite these staggering figures, misconceptions surrounding queer people in relationships persist, including the myth that abuse doesn’t exist in relationships in which both people identify as LGBTQ.

Galop, a leading LGBT+ anti-violence charity in the U.K., notes that stereotypes also include ideas that “abuse in same-sex relationships is not as serious as heterosexual abuse,” “women cannot perpetrate violence,” and “sexual abuse doesn’t happen in same-sex relationships; a woman cannot rape another woman and men cannot be raped.” With this kind of prevalent misinformation, it’s no wonder that someone in an abusive queer relationship may feel unable to talk about the harm they could be experiencing.

Michelle*, a black, lesbian, cisgender woman, was with her ex-partner for two years and says she experienced physical and emotional abuse. She felt unable to disclose the violence taking place with friends and family, particularly because of the way she presents and how it could be perceived by others.

“As a 5’6” masculine-presenting woman dating a 4’11” feminine-presenting woman, I was always very vague when explaining the issues that I had in my relationship,” Michelle tells Teen Vogue. “Being masculine-presenting, I sometimes felt that I was supposed to be her protector, despite the fact that she was physically stronger than me.”

Additionally, Michelle, like many other black women in abusive relationships, faced a host of unique problems. According to Domestic Shelters, “Black women experience domestic violence at rates 30-50% higher than white women,” yet are often deterred from reporting or speaking about the abuse due to fears of adhering to stereotypes, such as the “strong black woman” narrative and not wanting to engage with police.

Oftentimes abuse can be characterized as just another rough patch in a relationship, making it difficult to determine certain behaviors as harmful or violent. This is further heightened when much of the information and resources around abuse relates to the experiences of cisgender, heterosexual women. David*, a white, gay, cisgender man, says he experienced emotional and mental abuse from his former partner who would purposefully ignore him and isolate him from other people. It wasn’t long before his former partner kicked him out of his home after accusing David of making arrangements to sleep with other men. Maya*, a black, queer woman, says she was financially and emotionally abused by her ex-partner who would manipulate her into giving her money, but then would make Maya feel that it was her fault for being bad with her finances. Naomi*, a queer, cisgender, mixed-race woman, says she didn’t realize that she was in an abusive relationship until she started directly working in domestic violence services. She thought that her experiences didn’t count as abuse because, she says, she “was never physically hit or strangled,” despite being spat on, having her possessions taken away if she didn’t act in an amenable way, and being threatened with rape. All three interviewees expressed that they weren’t aware they were experiencing abuse or that they had never known that such abuse was possible.

The assumptions made about LGBTQ relationships might act as another barrier to reporting abuse. Sadie*, a queer, black, cisgender woman, found people she told of her abuse to be dismissive: “Other people didn’t view my abuse as authentic because it came from another woman. They thought I should be able to overpower her or fight back.” Galop notes that the idea that abuse is about strength is another common misconception; according to the report, the reality is that abuse is about gaining power and control over another person, regardless of age, size, appearance, or any other physical factor.

Another unique form of abuse used against people who identify as LGBTQ is using their sexuality or identity against them in order to isolate and deter them. Domestic Violence London notes that women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, and queer can be threatened with being “outed” and having their sexual orientation or gender identity disclosed without their consent, or criticized for not being a “real” lesbian or bisexual woman if they’ve have had a previous heterosexual relationship.

Ruby*, a bisexual, non-binary/questioning woman, says she was in an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship with a man for three years. She says she often felt isolated and without community in the straight world and in LGBTQ spaces. “I think my ex could sense my vulnerability and saw that as an opportunity to abuse. I actually started [identifying] as bisexual during the period of time I was with my abusive ex, and it was something he used against me to increase my isolation,” Ruby says. “I couldn’t be friends with anyone of any gender, as I might cheat. He also sexualized my identity which [was] very difficult [for me] when it was something I was really struggling to express and understand.” Even after the relationship ended and people found out Ruby was bisexual and an abuse survivor, they would assume that the trauma had led her to be attracted to women, again leading her to question her identity and feel invalidated.

Rachel*, a mixed-race, cisgender woman who also identifies as bisexual, was in a relationship in which her ex gaslighted her and used physical violence during the relationship. She says she knew that they were not sexually compatible but also believed that she owed him sex for being with her. “I put up with the abuse because he was willing to stay with me, and I needed that because I was insecure. I would cry after we had sex every time. Deep down I knew that I didn’t want to be with him in that way, but I could never put my finger on what made me cry when we were intimate. I later figured out I hated it. I hated sex with a man; I felt so used.”

These stories illustrate that there are so many barriers to seeking help as a queer person in an abusive relationship, many of which point to the fact that some people simply don’t acknowledge that abuse is real between LGBTQ people. All these stigmas can also contribute to LGBTQ people not knowing where to turn if they do want to report abuse, particularly if the victim doesn’t want to disclose their sexuality or gender identity to organizations and agencies like the police, according to Domestic Violence London. End The Fear also notes that such agencies may “misunderstand the situation as a fight between two men or [two] women, rather than a violent intimate relationship, and therefore LGBT people may be discouraged from disclosing if service providers use language which reflects heterosexual assumptions.” The truth is, there is help available if you’re an LGBTQ person in an abusive relationship. Organizations like LGBT Domestic Abuse Partnership, Love Is Respect, the Anti-Violence Project, and many more are here to help you, because as the numbers show, you’re definitely not alone.

Looking back, Ruby says she believes that if more support for bisexual survivors had existed at the time, it would’ve made a big difference. “More awareness of the statistics about intimate partner violence and sexual assault against bisexual people would’ve helped me feel validated in my experiences and confident taking up space as an LGBTQ survivor.”

*All names have been changed to protect the identities of the interviewees.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, you can call the Loveisrespect hotline at 1-866-331-9474, the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or text ‘loveis’ to 22522. The One Love Foundation also provides more resources, information, and support.

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How to Enjoy Sex Again If You’ve Experienced Sexual Assault

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Up to 94% of sexual assault survivors experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

By Amanda MacMillan

Surviving a sexual assault, no matter what the circumstances were or how long ago it happened, can change the way you experience sex. For some, sexual contact can trigger upsetting memories or physical reactions, or leave them feeling sad or distressed afterward. Others may develop an unhealthy relationship with sex; they may have lots of it, but aren’t able to really enjoy intimacy with a caring partner.

Of course, not everyone who survives sexual assault or harassment struggles with these issues later on, notes Kristen Carpenter, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and director of women’s behavioral health at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “It doesn’t automatically mean that your life is going to be upended in this way,” she says, “some people definitely recover from it and are able to move on.”

But for those women who are struggling, it’s important to know they’re not alone. Research suggests that the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in sexual assault survivors is as high as 94%, and treatment exists that can help. If you suspect that an assault in your past might be affecting your sex life now, here’s what experts recommend.

Recognize the root of the problem

For some women who have been sexually assaulted, it’s painfully clear to them that their experiences have tainted the way they think about sex now. But it’s also surprisingly common for survivors to suppress or downplay the memories of those experiences, and not realize—or be able to readily admit—why sexual intimacy is something they struggle with now. 

“Women don’t often come in saying, ‘I was sexually assaulted and I need help,’ says Carpenter. “What usually happens is they go to their gynecologist saying, ‘I’m not interested in sex,’ or ‘Sex is painful,’” she says. “It’s only when they come to me, a psychologist, that we get into a deeper conversation and they realize how much an old experience has stayed with them.”

Get professional help

If you’ve realized that a past sexual assault is interfering with your ability to bond with or be physical with a new partner, it’s possible that you have a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those feelings may not go away on their own, but a licensed mental-health provider should be able to help.

“A lot of women are afraid that if they face those emotions, it will become overwhelming and their pain will never stop,” says Carpenter. “But addressing that trauma head-on is really important, with the caveat that you have to be ready for it—because it can be an incredibly difficult process.”

Different treatments are available to help survivors of trauma, sexual or otherwise. These include cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, eye-motion desensitization and reprocessing, and dialectical behavioral therapy. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) and Psychology Today both keep a searchable directory of counselors, therapists, and treatment centers around the country who specialize in sexual assault.

Be open with your partner about your experience

How much you want to share with your partner about a previous assault should be totally up to you, says Michelle Riba, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. But she does encourage patients to confide in their significant others if they feel comfortable doing so.

“I talk a lot with my patients about how soon and how much you want to divulge to someone you’re dating,” says Dr. Riba. “This is your medical history and it’s deeply personal, so it’s not necessarily something you want to talk about on your first or second date.”

It can help to anticipate some of the issues that may come up in a sexual relationship, and to talk through—ideally with a therapist—how you will address them, says Dr. Riba. For example, if there’s a certain type of touching or certain language you know might have a visceral reaction to, it can be better to bring up before the situation arises, rather than in the heat of the moment.

Tell your partner about any sexual activity you’re not comfortable with

You should set boundaries with your partner, as well. “It’s very important to empower patients who have had a negative experience,” says Carpenter. “That person should drive the interaction with their partner, and should steer where and how far it goes.”

Of course, says Carpenter, it’s a good idea in any relationship—whether there’s a history of sexual assault or not—for partners to disclose what they are and aren’t comfortable with. “But it could be particularly important to be comfortable setting boundaries about likes, dislikes, and any behaviors that could be a trigger.”

That’s not to say that couples can’t try new things or spice up their sex life when one person has lived through a trauma. In fact, sexual assault survivors can sometimes find it therapeutic to act out sexual fantasies or participate in role-playing, says Ian Kerner, PhD, a New York City­–based sex therapist—and this includes fantasies that involve submission. The key is that both partners remain comfortable with the situation throughout, and that every step is consensual. 

Shift your thinking about sex

This one is easier said than done, but a mental-health professional can help you gradually change the way you think about sex, both consciously and subconsciously. The goal, according to Maltz, is to shift away from a sexual abuse mindset (in which sex is unsafe, exploitative, or obligatory) to a healthy sexual mindset (sex is empowering, nurturing, and, most importantly, a choice), says sex therapist Wendy Maltz, author of The Sexual Healing Journey.

You can help make this shift by avoiding exposure to media that portray sex as sexual abuse, says Maltz. That may include television programs or movies that portray rape; pornography that depicts aggressive or abusive situations; and even news reports about #MeToo accusations. It can also help for you and your partner to use language about sex that’s positive and healthy, rather than terms like “banging” and “nailing” that imply violence.

Put on the brakes, if needed

Sometimes it’s necessary to take some time off from sexual contact with a partner—even if your assault happened years ago but you’re just now coming to grips with its effects. “If people are struggling with intimacy, the first thing to do is really address the psychological symptoms associated with the assault,” says Carpenter. “I’ve found it’s best to leave intimacy until that’s concluded.”

You can use this time to work with a therapist, and—if you currently have a partner—to bond with him or her in other ways. “Once you feel better and some of those symptoms have subsided, then you can start to slowly rebuild your whole self in terms of your sexuality,” says Carpenter.

This may also be a time for experimenting with sensual self-care and masturbation, so you can rediscover the kind of physical contact you really do desire and enjoy. This can help you feel more in control, and more comfortable, incorporating these elements into your next physical relationship.

Complete Article HERE!

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How Sexual Assault Can Impact Your Physical Health, Even Years Later

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The body’s natural reaction to dealing with the trauma of sexual assault can have negative effects on a person’s long-term physical health.

Sexual assault can affect a survivor’s health in a number of ways.

by Leah Campbell

When Amber Stanley was 23 years old, a friend’s boyfriend raped her.

They had all been at a party together. She had fallen asleep in one of the spare rooms. When she woke up, he was on top of her.

“There were children asleep in the house, so I was afraid to scream,” she told Healthline. “I didn’t want to scare them or for them to see what was happening if they woke up.”

She told her friend what had happened the next day, and then went to the police. But there, she was essentially revictimized when the police officer with whom she filed her report questioned her story and credibility.

“He flat out told me that if he could prove I was lying, he would press charges against me. My rapist was in the army, a ‘national hero,’ so my word wasn’t good enough and he was never prosecuted,” she said.

Stanley says she’s been in therapy on and off for the last 13 years, trying to deal with what happened to her that night. And she still struggles with anxiety today.

“I don’t like feeling like I’m not in control of things. And I don’t like being around groups of people who are drinking, or alone at night doing things like shopping. I’m highly suspicious of strangers, even more so now that I have three daughters,” she said.

For Stanley, one of the worst nights of her life has turned into a lifelong struggle. And she’s not alone.

The many effects of sexual assault on health

A recent study presented at The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) annual meeting in October revealed that a history of sexual harassment was associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and clinically poorer sleep quality.

For survivors of sexual assault, there was an increase in depressive symptoms, anxiety, and sleep issues consistent with clinical disorders as well.

In other words, experiencing sexual harassment or sexual assault contributed to negative long-term health outcomes for survivors.

Sexual assault survivor advocates also report that survivors may be more resistant to going to the dentist and doctor, as both can require a fair amount of trust and invasiveness. This can contribute to health complications as well.

Out of 300 study participants, 19 percent reported workplace sexual harassment, 22 percent reported a history of sexual assault, and 10 percent reported having experienced both.

In light of the recent #MeToo movement, those numbers are only surprising because of how low they are.

A national study on sexual harassment and assault released by the organization Stop Street Harassment in February 2018 reported that 81 percent of women would experience some form of sexual harassment or sexual assault in their lifetime.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center also reports that 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of contact sexual violence, and nearly two-thirds of college students will experience sexual harassment.

This means there are a lot of women potentially susceptible to a host of long-term health complications.

What experts say

Lisa Fontes, PhD, is a researcher, activist, author, and psychotherapist. She told Healthline that sexual assault and sexual harassment are both considered trauma. During trauma, the body releases hormones that help a person cope with the emergency.

“The body releases cortisol to avoid pain and inflammation, and it raises our blood sugar to help us flee from danger. Unfortunately, these physical responses become long-lasting for many survivors of sexual assault and harassment, contributing to poor health,” she said.

She explains sexual harassment is considered a “chronic stressor,” because it’s typically sustained over time. Child abuse and intimate partner sexual abuse also often involve repeated assaults, leading the survivor into a constant state of hyperalertness.

“Even a one-time sexual assault can produce long-term consequences as the survivor copes with intrusive memories that make her feel as if she is enduring parts of the assault again and again,” Fontes added.

Healthline also spoke to Elaine Ducharme, PhD, a board-certified clinical psychologist. She talks about the repeated trauma that occurs even with singular assaults.

“You have the trauma at the time the event happens,” she explained. “Then if it’s reported, there is repeated trauma because you are talking about it and dealing with it again and again throughout the process of pursuing charges.”

But even for those who don’t report or press charges, the trauma can continue.

“For people who have children, we often see a flare-up of trauma when the child reaches the age they were at the time the assault occurred,” Ducharme explained. “And even for women who think they are fine, years down the line they may see a movie with a rape scene and suddenly feel like they want to throw up.”

A recent national survey estimates 81 percent of women will experience some form of sexual harassment or sexual assault in their lifetime.

For many women, the recent #MeToo movement has proven to be empowering and healing. But for some, it’s resulted in having to relive those memories and experience the trauma all over again.

For those women, Ducharme suggests taking a break from media and considering a return to therapy.

“They may need to learn ways to manage the anxiety that can be triggered by some of this, and using mindfulness can be helpful,” she said. “I’m a huge believer in working with my clients to help them settle themselves down and be mindful and in the moment, trying to learn to stay present.”

“I don’t blame the #MeToo movement for the fact that we are hearing more about sexual assault these days,” Fontes added. “I blame the assailants and the years of cover-ups.”

Getting help

When asked what advice she would have for women struggling with the mental and physical health implications of their past experiences with sexual harassment or sexual assault, Fontes said, “There is power and healing in numbers.”

If you’re currently struggling, Fontes suggests the following:

  • See if your local women’s crisis center has a discussion group you could join.
  • Seek psychotherapy.
  • Speak with trusted loved ones about how you’re feeling.

She says those who return to therapy may not need a lot of sessions — just a few to figure out how to cope with the new landscape.

“Sexual abuse is so common. There is no reason any woman has to feel like she is alone, or to suffer alone,” Fontes said.

Organizations like the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) can also provide resources and support. You can call RAINN’s 24/7 national sexual assault hotline at 800-656-4673 for anonymous, confidential help. You can also chat with them online.

Complete Article HERE!

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How Evangelical Purity Culture Can Lead to a Lifetime of Sexual Shame

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Former born-again Christian Linda Kay Klein combines personal reflections with years of research to trace the psychological effects of purity culture on women in her new memoir, “Pure.”

by Stephanie Dubick

For millions of girls growing up in evangelical Christianity, sexuality is a sin. Girls are sexual “stumbling blocks,” they’re told—a danger to the relationship between men and God.

Such is the way of the purity movement. Emerging out of white evangelicalism in the early 1990s, the conservative Christian movement—today promoted by both local churches and national organizations such as Focus on the Family and True Love Waits—emphasizes sexual purity and abstinence-only education. The cornerstone: If women remain virgins until the day they marry a man, they’re holy; if not, they’re damaged goods. To avoid the latter outcome, young adults are required to make promises—signified in the form of purity balls, rings, and pledges—to remain abstinent from puberty ’til “I do.”

After marriage, the metaphorical chastity belt unbuckles. But as writer Linda Kay Klein engrossingly details in her recently released book, Pure: Inside the Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free, the psychological effects don’t stop there; they can follow women into their adult lives, leading to mental and physical side effects similar to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In purity culture, both young men and women are taught that sex before marriage is wrong. But it’s teenage girls who end up most affected, Klein finds, because while boys are taught that their minds are a gateway to sin, women are taught that their bodies are. After years of being told that they’re responsible for not only their own purity, but the purity of the men and boys around them; and of associating sexual desire with depravity and shame, Klein writes, those feelings often haunt women’s relationships with their bodies for a lifetime.

Klein knows from personal experience. After realizing she couldn’t be the woman the church wanted her to be, she left the evangelical community in the early 2000s. It was at that point, when she began considering having sex, that the symptoms started. “It began when I took the possibility of having sex and put it on the table,” Klein tells Broadly. “From that point on, sometimes it was my boyfriend and I being sexual that would make me have these breakdowns where I was in tears, scratching myself until I bled and ending up on the corner of the bed crying.”

Klein knew immediately that the reactions were linked to her religious upbringing, but assumed it was specific to her. “I never wondered where it came from, I just wondered why it was manifesting that way,” she says. “It couldn’t be that everyone who was taught these things were having these experiences, because surely I would have heard about it.”

Eventually, though, Klein realized that she wasn’t nearly alone. In 2006, she began compiling dozens of testimonies from childhood friends involved in the purity movement and found that they were all experiencing similar feelings of fear, shame, and anxiety in relationship to sex. “Based on our nightmares, panic attacks, and paranoia, one might think that my childhood friends and I had been to war,” writes Klein. “And in fact, we had. We went to war with ourselves, our own bodies, and our own sexual natures, all under the strict commandment of the church.”

Today, Klein considers the phenomenon an epidemic. When she first realized the scope and severity of what she was researching, she decided to quit her job—at the age of 26—and dedicate herself to learning more about the effects of purity culture. She went on to earn an interdisciplinary Master’s degree from New York University, for which she wrote a thesis on white American evangelicalism’s messaging toward girls that involved interviewing hundreds of current and past evangelicals about the impact of the purity movement on their lives. Eventually, those seeds of research grew into Pure.

A 12-year labor of love, the resulting book is an eye-opening blend of memoir, journalism, and cultural commentary that masterfully illustrates how religion, shame, and trauma can inform one another. Citing medical studies, she lays out that evangelical adolescents are the least likely “to expect sex to be pleasurable, and among the most likely to expect that having sex will make them feel guilty.” And in comparison to boys, Klein observes, girls are 92 percent more likely to feel shame—especially girls who are highly religious. For many women, like Klein, that shame can manifest in physical symptoms.

Klein observes and cites an expert who found that many women who grow up in purity culture and eventually begin having sex report experiencing an involuntary physical tightening of the vagina—also known as vaginismus—that is linked to a fear of penetrative sex and makes intercourse extremely painful. This could also be considered a symptom of Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS), a diagnosis developed by Dr. Marlene Winell, a psychologist in San Francisco and author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. According to Winell, as quoted by Klein, RTS is a condition “experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination.” The symptoms resemble those of PTSD, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorders, and can result in depression, sexual difficulty, and negative views about the self.

Perhaps more convincing than the medical research and professionals that Klein cites, though, is the wealth of testimonies she gathers from women. One woman she spoke to described having years of awkward, uncomfortable sex with her husband until she began to feel overcome by such extreme exhaustion, she had difficulty getting out of bed. Another shared that after her first sexual experience, her body began to shake uncontrollably. In one extreme account, a woman said that feelings of panic and guilt flooded her mind “like a cloud of locusts” after an early sexual encounter. Soon after, orange-sized welts broke out on her stomach, arms, back, and breasts and it became difficult to breathe. After jumping into the shower to find relief, welts the size of both of her palms formed on her vagina. “I would say it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” she told Klein. “I had no idea what was happening to me. My legs, my face, everything was bright red. It felt like I had absolutely no control over these horrific, nightmarish things that were happening to my body.” The woman was rushed to the emergency room, and though the doctors told her she went into anaphylactic shock, they couldn’t explain what caused it. While she knows something medical happened, she told Klein that’s she is certain something spiritual happened to her as well—the result of what happens “when you tempt Satan.”

Pure is a thorough and focused study on the effects of the purity movement’s rhetoric on women and girls, but Klein stresses that her findings aren’t relevant only to religious conservatives. Rather, they represent an extreme microcosm of a broader culture of gendered sexual shaming to which we should all be paying attention.

“The conclusion that I reached was that the evangelical culture is useful because it provides a mirror of what’s happening in other places in the culture,” Klein says. “You see what happens when you have high doses of this toxic messaging. But the reality is that this toxic messaging is everywhere and we’re all taking in unhealthy amounts of it.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Building Strength And Resilience After A Sexual Assault: What Works

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Psychologists find that cognitive processing therapy — a type of counseling that helps people learn to challenge and modify their beliefs related to a trauma — can be useful in healing the mental health problems some experience after a sexual assault.

By

The wrenching testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who is accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of a sexual assault years ago, raises questions about the long-term emotional and physical toll this kind of trauma takes on survivors and how our society responds to those who come forward long after the assault.

Emily R. Dworkin, a senior fellow at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, studies how the social interactions of trauma survivors can affect their recovery. She was also the lead author of a paper published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review in 2017 that looked through more than 100,000 studies conducted in the last 50 years and found nearly 200 relevant ones on the relationship between sexual assault and mental health to analyze.

What she found, Dworkin says, is strong evidence that sexual assault is associated with an increased risk for multiple forms of psychological harm “across most populations, assault types and methodological differences in studies.” Too many survivors still face stigma and internalize that blame, and that can make it harder to seek help. And while some types of therapy have been shown to be helpful, she says, more information on evidence-based treatments for survivors “is critically needed.”

Dworkin talked with NPR about her research findings and offered her perspective on where society and science need to go next to prevent assaults and help survivors heal. Our interview was edited for length and clarity.

You looked at a lot of studies about the mental health impact of sexual assault, but it’s not an area as well-studied as say, heart disease. So what do we know?

Sexual assault [any type of sexual activity or contact that happens without the consent of both people] began getting research attention in the ’70s as society as a whole was going through a feminist awakening, and it kind of developed at the same time as PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], which was then known as “combat trauma.” Many things can lead to depression or anxiety. People with PTSD relive the trauma in the form of intrusive memories, nightmares, or even flashbacks. They avoid things that remind them of the trauma.

The symptoms that people were showing when they were coming home from war were the same as victims of rape trauma — recurring memories and a wish to avoid triggering them.

These days, lots of people are doing research, but there’s still a lot left to understand. What we do know is that sexual assault is associated with a higher risk for a lot of different mental health problems, including PTSD [and depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidality] … especially PTSD.

What do we know about how ethnicity and education affects the mental health of survivors of sexual assault?

We need to know more. Some of my past research on queer women shows that ongoing forms of stress can compound stress. And we know that people from marginalized groups are just at greater risk for sexual assault [and a number of other health problems]. So it’s likely that these groups experience more trauma — but I don’t think we can completely say for sure.

How does sexual assault compare with other forms of trauma, in terms of effects on mental health?

We never want to have the Olympics of trauma. But compared to other types of life-threatening trauma, survivors of sexual assault do seem to be more likely to get PTSD. In my preliminary look at the data from 39 studies on this topic, it seems like 36 percent of survivors meet criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD in their lifetime, versus 12 percent of people who don’t have a history of sexual assault.

My thinking is that sexual assault is a unique form of trauma. It is highly stigmatized, and when people go to seek help for it, unlike in a car accident — well, the police are not going to ask you if you’ve really been in a car accident.

Also, people don’t always do the most effective job of supporting sexual assault survivors. Sometimes they do things that can actually compound the trauma. In the ’70s it was known as “the second rape” when you tell the police, undergo a rape kit exam and explain it to family and friends. They don’t always know how to help.

What can survivors who are feeling overwhelmed, depressed and traumatized do to recover, and how can friends and family help?

It’s important for survivors to know that they can regain a sense of power over those triggers, and that the most natural response is to push away the triggers. Self-care isn’t about turning off those bad feelings, but feeling those feelings so that they can subside naturally.

It’s kind of a counterintuitive idea, and it’s not what we usually think to do for our loved ones. When somebody’s in pain, all you want to do is to take that pain away. It’s understandable to try to distract them, take them out for a drink, but it’s better to be a shoulder to cry on. You don’t need to cheer somebody up in the moment. Be there for them as a witness to their pain.

What about the professionals — the police, the lawyers, the therapists — that survivors need to talk to? How can they do a better job?

This all comes back to … dealing with the false beliefs we have around sexual assault — blaming the victim, challenging the victim’s choices. Changing these cultural norms is important.

One of the evidence-based treatments for PTSD is overcoming the trauma by sharing the story. That’s a very different thing than being forced to tell it in public.

I don’t want to imply that it’s the survivor’s fault they have PTSD. And they feel like they don’t want to relive it again, which is totally natural. But our bodies can’t sustain that intense emotional response for long — those feelings come down naturally.

In my clinical work, a woman came to me with her story of sexual assault. The first time she told it, she was crying. By the fourth time, she was almost yawning. Her story is not one that has power over her anymore. She has the control over whether she’s going to have her life altered.

Has the public’s perception of sexual assault changed since the Kavanaugh hearings?

I think about this stuff every day. I’ve been thinking it about every day since I was 18 and beginning my research. It takes me awhile to catch up and realize that everyone else is thinking about it now.

My hope is that we’re changing some of the cultural conversation around this.

It’s important to know that most of the disorders are very treatable conditions. I do feel like if survivors can get connected to evidence-based treatments, they can be helped — even years later.

What are the resources and treatments that work best for survivors who are experiencing PTSD or other mental health symptoms?

First-line options should be things that we know work well. What I recommend is prolonged exposure therapy [helping people gradually approach trauma-related memories and feelings] or cognitive processing therapy [a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy that helps patients learn how to challenge and modify unhelpful beliefs related to the trauma]. Both have been around since the ’80s and were developed to treat survivors of rape. They have really strong evidence of reducing symptoms or eliminating the diagnosis [of a mental health disorder].

For resources, look for a good therapist who offers cognitive processing therapy. Also, you can check out the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies [for more information about the treatment].

As a society, what should we focus on to help survivors of assault?

Ending some of our stigmatizing beliefs about sexual assault and our mistrust for people that come forward is huge. It’s always up to survivors as to whether they disclose. The fact that we’re having these conversations in the public sphere gives me hope.

In schools, [to prevent unwanted sexual advances and sexual assault in the first place] we can teach respect for others and their autonomy. We’re not comfortable with the idea of hearing about these sorts of assaults. Our cultural norm is to avoid uncomfortable experiences. … But we need to keep talking.

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The New Birds and Bees:

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Teaching Kids About Boundaries and Consent

What we can learn from the Dutch: Talking openly about bodies helps keep shame at bay, and may help a child speak up if there is a problem.

By Bonnie J. Rough

As a growing number of #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport stories have put a new focus on childhood sexual abuse, parents may have an urgent sense that they should frame conversations with their children about their bodies as safety lessons.

But doubling down on warnings is the opposite of what children really need. In researching my new book about how gender equality begins with great sex ed, I learned that teaching what’s good about bodies, sex and love is actually what gives children a secure sense of body sovereignty, boundaries and consent.

Children who feel confident in their body knowledge may be quicker to identify when something is awry, and those who learn empathy and egalitarianism less likely to cross another person’s boundaries.

Here are three essential lessons parents of children under 6 can follow to help kids stay safe, confident and shame-free in their skin.

Begin with body positivity

When my oldest daughter turned 3, a certain worry started to keep me up at night. I sensed that her risk of sexual abuse was increasing with her age, and I needed to teach her more about her body in order to keep her safe. Here’s what I know now that I didn’t see then: My motivation to start the birds-and-bees talks was fear.

But after living in the Netherlands with my family and learning how the Dutch approach to sex education in homes and schools produces some of the world’s best sexual health outcomes and highest levels of gender equality, I discovered the problem with fear as motivation: When children learn that certain body parts are dangerous and invite trouble, they learn sexual shame. And shame, in turn, is the mechanism that perpetrators of sexual violence rely upon to keep victims silent.

According to the Dutch approach (and many American sexuality educators), risks and warnings should not dominate our body conversations with kids. Instead, teaching body positivity — the joy, fun and privilege of living physical human lives — helps keep shame, secrecy and silence at bay.

“Tell your children sexuality is something beautiful and should be enjoyed but only if both people want it in the same way,” says Sanderijn van der Doef, a Dutch psychologist and the author of a series of children’s books on bodies and sexuality popular in the Netherlands. “For young children, you should be clear that sexual intercourse and sexual relations are especially for adults.”

Teaching body positivity means letting babies and toddlers freely explore their own bodies. It means avoiding grossed-out faces and language (try calling a diaper “full” instead of “dirty”) in teaching hygiene. It means talking about reproductive body parts cheerfully, with correct language and affirming tones. And it means helping children discover what they like and don’t like: Is tickling on the arms O.K., but not the feet? At bedtime, does this sleepy preschooler like her back rubbed, scratched or traced over? Does the toddler want to be picked up by Grandpa, but not Auntie? We can help children to recognize the gut feelings that reveal our individual boundaries.

Don’t treat body parts as shameful

Shame about body parts, Ms. Van der Doef says, comes from a child’s environment: they learn from their caregivers when to be squeamish and embarrassed. By normalizing all body parts and speaking of them regularly and straightforwardly with correct language, we send the message that every part of a person’s body is healthy, wholesome and worthy.

As I learned from the Dutch example, normalization goes beyond talk: day-to-day nonsexual nudity — in homes, picture books, mixed-gender school bathrooms, kids’ television programs, and public changing areas and wading pools — reinforces the tenet that bodies are nothing to be ashamed of and nothing we can’t discuss (in words any caregiver, teacher or health provider will recognize) if need be.

As we respond to kids’ natural, healthy curiosity about the human form, we can instill in them the idea that all people are born with wonderful bodies capable of feeling pleasure and pain.

Teach the importance of consent

It can be daunting to explain the emotional and relational aspects of human sexuality. Yet this is our richest opportunity to instill empathy, consent, inclusiveness and egalitarianism.

Preschool is the age to teach children the hallmarks of a healthy, trusting friendship. Children at this age can be made aware of the gender-role stereotypes they’ve absorbed (for example, girls like pink and boys have short hair). A simple role-play with stuffed animals in which a “girl” teddy bear wants to play football and a “boy” animal wants to wear a dress can teach it’s hurtful to limit one anther’s opportunities.

Preschoolers and even toddlers can learn rules for playing contact games with friends such as tickling, chase and “doctor”: everyone must agree happily to the game; no hurting allowed; anyone can say “no” or change their mind. As adults, we can model the importance of consent when children want to climb on us by reminding them to ask first. We can model respect for the importance of consent, too, when a child is reluctant to give a high-five, hug or kiss — especially to an adult, and this does include Grandma — by suggesting a contact-free alternative like a verbal greeting or a wave.

Elsbeth Reitzema, a sex education consultant and curriculum author for the sexual health institute Rutgers in the Netherlands, says it’s impossible to warn children of every scenario and impossible, too, to protect them 100 percent of the time. Specific scenarios such as the lap-patting relative or lollipop-offering stranger can be good to mention, but it’s most important to instill an understanding of consent. This goes for friends, relatives, teachers and even physicians. When children expect to ask, give and deny consent at their own discretion, sexual transgressions stick out as clear violations.

Teaching consent has a protective effect against child sexual abuse by showing children that they can trust their instincts: When a grown-up or anyone else touches them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, they don’t have to cooperate. They have the right to say no.

Even a young child, Ms. Reitzema says, can tell the difference between a safe secret like a sister’s birthday surprise and an unsafe one that must be told to a trusted adult: Bad secrets don’t feel fun or happy.

Adults who promptly respond to a child’s report of abuse by believing, guarding and reassuring them they did nothing wrong help protect young victims from long-term trauma. One of the most supportive messages parents can give to kids, at any age, is: “If anyone touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you can always tell me. I’m here to help.”

If you have concerns about possible sexual abuse, resources include the National Child Abuse Hotline, 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453); the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-HOPE (800-656-4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

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3 Experts on What’s Missing From the Consent Discussion

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By Kasandra Brabaw

In 1990, a group of women gathered at Antioch College to talk about the growing problem of rape on their campus, drafting the very first version of the school’s Sexual Offense Prevention Policy (SOPP). In doing so, they created what we now know as affirmative consent, decades before anyone else began using the term. The policy required that Antioch students ask for consent at every step of sexual encounters, from the first kiss, to taking off clothes, to oral sex or penetration. In short, the group who created the SOPP flipped the widely accepted “no means no” definition of consent to a “yes means yes” definition. They were then mocked mercilessly by everyone from their classmates to Saturday Night Live for challenging the status quo.

Nearly 30 years later, people are finally seeing the wisdom of affirmative consent, and attempting to push the concept even further; the most popular consent definition of the moment, for instance, is enthusiastic consent,. It encourages people to ask for a verbal yes at every step of intimate interactions, but also recognizes that someone may feel coerced into agreeing to sex. So, in addition to the yes, enthusiastic consent encourages people to also notice nonverbal cues, such as whether or not their partner is kissing back, moaning, arching their back, or doing any number of things that makes it clear that they’re really turned on.

The conversation about consent took another turn when the #MeToo movement arose late last year. Now, people are talking about how masculinity factors in. Instead of just demonizing men for not understanding consent, we’re asking why they’re struggling with the concept in the first place. Mothers of young boys are starting to think about how to raise men to be good allies and to understand that they have to both ask for what they want and graciously accept when someone says no. Maybe it sounds simple, but it’s a difficult task for a culture that tells boys and men that sex is, essentially, their birthright.

We’re just starting to deconstruct the concept of masculinity that makes consent so confusing for cisgender men. But we haven’t really touched upon how the narrative of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and consent change depending on someone’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, financial background, ability, or other marginalized identities. Those conversations are happening, but they’re often relegated to minority groups, instead integrated into the mainstream conversation. As the consent conversation continues to evolve, we need to consider and address how sexual harassment and assault impacts various communities. Ahead, we talk to three leaders in sexual education — Bethany Saltman, who co-wrote Antioch’s Sexual Offense Prevention Policy in the 1990s, Ted Bunch, the co-founder of the violence prevention organization A Call To Men, and Bianca Laureano, foundress of the Women Of Color Sexual Health Network — about the evolution of consent, what’s missing in mainstream conversations about consent, and what the next steps are to make consent unambiguous to all.

Bethany Saltman, co-writer of Antioch College’s SOPP

Bethany Saltman

Tell me a little about being at Antioch in the 1990s. How did your group start talking about consent?

“We heard the stories about women who had been raped and nothing was being done, and so we decided right then and there that we were going to do something. So in the conversation about what we wanted to change, we thought about how the current understanding of whether or not a rape had occurred was always looking for the woman saying no. That was the narrative. So, kind of in our innocence, we said, ‘Well why don’t we just turn it around and say that you have to actually say yes?’ Not only to intercourse, but every time you escalate the interaction.”

It’s only recently that people are starting to see how amazing SOPP was. How long do you think it takes for radical change to happen?

“Generations. There are still so many people who think that [affirmative consent] is insane and ridiculous. The legal definition of rape and sexual assault is changing — but slowly.”

Is there anything missing in the conversations we’re having about consent right now?

“There are some conversations happening that are about the joy of consent. And that’s the conversation I would like to bring forward; consent is a path to kindness and pleasure in our bodies and in ourselves. We shouldn’t be looking at sexual delight as something that needs to be hidden in these dark recesses of desire. There’s definitely something to mystery, but I think that the more enlightened we become as a culture, the more we’ll see that we can be really honest with ourselves and allow for all the variation that is part of human sexuality and and still have a rockin’ good time. And what it means to be joyful and really saying yes to ourselves, especially as women. Because in order to say ‘yes’ you have to really want sex.”

Do you think the voices of men have a place in the conversation?

“Definitely. I’ve been teaching my daughter about what it means to consent her entire life. She gets to say who can touch her and who can kiss her, and I think we need to do that with all of our children. It’s really not even about boys and girls. You’re born with certain karma and a certain bag of tricks, and you need to know how to wield them respectfully. So 100%, every single one of us needs to be part of this conversation.”

How does intersectionality play in? Do you think different populations are having different conversations about consent?

“Absolutely. Black women are sexualized in ways that white women are not, and white women are sexualized in ways that Black women are not. I like to approach all conversations with the posture of listening as much as possible.”

So where do you think we go from here?

“It depends on who the ‘we’ is. I think people who are already engaged in conversations about consent should keep listening and asking themselves the tough questions when they get stuck. ‘Where do I feel the line drawn between myself and someone else? Where do I get violent? Where do I get rigid? Where do I objectify? Where do I steal someone’s agency?’ The better we know ourselves, the better we can know other people, too.”

Ted Bunch, co-founder of A Call To Men

 

Ted Bunch

When #MeToo was in full swing, a lot of people started talking about how we raise men. Do you think that’s important in the conversation about consent?

“Oh, yes. Huge. One of the questions we ask high school boys in our workshops is ‘Can you define consent.’ Only 19% of those boys could actually define consent. Eight out of 10 boys did not know what consent was, which explains a lot. It explains why girls and women between 16 and 24 have the highest risk of being sexually assaulted. Boys actually think ‘no’ means try harder. They think ‘no’ means get her drunk or that they’re not approaching it right and they have to change their approach. Boys are taught messages around conquering women and girls. They’re not even supposed to have an interest in women and girls unless it’s about sex. If a boy has girls who are friends, most of the time the men in his life are going to question why he’d spend time with a girl he didn’t want to date, because it’s against his paradigm. Just being friends with a woman is against this man box that we teach boys to be in, which stipulates that girls and women are sexual objects.

“Now, we have conversations with our boys all the time about going away to college, going out on dates, but most of the time it’s about wearing a condom. Not about boundaries. Not about respect. So yes, [how we raise boys] needs to be a big part of the solution.”

Do you think enough people are talking about including men into the consent conversation right now?

“I think the beauty of the #MeToo movement and this moment in time is that we all have had to look at how we impact other people. I don’t think there’s a man who exists who hasn’t done something, said something, or witnessed another man committing sexual harassment or some sort of discrimination. So what’s happening with men now is that we have to realize that, ‘Oh wow, being a good guy with the women in my life is not enough. I have to look at how else I’m impacting women and girls, and how can I do better.’”

Do you think intersectionality plays into these conversations?

“It certainly does. When we look at the intersections — race, class, gender identity, sexuality, and [so] on — we can’t address one without addressing the other. When we look at sexism, we also have to look at racism, and we have to look at class, and we have to look at heterosexual-ism, and how that plays out with homophobic messages and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming community members.

“We have this saying at A Call To Men that the liberation of men is directly tied to the liberation of women. We really believe that, because we know that as we increase and promote a healthy and respectful manhood, we decrease the presence of domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, bullying, homophobia. It all would drop away.”

How long do you think it will take to change how people are seeing consent?

“I’m very encouraged because we’re developing the next generation of manhood right now. Historically, we’ve addressed this issue through intervention, right? Something has to happen to someone and then we respond to it. And now we’re working toward prevention, where it never happens in the first place. So that’s why these conversations are essential. And this is the first generation of men being held accountable for something men have always gotten away with.”

Bianca Laureano, Foundress of Women Of Color Sexual Health Network

 

Bianca Laureano

What do you think is missing in the mainstream conversation about consent right now?

“People always put consent in a sexual scenario, which is great, because it needs to be there. But it also needs to be in every other aspect of our lives: when we go to the doctor, when we’re out in the world, when we’re at school, when we’re at home. Every human has the right to make decisions about what happens to their body, no matter if they’re having sex or having a breast exam. And a lot of people don’t always put those two concepts and realities into conversation with each other. So the consent conversations that we’re having are very one dimensional and only focus on sexuality. And the sexuality conversations we have are very narrow, and they really only focus on ‘Okay, how do you not be a rapist?’

“Consent is required in many different situations. Asking my sibling if they’re done in the bathroom before entering, for example, involves consent. It’s about communication and feeling comfortable enough to be direct and clear about what we need and want, and listening and respecting what others need and want.”

Some people say that we should be teaching bodily autonomy from birth. Do you agree with that?

“What’s important there is the rejection piece. If you hear no, why do we call it rejection instead of self-determination? We’ve given the person an option and they’ve made a choice for themselves that’s very concrete, so why aren’t we celebrating that?

Is there anything that you think needs to change in the culture at large before we can change the way people are thinking about consent?

“I think having a clear definition and understanding of accountability and responsibility, and how those two things are essential to being a member of a community, a part of your family, an employee, a citizen of the world, whatever. When I say that, I think of bystanders. We hear a lot about bystander interactions and responsibilities.

“I’ve been at a crowded airport, crying, hysterically heaving, and everybody just stared at me. Then, Joe Schmo from the end of the line walks up to me and says, ‘Do you need help?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And he was like, ‘What do you need?’ And I said, ‘Here’s my airplane information. I need to change my flight. They just canceled it, and my mom just died.’ Meanwhile, everybody continues to stare. People don’t know how to act when they’re confronted with certain things, whether it be tears, violence, or even laughter and joy. And I think doing that hard work of learning understanding, responsibility, and accountability could make a huge difference.”

Are you seeing different conversations around consent happening in different identity groups? Are white women having a different conversation from women of color, for example?

“Oh, for sure, and there are definitely similarities, too. All of the communities that include people who identify as women or femmes talk about misogyny and how it impacts their lives every day. But the way that they talk about it and the examples that they use are very different. Black women might talk about when somebody calls them a ‘Black bitch,’ for example. And that being both racism and misogyny. White women might be complaining about being called a bitch, but they’re not being called a white bitch. So the conversations around consent and misogyny are very color-free in certain communities.

“And in communities of people where there are mixed financial backgrounds or that are more impoverished, conversations about consent are rooted in conversations of power. Going to work with people who have been harmed at their big Fortune 500 company, they’ve talked about power in a very covert way. So people talk about the same things, but they talk about it very differently.”

Do you think that those separate conversations need to start melding together in order to make any real change?

“Sometimes we do need to have isolated conversations that are free from the people who represent the groups that harm us. That can be essential to being able to understand and affirm that what you experienced really happened. Because if you’re the only Black woman and you had a confrontation with a white woman and everybody else was white and didn’t do anything, the feeling of rage is boundless. So, if you can’t talk about that with other Black people then you might think: ‘Am I making a big deal? What is happening?’ It becomes a form of gaslighting where the silence makes us question our existence in our reality.

“But the world that we live in requires us to interact and engage with other people. So we eventually have to have interracial, inter-ethnic, and all the other inter-conversations with different people, so that we can begin to understand what’s happening from others’ perspectives.”

What do you think needs to change about the mainstream consent conversation right now?

“When people say things like ‘enthusiastic consent,’ that drives me bananas. It’s ableist, and people can perform enthusiasm as a safety tactic. If I say to a young person, ‘I know you’re having a bad day, but I really need you to put on a happy face and act like you enjoy being here just for 20 minutes,’ my students know exactly what to do. They sit up straight. They raised their hand. They call me Miss Whatever. They know how to perform. And that’s a danger, I believe.

“Because then what happens to the neuro-diverse people who don’t perform enthusiasm the way we expect them to? If people have in their head that enthusiastic consent does not look like how I’m behaving, then I’m not going to get what I need. It’s difficult to find definitions that aren’t ableist, but I define consent as: Direct words, behaviors, and actions that show a voluntary agreement to engage with others. Someone who is consenting is comfortable and aware of their surroundings and options. They are not being coerced or manipulated and are not debilitated by drugs or alcohol.

“I would just love for us to get to a point where asking for what we want is so common and so comfortable that it’s not some big thing people are afraid of.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How To Make Consent Sexy, According To A Dominatrix

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By Kasandra Brabaw

When Mistress Velvet, a BDSM dominatrix in Chicago, spanks a client, she demands that they tell her how much it hurts on a scale from 1 to 10. “I have to be careful and not just ask them, ‘Do you like this?’ Because I need them to feel submissive to me,” she says. That means she’s continually asking clients for their consent to hit them and tie them up, which can be tricky when the whole point is that they feel submissive to her. “When I ask for a scale, I’m gauging where they’re at so I know how to play with them next time.”

Mistress Velvet calls covert questions of this sort “consent training,” because even though people seek her out to dominate them in a sexual manner, getting consent from her clients is paramount to everything that she does. People who don’t engage in BDSM may assume that consent isn’t a huge part of bondage and masochism. How much can you really care about what a person feels if you’re intentionally causing them pain, the thinking may go. But purposely inflicting pain is a delicate task, especially when struggles, shouts, yelps, and begging someone to stop are all part of the experience. That’s why dommes and their submissives establish safe words before a BDSM scene even gets started, and why consent is so vital to the work Mistress Velvet does. It ensures that both she and her clients have a safe and satisfying experience. The argument that asking for consent “ruins the mood” is infuriating to her. There’s never a reason to risk someone’s bodily autonomy, she says, and it’s 100% possible to ask for consent while keeping the sexy mood alive — in fact consent can heighten the erotic energy in both BDSM and non-BDSM exchanges in ways you might not expect.

Just because someone let you put your hands up their shirt, doesn’t mean that they want you to put your hands down their pants.
Mistress Velvet, BDSM Dominatrix

In both Mistress Velvet’s work and personal life, she’s a huge proponent of affirmative consent, the idea that you should be asking for a verbal “yes” at every step (from kissing to caressing to penetration) of intimate and sexual encounters. “Just because someone let you put your hands up their shirt, doesn’t mean that they want you to put your hands down their pants,” she tells Refinery29. “Just because my client is okay with me spanking them in some ways doesn’t mean they’re okay with me spanking them in other ways.”

Similar to sex, consent should be fun, even if you’re not into BDSM. Asking someone, “Can I kiss you?” isn’t a mood killer, it’s an important step for intimacy to continue in a way that confirms everyone is on the same page, comfortable, and safe. You can also get creative with how you say it by lowering your voice or throwing some sexy eyes your partner’s way. As long as you remain clear and give the person you’re being intimate with the space to object or say “no,” asking for consent shouldn’t be much different from other communication during intimacy.

You can use the same kind of language throughout a sexual experience — saying things such as, “I’m going to rip your clothes off now, okay?” or “What do you want me to do to you?” — so you don’t have to stop having sex in order to obtain ongoing consent.

“If I was having sex with someone for the first time, I wouldn’t want them to assume that I like to be choked,” Mistress Velvet says. “But there’s a way to ask when they’re pounding me and they’re like, ‘Do you like to be choked? And then I can be like, ‘Yes, choke me daddy.'” The same scenario works in the reverse if you want to offer consent. So, if you like to be choked, but aren’t sure that your partner will ask, then you can say, “Can you choke me?” during sex. Asking for what you want — whether it’s choking, oral, or a simple ass grab — won’t ruin the moment, it’ll make things even more steamy.

If I was having sex with someone for the first time, I wouldn’t want them to assume that I like to be choked.
Mistress Velvet, BDSM Dominatrix

Of course, you might feel as if you’re being thrown out of your sexy headspace at first if you or your partner aren’t accustomed to asking questions before, during and after sex. But practice makes perfect, and eventually you’ll not only get used to it, but also come to appreciate the benefits of getting exactly what you want, and being able to give someone else exactly what they want.

Mistress Velvet says that she struggled to make consent sexy at first, too. “Definitely at times [in my vanilla sex life], people would say, ‘Why are you asking me so many questions?’ and it would sometimes pause things,” she says. In those moments, she would explain that she has a history of sexual trauma, and so it’s important to her that her needs are being heard.

Maybe there’s no trauma in your past, but it’s still important to ask for and give consent regardless of your sexual history. When you’re first starting to have these conversations, you’re likely not going to be good at it. And there’s a chance that starting the consent convo will take you out of the mood, or that someone might no longer want to have sex with you because they feel that you’re making it too complicated. Those are moments to ask yourself: Is it more important to have sex or more important to learn how to stand up for my needs?

“If someone doesn’t make the space to have that kind of conversation with you, I would question if they’re a person that you feel safe with,” Mistress Velvet says. “A conscious and aware person would be like, ‘Yeah, this feels really awkward and I don’t have experience with this. Let’s just try it out.'”

Complete Article HERE!

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What’s the difference between sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape?

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Physician Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for the sexual assault of girls on the USA Gymnastics team.

By , &

[T]he terms “sexual abuse,” “sexual assault,” “sexual harassment” – and even “rape” – crop up daily in the news. We are likely to see these terms more as the #MeToo movement continues.

Many people want to understand these behaviors and work to prevent them. It helps if we are consistent and as precise as possible when we use these terms.

But what does each term mean?

We are three scholars who have specialized in the scientific study of sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment over several decades.

Let’s start by defining each of these terms. Then, we can look at how these behaviors sometimes overlap.

Sexual abuse

The term that has been in the news most recently with reference to sports doctor Larry Nassar’s trial is sexual abuse, a form of mistreating children. Sexual abuse is mainly used to describe behavior toward children, not adults.

All 50 states have laws that recognize that children are not capable of giving informed consent to any sex act. In the United States, the age at which consent can be given ranges from 16 to 18 years.

Sexual abuse can include many different things, from touching a victim in a sexual manner to forcing a victim to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way to making a victim look at sexual body parts or watch sexual activity. Sexual abuse of a child is a criminal act.

Rape

In 2012, the FBI issued a revised definition of rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The revised law is gender neutral, meaning that anyone can be a victim.

When carefully examined, the FBI definition does not look like most people’s idea of rape – typically perpetrated by a stranger through force. The FBI definition says nothing about the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator and it says nothing about force. It does, however, say something about consent, or rather, the lack of it. Think about consent as your ability to make a decision about what happens to your body.

A perpetrator can compel a victim into a penetrative sex act in multiple ways. A perpetrator can ignore verbal resistance – like saying “no,” “stop” or “I don’t want to” – or overpower physical resistance by holding a person down so they cannot move. A person can penetrate a victim who is incapable of giving consent because he or she is drunk, unconscious, asleep, or mentally or physically incapacitated; or can threaten or use physical force or a weapon against a person. Essentially, these methods either ignore or remove the person’s ability to make an autonomous decision about what happens to their body. State laws vary in how they define removing or ignoring consent.

Perpetrators can’t defend against charges of rape by claiming they were drunk themselves or by saying they are married to the victim.

In November 2017, participants combined the ‘Take Back the Workplace March’ and the ‘#MeToo Survivors March’ in Hollywood.

Sexual assault

Rape and sexual assault have been used interchangeably in coverage of events leading to the #MeToo movement, and this practice, though unintentional, is confusing. In contrast to the specific criminal act of rape, the term sexual assault can describe a range of criminal acts that are sexual in nature, from unwanted touching and kissing, to rubbing, groping or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways. But sexual assault overlaps with rape because the term includes rape.

Social and behavioral scientists often use the term “sexual violence.” This term is far more broad than sexual assault. It include acts that are not codified in law as criminal but are harmful and traumatic. Sexual violence includes using false promises, insistent pressure, abusive comments or reputational threats to coerce sex acts. It can encompass noncontact acts like catcalls and whistles, which can make women feel objectified and victimized. It includes nonconsensual electronic sharing of explicit images, exposure of genitals and surreptitious viewing of others naked or during sex.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a much broader term than sexual assault, encompassing three categories of impermissible behavior.

One is sexual coercion – legally termed “quid pro quo harassment” – referring to implicit or explicit attempts to make work conditions contingent upon sexual cooperation. The classic “sleep with me or you’re fired” scenario is a perfect example of sexual coercion. It is the most stereotypical form of sexual harassment, but also the rarest.

A second, and more common, form of sexual harassment is unwanted sexual attention: unwanted touching, hugging, stroking, kissing, relentless pressure for dates or sexual behavior. Note that romantic and sexual overtures come in many varieties at work, not all of them harassing. To constitute unlawful sexual harassment, the sexual advances must be unwelcome and unpleasant to the recipient. They must be “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to “create an abusive working environment,” according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unwanted sexual attention can include sexual assault and even rape. If an employer were to forcibly kiss and grope a receptionist without her consent, this would be an example of both unwanted sexual attention and sexual assault – both a civil offense and a crime.

Most sexual harassment, however, entails no sexual advance. This third and most common manifestation is gender harassment: conduct that disparages people based on gender, but implies no sexual interest. Gender harassment can include crude sexual terms and images, for example, degrading comments about bodies or sexual activities, graffiti calling women “cunts” or men “pussies.” More often than not, though, it is purely sexist, such as contemptuous remarks about women being ill-suited for leadership or men having no place in childcare. Such actions constitute “sexual” harassment because they are sex-based, not because they involve sexuality.

Come-ons, put-downs: They’re both bad

In lay terms, sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention are come-ons, whereas gender harassment is a put-down. Still, they are all forms of sexual harassment and can all violate law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Historically, social attitudes towards all these hostile actions have assumed a continuum of severity. Sexist graffiti and insults are offensive, but no big deal, right? Verbal sexual overtures cannot be as bad as physical ones. And, if there was no penetration, it can’t have been all that bad.

These assumptions do not hold up to scientific scrutiny, however. For example, researchers at the University of Melbourne analyzed data from 73,877 working women. They found that experiences of gender harassment, sexist discrimination and the like are more corrosive to work and well-being, compared to encounters with unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion.

We have tried to clarify terms that are now becoming household words. Of course, life is complicated. Abusive, assaulting or harassing behavior cannot always be neatly divided into one category or another – sometimes it belongs in more than one. Nevertheless, it is important to use terms in accurate ways to promote the public’s understanding.

Finally, we take heed that society is in a period like no other and one we thought we would never see. People are reflecting on, and talking about, and considering and reconsidering their experiences and their behavior. Definitions, criminal and otherwise, change with social standards. This time next year, we may be writing a new column.

Complete Article HERE!

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Consent doesn’t end with dating – husbands have to ask their wives for sex too

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Many of the female survivors I’ve worked with said that having sex with their husbands felt like rape. They would be shocked when I told them that their experiences had, in fact, been rape

Men are socialised to feel ownership over women’s bodies, regardless of their pain or happiness. Women are conditioned to accept degrees of male aggression

By Hera Hussain

[T]hanks to the #MeToo movement the topic of consent is now on the agenda. The conversation is centred on dating and hooking up, teaching us how to navigate those confusing moments between going home and actively saying, or hearing, the word “yes”. What isn’t being expressed is that consent is something that happens every time we agree to sleep with someone – whether on a first date, or after 30 years of marriage. At every point in a relationship someone has the right to say no, and to be listened to.

It’s frightening for many to think that partners we trust, love and may even desire might force us into something they’re enjoying, when we’re not, but it happens in too many relationships.

Many of the female survivors I’ve worked with have expressed, quite reluctantly, that having sex with their husbands felt like rape. They would be shocked when I told them that their experiences had, in fact, been rape. And these women aren’t an anomaly. One study reported that nearly one in three women has experienced sexual violence within an intimate relationship.

I can never forget when one woman I worked with asked me, embarrassed, how sex was for another married woman. She asked me if it was supposed to feel good. Or the woman who would go to extreme lengths to avoid sleeping with her husband, pretending to be sick or on her period. And another who would lock the door and sleep in the guest room when her husband would come staggering home from a night out. There are so many more stories like these.

As seen in the recent high-profile cases, women continue to face a higher standard of scrutiny for experiencing abuse than abusers do for inflicting it. “If it was so bad, why didn’t she just leave?” people ask me. There are many reasons why women don’t leave an abusive situation.

Psychological barriers can prevent recognition of abuse, women are socialised to fear the anger of men who don’t get their way, and, for many women, leaving simply isn’t an option as there’s nowhere to go. After all, in England alone, nearly 200 women and children are turned away from domestic violence refuges every single day.

Clearly, we’re going wrong somewhere. Men are socialised to feel ownership over women’s bodies, regardless of their pain or happiness. Women are conditioned to accept degrees of male aggression, and will often temper their response knowing that they risk being seriously hurt or even killed if they fail to comply.

If we’re serious about changing gender power dynamics for good, we need to take the NSPCC’s advice and teach children about consent from a young age. This begins with making PSHE education, including lessons on consent, taught by trained teachers, statutory in all schools.

Consent can’t begin and end with dates. Consent can’t be the absence of a “no”. It can’t be an extra. It can’t be a one-off check. Consent has to be affirmative and enthusiastic every single time, from the first time to the last time.

Complete Article HERE!

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For Some With Intellectual Disabilities, Ending Abuse Starts With Sex Ed

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Katy Park, who runs arts and wellness programs for Momentum — a community service program for people with intellectual disabilities — starts a class on healthy sexuality by asking her students to define what they want in a relationship.

by Joseph Shapiro

[I]n the sex education class for adults with intellectual disabilities, the material is not watered down. The dozen women and men in a large room full of windows and light in Casco, Maine, take on complex issues, such as how to break up or how you know you’re in an abusive relationship. And the most difficult of those issues is sexual assault.

Katy Park, the teacher, begins the class with a phrase they’ve memorized: “My body is my own,” Park starts as the rest join in, “and I get to decide what is right for me.”

People with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate more than seven times that for people without disabilities. NPR asked the U.S. Department of Justice to use data it had collected, but had not published, to calculate that rate.

At a moment when Americans are talking about sexual assault and sexual harassment, a yearlong NPR investigation finds that people with intellectual disabilities are one of the most at-risk groups in America.

“This is really an epidemic and we’re not talking about it,” says Park, a social worker who runs arts and wellness programs for Momentum, an agency based in Maine that provides activities in the community and support services for adults with intellectual disabilities. Those high rates of abuse — which have been an open secret among people with intellectual disabilities, their families and people who work with them — are why Park started this class about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality.

Because one of the best ways to stop sexual assault is to give people with intellectual disabilities the ability to identify abuse and to know how to develop the healthy relationships they want.

“Let’s talk about the positive parts of being in a relationship,” Park says, holding a marker while standing at a whiteboard, at the start of the class. “Why do we want to be in a relationship?”

“For love,” says one man. “And sexual reaction.”

“Romance,” adds a woman.

“How about support?” asks Lynne, a woman who speaks with a hushed voice and sits near the front of the class.

“Having support, right?” Park says, writing the word on the board. “We all want support.”

A participant helps Park hang the agenda on the wall at the start of class.

From working with the men and women here, Park realized they want to have relationships, love and romance. They see their parents, siblings and their friends in relationships. They see people in relationships when they watch TV or go to the movies. They want the same things as anyone else.

But it’s harder for them. When they were in school, most of the adults in this room say, they didn’t get the sex ed classes other kids got. Now, just going on a date is difficult. They probably don’t drive or have cars. They rely on public transportation. They don’t have a lot of money. They live at home with their parents or in a group home, where there’s not a lot of privacy.

And then there’s the one thing that really complicates romance for people with intellectual disabilities: those high rates of sexual abuse.

“Oftentimes, it actually is among the only sexual experience they’ve had,” says Park. “When you don’t have other healthy sexual experiences, how do you sort through that? And then the shame, and the layers upon layers upon layers.”

This class, she says, is about “breaking the chain, being empowered to say, ‘No. This stops with me.’ “

“I Think People Take Advantage”

The women and men come to Momentum during the week for different programs. They go kayaking and biking; they go to the library and do volunteer work at the local food bank. There’s a range of disability here. You can look at some of the men and women — maybe someone with Down syndrome — and see they have a disability. Others, even after you talk to them, you might not figure out they have an intellectual disability.

Like one small woman with short, choppy dark hair, streaked red.

She’s 22 now, but when she was 18, her boyfriend was several years older. She says he was controlling. He didn’t let her have a cellphone or go see her friends.

“He was strangling me and stuff like that,” says the woman. (NPR is not using her name.) “And he was, the R-word — I hate to say it, but rape.” She says he raped her eight times, hit her and kicked her. “So I don’t know how I’m alive today, actually. He choked me where I blacked out.”

She thinks she was an easy target for him, because of her mild intellectual disability. “I think people take advantage,” she says. “They like to take advantage of disabilities. I have disabilities, not as bad as theirs. But I think they like to take advantage, which is wrong. I hate that.”

A student takes notes in Park’s Relate class.

She says the class helped her better understand what she wanted, and had a right to, in a relationship. She’s got a kind and respectful boyfriend now.

Her friend Lynne listens and says she would like to find a boyfriend. But in her past, she has experienced repeated sexual abuse.

She talks about a time when she was 14 and “this older guy that knew us” forced her to have sex. She says she told people but no one believed her. The next year, when she was 15, she was sexually assaulted — this time by a boy at her school. “I was trying to scream,” she says, “but I couldn’t because he had his hand over my mouth, telling me not to say anything to anybody.”

Lynne, who is 38, says those rapes and others left her unable to develop relationships. “I couldn’t trust anyone,” she says. Lynne (NPR has agreed to identify her by her middle name) says this class has helped her realize she wants a real, romantic relationship and has taught her how to better find one.

“There’s A Lot Of Loneliness”

Katherine McLaughlin, a New Hampshire sex educator, developed the curriculum used by Momentum. She wrote it so that it uses concrete examples to describe things, to match the learning style of people with intellectual disabilities. It shows pictures and uses photographs.

McLaughlin says the main desire of adults with intellectual disabilities is to learn “how to meet people and start relationships. There’s a lot of loneliness.”

That loneliness leaves them vulnerable to getting into abusive relationships, she says, or to rape.

Sometimes, especially when they’re young, they can’t name what happened to them as a sexual assault. Because they didn’t get the education to identify it. “We don’t think of them as sexual beings. We don’t think of them as having sexual needs or desires,” McLaughlin says. “Often they’re thought of as children, even when they’re 50 years old.”

Sheryl White-Scott, a New York City internist who specializes in treating people with intellectual disabilities, estimates that at least half of her female patients are survivors of sexual assault. “In my clinical experience, it’s probably close to 50 percent, but it could be as high as 75 percent,” she says. “There’s a severe lacking in sexual education. Some people just don’t understand what is acceptable and what’s not.”

Most of the women and men at the class in Maine say they didn’t get sex ed classes, like other kids, when they were in school. Or if they did, it was the simplistic warnings, like the kind given to young children. “It’s easy to fall back on ‘good touch-bad touch’ sex ed,” says Michael Gill, the author of “Already Doing It: Intellectual Disability and Sexual Agency.” “That’s a lot of what they get.” And the usual warning about “stranger danger” can be unhelpful, because it’s not strangers but people they know and trust who are most likely to assault them.

Most rapes are committed by someone a victim knows. For women without disabilities, the person who assaults them is a stranger 24 percent of the time. NPR’s data from unpublished Justice Department numbers show the difference is stark for people with disabilities: The abuser is a stranger less than 14 percent of the time.

“Parents get this; professionals don’t,” says Nancy Nowell, a sexuality educator with a specialty in teaching people with developmental disabilities, an umbrella term that includes intellectual disability but also autism.

Park asks her students to weigh in on agreements with a thumbs up or a thumbs down during class.

Parents have significant reason to worry: Figuring out what’s a healthy relationship is difficult for any young person, and it can be even trickier if a person has an intellectual disability. People with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable to problems from rape to unwanted pregnancy. Some people with intellectual disabilities marry. A small number have children — and rely on family or others to support them as parents.

Still, says McLaughlin, parents often are reluctant to talk to their children with intellectual disabilities about sex. “Parents often feel, if I talk about it they will go and be sexual,” she says, and they fear that could make them targets for sexual assault.

But educators such as McLaughlin, Gill and Nowell argue the reverse: that comprehensive sexuality education is the best way to prevent sexual assault. “If people know what sexual assault is,” says Gill, an assistant professor of disability studies at Syracuse University, “they become empowered in what is sexuality and what they want in sexuality.”

Respect

Gill argues that a long history of prejudice and fear gets in the way. He notes early 20th century laws that required the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities. That came out of the eugenics movement, which put faith in IQ tests as proof of the genetic superiority of white, upper-class Americans.

People with intellectual disabilities were seen as a danger to that order. “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote in a 1927 opinion that ruled the state of Virginia could forcibly sterilize a young woman deemed “feebleminded.”

Carrie Buck was the daughter of a woman who lived at a state institution for people with intellectual disabilities. And when Buck became pregnant — the result of a rape — she was committed to a state institution where she gave birth and was declared mentally incompetent to raise the child. Buck was then forcibly sterilized to prevent her from getting pregnant again. There was evidence that neither Buck, nor her daughter, Vivian, was, in fact, intellectually disabled. In the first half of the 20th century, impoverished women who had children outside marriage were often ruled by courts to be “feebleminded.”

There was another myth in popular culture that people with intellectual disabilities were violent and could not control their sexual urges. Think about that staple of high school literature classes, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” The intellectually disabled Lennie can’t control himself when the ranch hand’s wife lets him stroke her hair. He becomes excited, holding her too tight, and accidentally strangles her.

The class in Maine aims to help these adults know what’s a healthy relationship and how to communicate how they feel about someone.

The main way this class differs from a traditional sex ed class is that — to help people with intellectual disabilities learn — the material is broken down and spread out over 10 sessions. Each class lasts for 2 1/2 hours. But the adults in the class are completely attentive for the entire session.

They do take a couple of very short breaks to get up and move around, including one break to dance. Everyone gets up when Park turns on the tape recorder and plays — just right for this group asking to be treated like adults — Aretha Franklin singing “Respect.” There is joyous dancing and shouts. And when the song is over, they go back to their seats and get back to work.

Complete Article HERE!

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