Yesterday I wrote a Facebook status about abuse that went like this:
We all know about sexual abuse. Women get abused, and that’s the more common case. But if we dig a little deeper, men get abused too, in places such as the military and prison. They get abused by other men.
So it occurred to me that a question worth asking is: Do women get abused in women’s prisons?
And the answer: Yes. They do. They get abused by MALE prison guards. (Google it to confirm. I’m not providing a link because that’s not the sole purpose of this status.)
It’s almost like men are the problem.
It resulted in some interesting comments. The first was from a male friend who pointed out that women can be sexually abusive too, but who agreed that it is normally perpetuated by men. One of my feminist friends called it “toxic masculinity”, and another friend agreed with her in terms of men who are raised to supress their emotions, apart from anger…
Two of the most interesting comments (I’ve not named the commenters, but I can if you prefer) were this:
Abuse is hardly ever about sex, and almost always about power and anger. Many men are taught from very young, that the only acceptable emotion to express is anger. They are seen as “unmanly” if they express sadness, fear, or anything that could leave them emotionally vulnerable. As a result, they move through life emotionally stunted, with few coping skills, so they react to situations of embarrassment or discomfort the only way they know how.
Young boys are often taught and/or forced to suppress their feelings and emotions. Many are raised in homes with alcoholism and domestic abuse. This results in grown men with an inability to deal with anger, rage, feelings of vulnerability, trust etc, using physical violence to express these feelings.
And so many children are sexually abused- 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 5 boys before the age of 18. Over 95% of these abuse cases are perpetrated by men, and most victims know their abuser. Most paedophiles have in excess of 20 victims.
The widespread abuse covered up in the Catholic Church involved epic numbers of priests, and even the British Parliament was involved in a huge coverup of abuse by politicians and celebrities.
Abuse is most definitely about POWER , sex being the weapon of choice.
As a survivor of over 10 years of continuous sexual abuse by a relative, I have healed most wounds, and I am very seriously contemplating meeting up with him after being estranged for 23 years to ask him WHY ?
[Redacted. This is too personal, even without revealing her name.]
Edit: The comment above was made by Angela Drescher. She is a survivor of abuse who has told her story on radio and TV (here in South Africa). I’ve included her name with permission, and you are welcome to search for her to find out more. There isn’t a page to link to yet, but I’ll update this post when or if one exists.
The thing is, my status could have ended with a very different line. I never assume anything, but I was expecting my search for abuse in women’s prisons to yield results about woman on woman abuse, by prisoners. Then I would’ve ended it with, “Maybe humans are the problem.”
But that’s not what I found. Instead, I found that abuse of female prisoners comes from those in a position of authority, of power over them. And such abuse is almost always perpetuated by men. Why that is, I don’t know… But I think my feminist and SJW friends (I really prefer the term activist, by the way) answered that better than I can. I can’t comment about the way other men are raised. I was raised in a loving home, and am very much in touch with my emotions.
Anyway, it’s interesting, and I don’t know what can be done about it. I do feel that we need to empathise with victims. There is way too much victim blaming going on, especially by the religious. At the very least, if we can understand sexual abuse and harassment better, we can make it better for victims to cope with the effects.
I have my own reason for my empathy, which brings me to my anecdote from over twenty years ago…
I was a student, and I travelled to Cape Technikon (now called Cape University of Technology) by train. For reasons I don’t recall, I was late that day – maybe I was writing an exam. And on Plumstead station, I was approached by a woman I estimated as over twenty years older than me. She was a preacher-woman. I was shy, but approachable. When preachers approached me, I was always friendly to them. I’d take an interest in whatever they had to say, have a long chat, and then read their literature on the train. There was one such Jehovah’s Witness that I often chatted to, and her magazines were an amusing way of killing time on the train ride.
But a couple of minutes into the conversation with this preacher, I knew this was different. I didn’t know how different. She just kept talking, hardly giving me a chance to speak except when asking questions, and she didn’t give me literature and let me be on my way. Instead, she got onto the train with me, sat beside me, and carried right on with her preaching. Her particular variation of the disease of Christianity was all about the love of Jesus, and End Times.
As she spoke, she put one hand on my leg. I was shocked and surprised, and somehow couldn’t tell her to take it away. I thought maybe it was my imagination – that this was just her way of putting someone at ease while talking to them. But then she moved her hand up my leg, slowly such that nobody else seemed to notice. She never quite reached the end game (thank her deity for small mercies?) but it became clear that this was a sexual thing, and it freaked me out. This carried on for the whole train ride, and it was an enormous relief to get away.
I felt stupid about it. It’s not like anything really happened, right? It was just a bit of non-consensual touching that thankfully didn’t progress into anything further. But still. It left me confused, and rather than feel angry, I doubted and questioned myself… How did I let this happen? Did I lead her on? Maybe I shouldn’t have made eye contact? Maybe I shouldn’t have smiled at her? Why didn’t I tell her to stop?
Somehow, I made it my fault. Instead of feeling angry and blaming the creepy woman who harassed me, I felt guilty, as if I somehow invited her to harass me. Now imagine those feelings, and multiply them by a thousand for people who are raped. And imagine how they must feel when dealing with police, court systems, and religious leaders, who blame them, the victims. If we could all imagine that, put ourselves in their position, maybe things could be better.