Violence Against Women
How many times in my career as a social work psychotherapist did I hear similar reports from female patients of being sexually molested by a family relation, such as a father, uncle, cousin or other family member? In one case, the incest with her father did not stop until she was a teenager. One of my first cases, many years ago, was of a family in which the husband stopped having sex with his wife and went to his young daughter's bedroom to insist on intercourse. When the child told her mother, she was met with disbelief and anger for "making up lies." Even Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of modern psychotherapy, decided that these reports of incest were really sexual strivings for the parent of the opposite sex. He gave up trauma as an explanation for the psychological disorders his female patients were suffering in favor of the Oedipal Conflict.
According to a new survey done by the Center For Disease Control (CDC), one in four women in the United States reports being violently abused by their husbands or boyfriends. One in five women said they were raped and half of these acts were committed by intimate partners. One half of the women who reported rape said they were attacked when they were 17 years of age or younger. There are many other reports and articles that discuss the appalling fact that girls are being sexually molested at very young ages. Once again, these acts are perpetrated by family members, neighbors or friends.
The survey from the CDC does not explore the reasons this is happening but we can speculate as to some of the factors contributing to these shocking statistics. There is always a danger that, by exploring reasons why something is happening, it will be excused. Therefore, let us be crystal clear that these violent acts are criminal and the perpetrators deserve full prosecution by the courts. There are no excuses for violence and rape but there are factors that are causative.
1. Alcohol and drug abuse are at epidemic levels. Addictions reduce the ability to exercise self control and increase the chances of a person responding to angry and violent impulses. Police Departments around the country are well aware of the problem because of their experience with domestic violence calls that often turn out to have drinking and drug abuse as their cause.
2. Misogyny is the mistrust and hatred of women. Why some men are misogynistic is not clear but their contempt towards women guides their behavior.
3. Bullying, combined with misogyny, makes a powerful mix that explodes into violence. The reason some of these men abuse women is the same as in other cases of abuse. For example, some of these men either witnessed abuse or were abused while growing up. Also, the bully attacks those he perceives as weaker than himself. Women are not weak, but abusive men who view their intimate partners in this way, target them for attack.
4. High unemployment stretching months and years, frustrations due to unsuccessful job searches, the resulting loss of self esteem due to the economy, inability to pay bills and too much unstructured time all contribute to an atmosphere fraught with danger for women.
This is not a comprehensive list but it does provide a picture of what may lead to these acts of violence.
Rape and violence exact a terrible toll on the mental and physical health of these women. Post traumatic disorder is not an exaggeration of what they experience. The damage to self esteem and any sense of safety and trust in connection with the world is palpable. Then, too, there is the risk of unwanted pregnancy as a result of rape.
One of the difficulties in finding solutions to this problem is that, even today, doubt is cast on the women who report being sexually assaulted. Some of the high profile cases we have witnessed in the news feature women reporting being sexually abused by sports figures, politicians and other leaders. This results in those women being vilified - even in the presence of DNA evidence. As a result, many cases go unreported. Women fear they will not be believed or will feel shamed. It's as if the early days of Freud never ended. The reports are all too real and too damaging to be dismissed. The notion that women report molestation just so that they can sue and collect large sums of money, especially when it involves famous athletes and leaders, is nonsense.
Attitudes need to change towards the violent treatment of women. Raising awareness and educating the public can result in real changes.
Your comments and questions are encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD