When I write and speak about child sex trafficking and abuse, I am encouraged by the support from most people who hear my story or read my blog. Most people understand that children are victims and do not have the power to stop the abuse that is controlling their lives. Most people understand that the brainwashing and shame transference in these situations runs very deep and can keep a child victim from speaking up for many years, or at all. Most people understand that children are afraid in these abusive environments. And I am grateful for this.
But during the past two weeks, I have been discouraged and disappointed by the victim-blaming associated with three different attacks on adult women, some of whom were rich and famous adult women. The difference in our support of child victims compared with adult victims of abusive behavior continues to perpetuate a culture of oppression in which victim-blaming is acceptable.
It started when nude photos of several famous actresses were leaked on the internet. The backlash of slut-shaming that ensued showed how our society instantly blamed these actresses for the release of these photos. There was a general assumption that they should not take nude photos if they don’t want them leaked. I was appalled by these opinions. Instead of naming the oppressor as a sex offender, we choose to assert that these women got what they deserved for taking private pictures of their private bodies.
This assertion is another version of rape apology. As a society, we are quick to assume that women are raped because they walk alone when they should know better or they are wearing something that invites the attack. These responses are fear-based. They are based on the desperate need to separate ourselves from the victims. If we can find a way to make it their fault, then it can’t happen to us because we are better than that.
But let me ask you this. Do you back up your pictures in the cloud so you won’t lose them when your computer crashes? Have you ever purchased something on the internet with your credit card? Have you ever vented on Facebook to your group of private friends? How would you feel if a hacker stole any of these things? Like a victim? You would be right. You have been violated. You have been attacked. And if you happened to have a picture of yourself without a lot of clothing, you might have been sexually attacked. But it probably won’t happen to you. Why? You aren’t famous. But even famous people are human beings. And we can’t justify an attack on them because they happen to be famous.
Next I heard about a man who called and texted a women more than 20,000 times after a break-up. He was demanding compensation for some work he did on their apartment, but he would settle for a “thank you”. This is harassment. This is stalking. This behavior can and will lead to more abusive behavior. It is a gateway to serious abuse up to and including murder. It is not ok and this man is going to jail for it.
This happened to me on a much smaller scale after a break-up. And it was scary. I was petrified of this person, which is what he wanted. I was always looking over my shoulder. I was always worried about my internet security. If I responded in any way, the incessant communication would increase dramatically. I finally threatened to call the police and it stopped.
The other morning, I was listening to two local radio personalities as they discussed the story. One of the DJ’s decided that the woman was more “crazy” than the man because she was too “stubborn” to say thank you. I was dumbfounded by the idiocy of this talking head. She was “crazy” for not responding to the harassment? She was supposed to comply with his demands? Where do we draw the line? What demand would have been too much? What if he had asked for nude pictures? His demand for gratitude was a power-play. It was a mechanism for control. Her response would have been complicit with his abusive behavior. She was extremely strong in her lack of response. She was not crazy.
And then there is the horrifying story of Janay Rice. I have heard the countless speculations from others about how she should have behaved. “She should have walked away from him.” “She should have never married him.” She was even mocked on television for not leaving. These comments show the minimal understanding of what happens in these relationships. These relationships don’t start in an abusive manner. They start with love and kindness. The manipulation and control build over time.
And it is important to understand that this is probably not her first experience in an abusive relationship. Her childhood beliefs may have been formed in an abusive household which has led to a normalization of abuse as an expression of care. She may be familiar with abuse from family members or other intimate partners. She may believe that she doesn’t deserve better. She may believe she isn’t worth it. She may believe that she will not be loved by anyone else. She may believe she has no choice. She may believe that she loves him and he loves her. And on some level, that may be true. But she may also believe that this love could be fatal if she leaves.
But just like trafficking victims who can’t leave their pimps, domestic violence victims have grown up to believe this is a part of who they are. And their innate belief systems from a childhood of trauma keep them from taking back their power. Fear doesn’t go away when we become adults. We don’t cross over the threshold at the age of 18 completely freed from our traumatic experiences. Fear is always there. In adulthood, it drives most of what we do. So if we are willing to understand how a child can be driven by fear, why is it impossible to accept that most adults are driven by the same emotion?
We are all slaves to fear.
Some people may take a stressful job with a controlling boss because they are afraid of financial destitution.
Some people may keep their opinions to themselves because they are afraid of not being loved.
Some people may avoid flying because they are afraid of death.
And some people may stay in an abusive relationship because they are afraid of all three.