You cannot change something if you are unaware of its existence. Awareness of a negative situation, attitude or belief is the first step towards making positive changes. Our intention is and always has been to help improve the lives of victims of sexual abuse. To achieve this, we need to help people understand this crime.
Is there a difference between the way men and women view sex and sexual abuse? Is this difference a contributing factor preventing the necessary supports and laws being put in place to tackle sexual crimes? Could it be down to a complete lack of understanding of the magnitude of damage that sexual abuse causes for its victims and how the ripple effect impacts us all?
How Bad Does It Have to Get?
We have given this issue a lot of thought and remain completely lost as to why no one other than victims of this crime, seem to realise the necessity and urgency around putting the appropriate laws and supports in place. What can we do to change this? The sheer numbers involved in this crime is horrifying enough, add to that, the fact that it is a worldwide issue. This should be enough motivation for world leaders to act. They don’t, and we need to find out why.
It’s like the housing crisis. We all think the situation is unforgivable and shouldn’t be happening. But there it is, families are suffering, and our leaders do nothing. What needs to happen for things to change? How do we help those in positions of power to see, that like the housing crisis immediate action is required? Unless something is done around improving how we currently view and treat sexual abuse crimes, we will all suffer the consequences.
Need for Understanding
We understand that sexual abuse is a very difficult and complex issue. We also know that it requires a willingness to listen to a subject that most would prefer to ignore. But further understanding is needed. Sexual abuse is not simply a sexual act which takes place without consent. It is so much more than that. It is this very misconception that we believe leads to lack of action in addressing and implementing the necessary changes that are badly needed. This lack of understanding we feel is also present in our court rooms, resulting in poor sentencing for those who commit these sexual crimes. If we are to move forward, we must have open and honest discussions with our legislators.
We think part of the problem is that sexual intercourse means something completely different to men and women. For men, it can appear to be simply a pleasurable physical act. Some men can enjoy the act of sexual intercourse with no emotional attachment to the woman they are with. That is not to imply that sexual intercourse has no emotional meaning for men, it can and does mean much more if it is with someone they love. However, as the male genitalia is external, the very act of penetration can be perceived that the male is in control and dominant.
For most women, there is an emotional connection before sexual intercourse takes place. For intercourse to take place it also requires the woman to allow someone to enter her body. This can often be interpreted as the women being submissive. Allowing someone enter your body appears to be much more emotionally significant to a woman than to a man.
This difference in how sexual intercourse is viewed and experienced by men and women is very important when considering poor sentencing for sexual crimes. We feel that in some cases, judges and men in general don’t see rape the same way women do. If judges or those who serve on a jury feel that the crime of rape is nothing more than a non-consensual sexual act, then they will pass judgement in ignorance of the impacts on the victim. The judge may feel sorry for the victim, even empathetic towards her, but no apparent acknowledgement or understanding is shown for the long-term damage of sex crimes and this is itself adding to the suffering of the victim.
It is difficult to explain the damage caused to a human being who has been sexually abused. Words seem inadequate and can hardly capture the sheer magnitude of the damage felt. Speaking from our own experience and listening to other survivors we understand that all sexual crimes leave similar scars.
Our experience of childhood abuse left us devastated. The abuse disrupted our development and increased our likelihood of experiencing other sexual assaults. We all felt substantial distress and displayed a wide range of psychological symptoms, both short- and long-term. We felt powerless, ashamed and have struggled to trust others in our lives.
Through our learning of how the abuse affected us we feel confident to say that our childhood experience of sexual abuse was so damaging to our psychological development that it can be compared to a virus. The virus spread to our brain and negatively altered every cell, thought and behaviour. Victims themselves can struggle to understand the level of damage caused by the abuse they experienced. Recovery required a complete reprogramming of all thoughts, feelings and beliefs we picked up throughout our life.
In the short-term, collectively, we exhibited regressive behaviours such as bed-wetting, sleep disturbances, eating problems, asthma, behaviour and/or performance problems at school, and unwillingness/inability to participate in social activities. Long-term we suffered with anxiety, ill health, depression, anger issues, anxiety attacks, insomnia, and self-destructive behaviours such as excessive use of alcohol and cigarettes.
We each experienced fear and anxiety in response to triggers which popped up without warning. These were simple things like smells, sounds, expressions that reminded us of our abuser or something that was said innocently. We experienced difficulties forming relationships and indulged in inappropriate sex or avoidance of sex altogether.
We felt anger at our abuser and our mother who failed to protect us. Worse still we felt anger at ourselves for not stopping the abuse. We felt betrayed and powerless. We often felt stigmatised by the shame and guilt and internalised responsibility for what happened to us. We were re-victimized as our self-worth was very low and at times, non-existent. Due to the abuse we felt worthless and abnormal and held a distorted view of sex and love, and we all at different stages in our lives felt suicidal.
Why aren’t we Horrified at the Numbers
It is globally recognised that this is the most under reported crime. Because of that and the outdated statistics, a gross underestimation of the real figures that state that one in four women and one in six men are sexually abused before they reach the age of eighteen. Based on these figures imagine one in four women and one in six men across all socio-economic backgrounds are living with the previously stated impacts. It is also important to understand that alongside all those victims are the abusers.
All these victims are currently living every day with the damage of their abuse and we are all, without exception, impacted. Even though victims may not come forward with their abuse for many years or for some never, they are acting, parenting and socialising out of that damaged self every day.
A New Vision
Can you possibly imagine how it would feel to live in a world where this heinous crime was eradicated? A world where no one ever again had to go through the pain and suffering that goes hand in hand with sexual abuse. We all have a responsibility to make that a reality. It’s time to ask yourself …. can I do something about this?
The Kavanagh Sisters-14th June 2018