Posts Tagged ‘sexual abuse’

For those of you who aren’t sports fans, you might not have heard about the child sexual abuse scandal that is rocking Penn State. You can read the complete details here.

In a nutshell, Jerry Sandusky was a football legend as a coach at Penn State. He has been charged with 40 counts of sexually abusing boys. Here’s the really sick part – He had access to these boys because he established a foundation called Second Mile to reach out to needy children.

I was stricken by the testimony of janitor James “Jim” Calhoun, who walked in on Jerry Sandusky alleged performing a sexual act on a boy in the shower:

“Jim said he ‘fought in the Korean war … seen people with their guts blown out, arms dismembered … I just witnessed something in there I’ll never forget,’ ” the testimony states.

In the early stages of healing from child abuse, I had a difficult time seeing my child abuse as a big deal. I could complete understand how seeing “people with their guts blown out, arms dismembered” would be traumatizing, but I couldn’t view my child abuse in the same way. I was truly shocked when my therapist told me that I had a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD was a diagnosis for soldiers who had experienced trauma, not for children who endured abuse that “wasn’t that bad” because “others had it worse.”

I wasn’t able to view my PTSD as “serious” until reading Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery. What was groundbreaking for me was her approach – The same PTSD that I experienced from child abuse is the same PTSD that soldiers experience after combat. It’s a disorder – a real disorder that explained many of my symptoms.

For some reason, I could understand PTSD better by applying it to a soldier than to myself. There was no question in my mind that someone who had “seen people with their guts blown out, arms dismembered” would understandably develop PTSD. I was able to view my disorder without a layer of shame.

I find it validating that this war veteran was that traumatized by seeing a child being abused and that he puts the trauma of child abuse on the same level as what he saw in Korea. Child abuse really is a “big deal,” even though we child abuse survivors often have a difficult time believing it.

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On my blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I masturbate… A LOT; I do it mostly when I’m frustrated or upset. I don’t hurt myself necessarily but I hate myself the hold time, start crying and picture myself getting abused. I don’t understand why I get all… well you know when I’m upset. Does that have to do with being abused? Or am I just weird… [I]s it normal to touch yourself five times in one day? And is being overly sensitive an effect of being possibly abused or being hormonal or both? Because I’m also very sensitive…. with girls and even more so with boys….And whatever is the cause of being sensitive is there ways to calm it down? …. ~ Kolbey

This is an excerpt of Kolbey’s comment so I can address the questions specifically. Kolbey is a teen, so I will address that as well.

Let’s start with the “normal” part and then move onto the parts that are not “normal.” It is normal for teens to masturbate (both male and female), and the frequency will vary from person to person. Some might not ever or only rarely masturbate, and others might masturbate multiple times a day. Your body is hormonal and transforming into an adult’s body, and your sexuality is being awakened. So, if your question was solely about the frequency of masturbation, hearing about masturbating five times in one day would not concern me a bit. That is the only part of your comment that sounds “normal” (meaning typical for a non-abused teenager) in this comment.

Since I have never been a “normal” (non-abused) teen or adult, my next comment is based upon what I hear is normal rather than I what I have experienced as normal. I have been told that “normal” masturbation feels really good, which is why people do it. When someone who has not been abused masturbates, the draw is achieving an orgasm that feels good and is relaxing. That doesn’t sound like Kolbey’s situation, which is the first red flag I see.

Reacting to masturbation by hating yourself, crying, and visualizing being abused is not “normal.” That is the way I used to react to having consensual married sex, and that also was not normal. When I started having consensual married sex, I had no memory of the sexual abuse. I had repressed all of those memories, but they still colored all of my experiences, including my sexual ones.

At the time, I viewed myself as a very conservative and innocent “girl.” However, to achieve an orgasm, I had to visualize some really sick and perverted stuff. I would climax but then hate myself afterward. I would feel sick inside and filled with shame. Since recovering the memories, I recognize that I was forcing myself to relive the abuse because the abuse and sexual arousal was all intertwined in my head.

I am not sure what Kolbey means by being “overly sensitive,” but I suspect this is a reference to being easily triggered. Someone will say something innocent that triggers a flooding of shame, and Kolbey is blindsided by this. If that is the case, this happened to me throughout my life until going through therapy. The way to calm it down in the short-term is to ground yourself – lots of deep breathing and positive thoughts – “I am OK. I love myself. I am safe…” — That kind of thing.

I think it might be helpful for Kolbey to read through the Incest Survivor’s Aftereffects Checklist. If reading through the checklist feels like looking in a mirror, that is a huge red flag for a history of child abuse. I recommend talking with a trusted adult (perhaps the school counselor) about getting some therapy. In the meantime, the books The Courage to Heal and the Survivor to Thriver Manual are wonderful resources to help you with healing from child abuse.

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I am reading Jodi Picoult’s book, The Tenth Circle, for my book club. I did not know that this was a book about teen rape when we decided to read this book. If I had, I would have voted to read another book this month. I am slammed with my new job and won’t come up for air until June 2, so this is not the best timing for reading a book about rape.

Nevertheless, I am reading it while I work out at the gym in the early mornings, and I am enjoying it despite its serious content. The book delves into the many facets of teen rape. You have a 14-year-old girl who was dating a 17-year-old boy with her parents’ consent (which I, personally, cannot imagine supporting as a parent). He broke up with her. This was her first crush, and she is having a hard time getting over him, so she follows her best friend’s stupid advice to make him jealous by engaging in dangerous behaviors.

In a nutshell, the 14-year-old girl attends a sex party at her friend’s house (where the ex-boyfriend is invited). They are playing the “Rainbow Game” – a game I had never heard of but will now be preventing my son from going to any unsupervised parties!! – where each girl wears a different colored lipstick and performs oral sex on different boys. The boy sporting the most colors on his “rainbow” wins the game. Yuck!

Anyhow, the girl participates in the “game” one time and then throws up. After everyone else leaves, it is just her, the 14-year-old friend, the ex-boyfriend, and another 17-year-old boy. The girl is wearing a sheer shirt, low-rise jeans with no underwear, and plays strip poker with the boys. The other couple goes upstairs. One thing leads to another. The girl just wants to kiss and make out (“second base”) with her ex-boyfriend. He interprets all of the above as consent to sex and rapes her. The rest of the book (or at least as far as I have read) explores the many facets of this scenario – sadly one that happens frequently at teen parties and on college campuses.

The 14-year-old girl never said yes to sex and was a virgin. Her reaction to the sexual contact is the same as other rape victims – deep shame, feeling dirty, dressing in baggy clothing, insomnia, etc. There is no question that her reaction is of one a rape victim.

The 17-year-old boy was at a sex party where all of the girls (including the 14-year-old girl) were providing all of the boys with oral sex. She was in a sheer blouse with no underwear, kissing him, and taking off her bra for him. Both had also been drinking. From his perspective, all was consensual. His reaction is dumbfounded.

How can the same act be absolutely devastating to one party and viewed as completely consensual by the other? I was in a similar situation with an ex-boyfriend in college (minus the sex party – we were alone in his dorm room talking about whether we could work things out). He took things farther than I wanted. I dissociated. He performed intercourse on my body – something I did not want, did not ask for, and had repeatedly told him that I was not ready for because I believed I was a virgin. He saw it as consensual. I gained 30 lbs and experienced numerous trauma aftereffects. I was terrified of him and was never alone with him again. He expressed befuddlement at my “rejection” since we had finally “consummated” our relationship.

How can the same act between the two parties involved be so different? How could he truly believe that sex was consensual when her reaction was with trauma?

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For the last couple of days, I have been talking about issues with sex after childhood sexual abuse. Several people have posted comments on these blog entries. Paul also wrote about this topic on his blog here. Paul’s coverage of the topic cited different sources that got me thinking a lot about this aspect of healing.

Sexual healing has been one of the biggest hurdles for me. I have been married for a very long time, so my options have been either to buck it up and have sex or divorce. (Hub is definitely not willing to have a sex-free marriage.) I bought the book The Sexual Healing Journey a few years ago, but I still have not read it. I have been very resistant to opening the can of worms involved in healing myself sexually. Instead, I have relied on lots of dissociation to get through it.

Some events have transpired recently that have me thinking that I might be able to heal this area of my life. This is the first time that I have even considered this aspect of my life being capable of healing. Other sexual abuse survivors have told me that I could heal this area, but I frankly did not believe them. I thought I was too defective in this area, so why even bother?

I have never talked about this before, so it is hard to write, but I am going to throw it out there. Here are some of my big sticking points.

1. I don’t know what I like, so I don’t know how to communicate that to my husband. I never liked anything as a kid, and my opinion on what was being done was irrelevant, so I feel completely in the dark about having a “this is what I like” discussion since I don’t know what I do like.

2. I have a hard time taking any initiative because, as a child, my job was to let others do what they wanted with my body. So, I am just passive – along for the ride – rather than an active participant. I just flee my body through dissociation and hope it ends quickly.

3. A part of myself feels like I am betraying myself if I let myself enjoy it. If an orgasm is “good,” then what was the problem when I was a kid? Yes, I get the difference intellectually, but the little girl inside feels like an orgasm is a betrayal of myself.

4. I am afraid to awaken this part of myself because, from what I understand, sex is a “need.” I don’t want to “need” sex because then I will have to rely on another person to meet this need. I would rather not have the need then have to rely on another person to meet it. Again, I know intellectually that my husband is happy to meet this need as often as I want it, but there is a part of myself that is grateful that I don’t “need” sex.

5. I sometimes just want my body to be mine. For my entire life, my body has been someone else’s to use. Sometimes I just want a sabbatical in which I get to have the exclusive say over my body. (Yes, I know that I can say no to my husband, but that is choosing to end my marriage if I want to go for months without sex, and I am not ready to do that.)

These are just some of the issues I wrestle with when I even bother to think about healing that part of myself. I frequently think it is not worth the effort. Can anyone relate?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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****** anger and sexual abuse triggers *******

As I shared yesterday, my life has been pure h@#$ for six weeks, and it all centers around the memory of my first vaginal rape. To put it all into context, the vaginal rape is what caused me to go from having dissociative disorder – not otherwise specified (DD-NOS) to dissociative identity disorder (DID). Up until the rape, I could handle the abuse from my mother and her “friends” by splitting off into fragments. After the rape, my inner child no longer wanted to exist. She split off and went to sleep. I awoke the next morning not knowing who I was because “I” had been replaced by a host personality that had no identity yet.

I am so f@#$ing angry about the rape. Yes, I have recovered memories of other rapes, but none of them carry the punch of the first – the first time having this pain experienced inside of my body. Up until this point, I had experienced all sorts of tortures and traumas, but they existed outside of my body. I was only six years old. I didn’t even know what was happening.

One minute, I was a little girl who believed that abuse happened outside of my body. I could escape it through dissociation. I could flee to the ceiling and be “safe” while my body was harmed. However, this was different. An explosion of pain happened INSIDE OF MY BODY! There was nobody there to explain what was going to happen or what was going on. Nobody told me how another person could reach inside of your six-year-old body and damage it in places that I did not know existed.


I was a little girl with an intact body, and some f@#$ing pervert paid someone who had no right to my body to steal this from me. MY BODY WASN’T ANYONE ELSE’S TO SELL. MY BODY WASN’T ANYONE ELSE’S TO TAKE.

This was MY body to be shared when I was an adult and chose to share it. I never got the chance. By the time I was old enough to appreciate what it meant to “share myself” with another person,” it had all been taken – my hymen, my innocence, my dignity.

And nobody ever gave a s@#$ that I would live my life in the shadow of this one night. Nobody gave a s@#$ that I would spend my life hating sex, running from it, dreading it, unable to “give” myself to my husband and causing decades of rifts in our marriage because I DON’T WANT SEX. I don’t want it.
For ten minutes of one man’s “pleasure” and another’s man’s pocketbook, I lived a lifetime as a multiple. I haven’t been able to connect emotionally with my husband. I cannot “enjoy” sex because it is nothing but a reminder of being raped and sold like a whore. Ten minutes of “pleasure” and a check, and I have lived a lifetime of repercussions.

It all F@#$ING SUCKS!!!!! And there is not a D@#$ thing I can do about it. The die was cast 34 years ago. The “thrill” of the orgasm is long-since over, and the money has long-since been spent, but I continue to live with the aftermath of two amazingly selfish @$$holes whole simply didn’t give a $&#%. I hope they burn in hell. I hope they rot in hell, and I hope they suffer from the most painful and dreadful disease imaginable before they get there.


Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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My second most popular blog entry on my blog is one entitled Orgasm during Rape or Other Form of Sexual Abuse. That blog entry has quite a few comments posted by child abuse survivors who experienced orgasms while they were being raped or sexually abused.

Last week, a reader posted the following question:

How are you all dealing with the conflicting emotions? Everything I see written here, practically, screams out that you all loved what was happening at the time, and mostly feel bad because society says it’s bad. I’m asking you all, because you are the only ones that really know, is it bad?

I think this is a legitimate question that needs to be answered.

The short answer is no, I did not “enjoy” the orgasms during sexual abuse. Most of mine happened when my mother was orally raping me. I experimented with similar sexual contact consensually with a boyfriend. While my body achieved an orgasm very quickly, it made my head feel like it was going to explode, and I felt a very strong desire to harm myself. That is not “enjoying” an orgasm.

When people who were never sexually abused experience orgasms, they feel good. They feel a release of tension and feel peaceful afterward. This is not the case with a person who has been sexually abused. After the orgasm happens, the sexual abuse survivor feels sick to her stomach. She feels deep shame and hatred toward her body.

When a child who is being sexually abused “wants” an orgasm, it is kind of like looking for the least painful form of abuse to experience in the moment. The child feels shame, terror, and self-loathing as the sexual abuse is happening. The orgasm is a temporary reprieve from those feelings, but then those feelings come crashing down immediately afterward in spades.

After the orgasm, the child is not lying in his bed feeling good about himself. All does not feel right with the world. The child feels deep shame – the shame from the abuse and then the shame from “enjoying” part of the abuse. It causes the child to question whether she really wanted the abuse after all. She knows that she didn’t, but her body reacted to it, so then maybe she did??

And then orgasms and shame get intertwined in the abused child’s head. The child grows into an adult who cannot have a fulfilling consensual sexual relationship because pleasure and pain are still intertwined. She hates her body for having orgasms, and then she hates her body if she doesn’t have them. Every sexual encounter becomes a challenge because it sets her up for more self-loathing.

And then the sexual abuse survivor finds that she is only able to achieve an orgasm if she reenacts the sexual abuse, either physically or in her head. Straight sex cannot achieve an orgasm, but degradation during sex can. Discovering that you cannot achieve an orgasm during sex unless you feel degraded only adds fuel to the fire.

There is nothing positive about a child experiencing an orgasm during rape or sexual abuse. It only further complicates the child’s life.

Related Topic:

Trauma Tuesday: Orgasms during Rape and Sexual Abuse

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In my last blog entry, I mentioned that the reader who asked about challenges after integration also wanted me to address issues with sex. As I stated in that blog entry, I believe that healing from child abuse and healing from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) are two different process. I believe that this woman’s issues with sex are not from the DID but from the child abuse, which is why integrating from DID has not fixed the problem.

I get this because I am in the same boat. You might have noticed that I have not discussed consensual sexual relationships much on my blog. That is because this is an area of my life that continues to be a challenge. If I were a single woman, I would go on sabbatical from sex so I could work through my feelings toward it. However, as a married woman, that is really not an option if I want to stay married.

Several child abuse survivors have recommended that I read the book The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz. They tell me that this is the best resource for healing your consensual sex life after sexual abuse. I have purchased the book and have even flipped through it, but I am not yet ready to work through the book and do the exercises.

This is not to say that I have not made progress. A couple of years ago, I would get drunk before and self-injure afterward. I no longer rely on either crutch. I have also set more boundaries and no longer have sex when I don’t want it as frequently as I used to. I used to drive myself crazy trying to make something “good” out of something that made me feel “bad.” About a year ago, I moved toward indifference. That stopped the momentum of sex being “bad” and moved it into a “neutral” experience. Of course, hub would prefer that it be a “good” experience, but I still have a lot of healing work to do in that area.

I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful in this regard. My best advice is to read through The Sexual Healing Journey because several people have told me that it helped them to heal their feelings toward sex in powerful ways.

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Hornet\'s Nest (c) Lynda BernhardtI really hate the word “incest.” I often hear people talk about “rape or incest” as if they are two different things. Yes, I understand that the use of the word “incest” is to specify that the abuser was blood-related to the victim. However, incest is rape in most cases. By separating out the word “incest” from “rape,” it makes incest sound innocuous when it is anything but.

Dictionary.com provides the following definitions for incest:

  • Sexual intercourse between closely related persons.
  • Sexual relations between persons who are so closely related that their marriage is illegal or forbidden by custom.
  • Sexual intercourse between persons too closely related to marry (as between a parent and a child).

There are other definitions provided as well. None of them include that the sexual contact is by force.

I did not enter into a consensual sexual relationship with my mother as a toddler. She raped me. I have been raped by both men and women, so I am in a position to say with certainty that the sexual contact forced by both men and women is rape. The sexual abuse is just as horrible and degrading regardless of whether a woman or a man is perpetrating the abuse.

I refuse to allow another person to water down what I experienced by calling what my mother did to me “incest.” If the term “incest” must be included, then call it “incestuous rape” because that is a more accurate term.

The fact that a sexual abuser is blood-related makes the crime worse, not better. It really bothers me that, when the perpetrator is a blood relative, our language seems to downgrade the level of horror involved. “Rape” carries a punch. “Incest” is fodder for bad jokes about the residents of particular Southern states. There was nothing consensual with what I experienced, so I refuse to apply the word “incest” to what I experienced.

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Looking out over ocean (c) Lynda BernhardtI frequently see people struggle with the fact that their bodies reacted to a rape or other form of sexual abuse by having an orgasm. People wrestle with whether the sexual abuse could have been “that bad” if they had an orgasm during it. Also, some people who first began having orgasms during sexual abuse as young children question whether this means that they were some sort of “bad seed” who brought the sexual abuse on themselves.

It is actually quite common for a person’s body to react to sexual abuse or rape with an orgasm. This does not mean that you wanted the sexual contact or that you enjoyed it. This is simply an indicator that your body was working the way it was designed to work.

Human beings are born into the world wired to respond to sexual contact. Baby boys often get erections during a diaper change, even without any unnecessary contact involved in the cleaning process. Young children frequently touch their “private” areas, not to achieve orgasm like post-pubescent people do but just because it feels good.

When a child’s body is stimulated through sexual contact, it will sometimes react to that stimulation by having an orgasm. This does not mean that the sexual contact was welcome.

The child’s reaction to having a “good” feeling in the midst of bad feelings can be very confusing to the child. The child does not feel the same sense of pleasure and relaxation afterward as an adult does after consensual sex. Instead, the child is left with conflicting emotions. Some people wind up hating their own bodies for betraying them by reacting to sexual abuse with an orgasm.

This can lead into issues in adulthood. A person who had orgasms as a child while being sexually abused can confuse orgasms with abuse, so when they enter into a consensual sexual relationship, they have confused feelings when they have orgasms. They might wind up hating themselves when they climax but then also hating themselves when they don’t, which causes any sexual interaction to become very stressful for them. It can be challenging for an adult survivor of sexual abuse to separate out a “good” orgasm from a “bad” one.

Related Topic:

Trauma Tuesday: Sexual Aggression in the Sexually Abused Child

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+++++ Trigger warning for the comments +++++

Some of the comments contain triggering comments. I cannot figure out how to add a trigger warning to them, and I don’t want to remove them and “silence” the people posting the comments. If you are in a bad place, please use caution in reading the comments. – Faith

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Microscopic View (c) Lynda BernhardtMany child abuse survivors ask the question, “Which type of child abuse is the worst?” I guess child abuse survivors want to figure out where they fall in the pecking order of pain. Some might want to reassures themselves that their abuse really was that bad while others are still trying to convince themselves that it wasn’t.

I asked my therapist this question. He replied that there is no value in comparing abuses. Pain is pain, and all pain hurts. I agree with him that all abuse is bad and that even “just one time” is enough to damage a child’s spirit. However, the question still remains: Which type is worse?

As someone who has experienced most forms of abuse, I can speak intelligently to this question. Physical abuse is hard because it is physically painful, leaves your body sore as a reminder of the abuse, and is terrifying because a much larger person is manipulating your body. You have the fear of losing your life at the hands of a much larger person.

Sexual abuse is hard because the abuse moves inside of your body to a place where you thought you were protected. Sexual abuse feels as if the person is reaching inside of you to harm your spirit. Also, the body can “betray” you by responding with positive sensations as you are being harmed, causing you to question whether you have any right to complain.

Ritual abuse is hard because you are being abused by “professionals” who have a calculated plan of how to harm you. There is nothing impulsive about the things being done to you. It is hard to work through knowing that these people conspired to break you.

When I looked back over my child abuse memories, the emotional elements of all of these abuses have been the hardest for me to heal. While my body would heal from the physical abuse, the emotional scars remained. The sexual abuse left no marks anywhere except on my wounded spirit. What made the ritual abuse so bad was the emotional element: That is where my ritual abusers put their greatest focus.

So, my answer to the question, “Which type of child abuse is the worst?” would be emotional abuse, and emotional abuse is present in all forms of abuse. This brings us back to what my therapist said when I asked him this question: All abuse is bad.

Related Topics:

Emotional Abuse category

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