Sexual Abuse

When I first left graduate school in the mid-1970s, I attended one of my first workshops on sexual abuse. At that time this issue was just beginning to be discussed. For decades sexual abuse was believed to occur only rarely. After all, this is what the great Freud taught.

Most people don't realize that Freud was first appalled at the numerous stories he was hearing from his patients who had been sexually abuse. He published a paper on these events and was highly criticized by his colleagues. No one wanted to believe this horror was true. He retracted his comments and substituted them with the information that such reports were simply the symptoms of the hysterical female mind.

At the workshop, the presenter, Susan Forward, wanted to do a little survey. The auditorium was backed with several hundred therapists of various kinds. Volunteers passed out slips of papers and asked each one of us to write down our gender and either "yes" or "no" as to whether we had been victims of sexual abuse.

After lunch she gave the report. People were horrified to discover that one out of ten of our female colleagues and one out of eleven of the men in attendance reported such violation. At that time, it was unusual to have that high a number of men. Those of us in the audience were murmuring our astonishment.

Tragically, as I worked with people over the decades, I found that more than half of my clients had been sexually abused. The statistics in the general population run about 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys became victims by the time they were 18. Many experts believe the number is higher. Even though reporting of sexual abuse is more accepted than ever, there continues to be a great deal of shame associated with having been a victim, especially for males.

Today people are much more likely to reveal their abuse experiences. Reports of sexual abuse abound in the news. Most of the headlines the last few years have focused on members of the clergy, mainly priests, who violated young boys. In the news this week are allegations of a minister who coerced teenage boys to have sex.

In Houston's paper a man was sentenced to life in prison for raping a beautiful 4-year old girl shortly before she died. With continual reports of sexual abuse, it's difficult to believe there was a time not so long ago people thought is was rare.

Despite the many public revelations, I still have clients who have never told anyone about their abuse until they came to me. Some, when they first reveal their secret, revert back to the expressions and tone of voice of a child. Sometimes another person's revelation will give them the courage to speak what they have buried within them.

Over time I will be writing more about this topic. You can access the articles as I write them through the links below.

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