Rape and SlutWalk: A therapist's view

Rape, SlutWalk and the hopes of youth

SlutWalk demonstrator: A reply to Camille Paglia— and Dan Rottenberg, too.
SlutWalk demonstrator: A reply to Camille Paglia— and Dan Rottenberg, too.

"A small subset of men commit the majority of rapes," according to research by the University of Texas psychologist David Buss, as reported recently in the Philadelphia Inquirer. On the contrary, my 30-plus years as a family therapist lead me to believe that rape and other horrendous sexual violations are much more common than most people realize.

This kind of accepted research, which is used to deny the prevalence of sexual violation of women, is one of the reasons I submitted my recent article, "Male Sex Abuse and the Silence of Women," to Broad Street Review. In that article I noted the urgency of breaking the code of silence about rape and finally addressing the long overdue, entirely baseless blame and shame used worldwide— in families rich and poor, educated and illiterate— to terrify victims of sex abuse into remaining silent.

Further, rape victims frequently convince themselves that either what happened to them wasn't rape, or it was entirely their fault. There is also the form of sexual abuse in which a male partner withholds all physical and emotional contact from a woman, so that she will beg for any semblance of contact and in this way be forced into submission.

Aftermath of an article

Two months have has passed since Dan Rottenberg commented on my article in his Editor's Notebook in a very provocative way that elicited thousands of responses— most overwhelmingly critical, many calling for his removal as BSR's editor, but some supporting his ideas and others applauding his willingness to open the door for long-overdue discussion on this subject. BSR readers surely know of Dan's subsequent apologies for any damage that column caused.

Dan's column appeared when I had just returned from a trip out of the country, and I was stunned by some of his statements. I surely didn't want to be drawn into a story involving an editor for whom I have deep respect and who has always treated my work fairly.

My primary concern about Dan's words was that they could promote the blame and shame of women, something I have argued against throughout my professional life. (I was even fired from a job I badly needed in 1968 when I angrily asked the medical director of a large teaching hospital how he could stand by and allow women to be repeatedly blamed and shamed in ways that I witnessed firsthand.)

Dark ages of orgasm

As unbelievable as it must sound today, I was trained as a therapist at a time when students were taught that autism as well as schizophrenia resulted from an "unloving" and "rejecting" mother. Further, we were taught that women who needed clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm during sexual relations were "infantile and frigid," as well as "castrating," and that the fluid that many women release during intense orgasm was a sign of serious psychiatric pathology.

We therapists-in-training were also taught that disagreeing with one's husband in anger ranged from "castrating" to "mildly castrating," depending on a woman's degree of anger. (The things that men may do to hurt a woman or cause her anger were never mentioned in our theoretical discussions.) And yes, we were taught that when a woman was raped, she asked for it and even enjoyed it.

SlutWalk's origins

With that in mind, perhaps you can understand my enthusiasm for the Philadelphia SlutWalk held on August 6. This global feminist protest was born in April when thousands of women (and men, too) took to the streets of Toronto after a police officer there suggested that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." (He has since apologized.)

Although some women object to the use of the word "slut" to express their outrage, this episode touched a far-reaching nerve, and similar marches have been organized in cities throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. "We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming," SlutWalk's organizers declared, "of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe."

Paglia's overprotected girls

The social critic Camille Paglia has contended that "too many overprotected middle-class girls have a dangerously naive view of the world." This, of course, is a universal truth. But if the young lacked hope or faith in their ability to change the world, they would shrink from the risks that make life possible: the risk to try, to work, to love, to begin a family. The hundreds of patients I've seen through the years in my office, who've been blamed and shamed for the pathology of others, have lost this hope.

Paglia calls sex "a force of nature," but sexual abuse is the sickest of such "forces." Time after time, girls and women are blamed, shamed and die as a result— and the reasons have nothing to do with sexual desire or with the way they dress.

Through the ages, youth is the force of energy that can initiate awareness and help create positive social change. Dan Rottenberg, who accurately characterized the SlutWalk as a movement of young people, maintains that SlutWalk is an assertion that one can act as one wants and "someone else is to be blamed for whatever happens to them."

Again, I strongly disagree. Youth is the time when one develops the confidence to assert one's rights. My previous BSR article described many of the horrors of sexual abuse that have been denied through the ages—or, when acknowledged, are blamed on women. SlutWalk holds up a mirror.♦

To read a response, click here.

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