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We claim to be experts only when speaking about our own experience of abuse, but because we are women who were abused by a man, we tend to speak in general about female victims and male perpetrators. However, it is important to note, that we do not intend to exclude male victims of sexual abuse when we do this.
I have always felt strongly about gender inequality. Not just because it’s so unfair but because it’s a major contributing factor in all sexual abuse crimes. However, there is one female attribute that tips the scales a little in our favour that I am very grateful for. That is, the ability to discuss our feelings.
I’ve often thought that at some point in history, powerful men foolishly overlooked this feminine attribute. They must have viewed it as non-threatening or they would have put a stop to or curtailed it in some way. Instead throughout the ages men have smugly demeaned women’s emotional intelligence through labelling it as either ‘women’s talk’, ‘women just being neurotic’, ‘nagging’ or simply women engaging in gossip’. They appeared to believe that women sharing their feelings held no value whatsoever and often prided themselves on not possessing this female trait.
Boy where they wrong. Without our ability to discuss and explore our feelings, the issues around sexual abuse would never have come to light and we wouldn’t have learned about the levels of harm it has left in its wake. Talking about how we feel is probably the most important tool we have to get us out of this mess, and let’s face it, it is one hell of a mess.
CHANGE OF HEART
The first time I heard that boys were being sexually abused, I was genuinely shocked. I never expected it and It added another dimension to this crime I hadn’t expected. It was a lot for me to take in.
The realisation that boys too where being sexually abused was probably the beginning of my change in attitude towards men. I had to consider them going through what I’d been through. It wasn’t easy, and I wasn’t very willing. I hated and resented men for so long because all my suffering had been at the hands of a man. Seeing men as victims opened my heart and gave me a lot to think about.
When cases started to emerge in the media of women who were also sexually abusing young girls and boys, I felt so confused. I didn’t want to believe it and still don’t, but it is the truth. I had to accept that this crime was far more complex than I had originally thought, and also, that it was not gender specific.
WORK TO BE DONE
There is an awful lot of work still to be done as every day more and more sexual abuse is being uncovered. The media is now saturated with stories of sexual abuse and we believe we are still only touching the tip of the iceberg. We must focus on healing the courageous victims that are speaking out while continuing to encourage further male and female victims of sexual abuse to come forward and heal.
Female victims have the advantage because of their capacity to share how they feel. We need to make it safe for men to do the same. These men may be our husbands, sons, fathers or brothers. We all need each other and there are many reasons why we have a duty to help men deal with their abuse. Firstly, we need to support and have compassion for those men who were actively discouraged against discussing their feelings, because we understand its importance in recovery. Men were always taught that sharing feelings was a weakness. If we do not help them to communicate and talk about how they feel, we will continue to see men remain trapped in their pain. Men who stay stuck in pain and hurt are destined to develop negative thinking patterns and behaviours that impact those around them.
They may become aggressive and act out their anger because it is one emotion that has always been considered acceptable for men.
Secondly, it is the right thing to do. If we want real equality, it goes both ways. We need to keep our hearts open. Our society will remain negatively impacted if even one person doesn’t receive the help they deserve.
It is fair to say that there are both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse in all walks of life here in Ireland, working at all levels in our society, infiltrating, influencing and manipulating all our institutions. We simply have no way to measure the effect this is having on our way of life. We need to consider how our lives are and will continue to be impacted and shaped by this fact with the understanding that perpetrators and victims who have not received any help or support may be responsible for making decisions every day that affects our lives. It would be unreasonable to expect favourable or positive outcomes from damaged people.
CHALLENGE EVERYTHING, WE HAVE BEEN TAUGHT
Men and women need to challenge what they were taught about their gender. What where you told was a man or a woman’s role? Do you agree with it? what makes a man, a man, or a woman, a woman? Just what qualities, behaviours, attributes or feelings were assigned to each gender. What as a woman or a man where you told you should be aiming for in life. Ask yourself is it now what you want?
We must make it acceptable for men to express their vulnerabilities, share their fears and thoughts with us and their male friends. Ensure men that they will be gaining something, not losing. We could all be better at seeing the sharing of pain as an act of bravery not one of weakness. The old saying that ‘real men don’t cry’ has to be eliminated from deep in our consciousness. Men must also get on board and acknowledge women’s emotional intelligence and do their part to ensure equality.
REALLY NOT IMPORTANT
I have reached a point in my life where I realise I will never understand why or how one person can sexually abuse another, and it doesn’t really matter. What does it matter if it’s a girl or a boy, a man or a woman, sexual abuse is always wrong and has no gender preference. It is time to understand that sharing our experiences and emotions without shame or concern of judgement is the only way forward for all of us.
June – 20th August 2018