When Your Abuser Is a Woman – Part 1
Were you abused by a female? Do you often wonder about how this has impacted your life? You are not alone! I’m so excited to bring this series to you, written by Humphrey*, an amazing guy who is also a survivor of abuse.
What the hell is wrong with me?
I have always felt that there is something wrong with me, that I am “not right”. Even at the age of eight I remember thinking that I could not cope as well as others, that I was “paranoid”, quite a big word for a small boy.
Was I born this way? No. So what happened to me?
Well, something did happen to me, something that I have had a lot of trouble identifying and naming for what it was – sexual abuse. An older girl sexually abused me. She lived next door and was seven years older than me. It began when I was six and continued for about one year. I remember her turning fourteen during this time.
These days there are accepted definitions of childhood sexual abuse, one of which is an age gap of five years or more between children involved in sexual activity. But at the time I did not know I was being abused, and I did not realize it for many years.
I grew up in England in the 1970s and 80s, and sex was not talked about much. It was seen as naughty, something to make jokes about, or just pretend it doesn’t happen.
In popular culture, child molesters and sex offenders were usually portrayed as seedy middle-aged men. A common caricature was the “flasher”, a man wearing nothing but a raincoat, who would jump out of bushes and expose his naked self to an innocent victim. The flasher was the archetype of sexual transgression – he was the sex maniac, the pervert, the collector of dirty magazines, the sex shop weirdo, all-round creepy guy, and he was the rapist. He was also the boogeyman that would lurk in the woods, waiting to kidnap children and molest them.
I did not know anybody like this. I knew my family and the family next door and it all felt very safe.
So my experience with the girl next door fell way outside of the culturally accepted context of sexual abuse. I literally did not know that I had been abused.
I still struggle to define what happened as sexual abuse, even now, forty years on. Surely people who molest children are adult males, maybe priests or celebrities, who would suspect the girl next door? Even the phrase “girl next door” has a ring of innocence about it, evocative of first crush, first kiss, first love. If you were to ask people what a child molester looks like, few would imagine a teenage girl.
It was commonly believed that sex was something bad that men did to women. Unfortunately, this myth continues to the present day. Society at that time did not seem to accept that women had their own sexual desires. It was accepted that men chased women for sex, women did not want sex, all males were sexual predators, and rapists were just men with high sex drives. All of these ideas are bullshit.
Also, I was brought up in a family that was proud of its feminist principles. My mother and older sister were quick to criticize sexism in any form. All of which made me feel more shameful and confused when, as a teenager, I discovered I had quite a strong sex drive of my own. I literally felt ashamed to be male.
This is why it was so hard for me to accept that I had been sexually victimized by an older female. I suppressed the painful memories, locking them away in a compartment of my brain, labeled, “Does Not Compute”.
I was in my early twenties before I was able to consciously access the memories. But I still did not define it as abuse. Deep down I knew it was wrong, but I could not put my experience in the same category as those children you read about in the news – the ones who were kidnapped, tortured, ritually abused, raped. It was just “something weird” that had happened to me.
In my thirties, I saw a therapist who was the first person to define my experience as sexual abuse. It took another ten years before I could honestly say to another person, “I was sexually abused as a child”, and believe in my heart that it was true.
The difficulty I have had in naming the abuse has been, I believe, equally damaging as the abuse itself. It has caused me to blame myself for what happened to me, and to blame myself for every emotional problem I have had since. My reasoning was that the teenage girl couldn’t be blamed, because she was young and innocent and a girl, therefore there must be something wrong with me, and that “something” is related to sex. So I imagined myself as the pervert, the sex maniac, the weirdo. I kept my feelings and fantasies hidden and unacknowledged. I became separated from my own sexuality.
This shame and guilt has caused me many problems throughout my adult life. I often think that people are judging me. I often think that I am in trouble. I feel like there is something wrong with me. I feel like I am different to other people and can never be normal. I feel like there is a dark stain on me that people can easily see. I feel like I am not good enough. I feel like I will never fit in. I feel like I can never belong.
So – what the hell is wrong with me? Perhaps there is nothing wrong with me, except the belief that there is something wrong with me. There were definitely some things done to me that were wrong, and which were not my fault. I can take no responsibility for the actions of others. Logically I know this to be true, but emotionally I still take on the blame. It’s a legacy of the abuse.
Humphrey* is a sound designer and audio producer, who has played in bands, been a DJ, music producer, and award-wining [winning] filmmaker. He waited twenty years after leaving school before going to university and getting a Masters Degree. He grew up in England and now lives in Australia. He is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. His blog is No I’m Not OK, where he writes about his deeply personal battles with anxiety, depression, and anger.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy
Note: The website No I’m Not OK is no longer available.
Please Note: The stats mentioned in the image are from 1 in 6
Researchers estimate that at least 1 in 6 men have had unwanted sexual experiences, including abuse and assault. This is likely a low estimate, since it doesn’t include non-contact experiences, which can also have lasting negative effects.
If you’ve had such an experience, or think you might have, you are not alone.
If you wonder whether such an experience may be connected to some difficulties or challenges in your life now, you are not alone.