It seems like women have come a long way in protecting themselves from sexual misconduct since the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas issue. More lawsuits have been filed than before and businessmen have been required to take sexual harassment classes. However, emotionally the issues for women who are targeted are still the same. Young women today still blame themselves when something goes wrong and secretly inside society still blames them too.
Women still hear the negative comments, even if sometimes they are in their mind. “You shouldn’t have put yourself in that position.” “Maybe you sent him mixed signals. After all, you were nice to him, weren’t you?” “What were you wearing?” “You were drinking, maybe you just don’t remember it correctly.”
My 20-something client, Ally, was raped at college by an ex-boyfriend recently, and never even told her parents for that exact reason. She knew her dad would blame her, saying her it was her fault — especially since it was at a party where alcohol was involved. She also didn’t tell her fiancé. She just broke up with him. She called her parents and told them that she couldn’t take college anymore and asked them to come and get her. She basically quit school, moved home, called off her wedding, and contemplated suicide. She felt like it was all her fault and didn’t want to hear from anyone that would make her feel worse.
Afterwards, she ran to a friend’s dorm room, who called their female volleyball coach at school, who was then required to report it to the police. The guy denied it, and since she refused a rape kit, it was all over in a day — at least for him. He got away with it, but has damaged her life forever. And here’s the worst part. She texted him the next day and apologized for reporting it.
A male friend I recently discussed this with (who has a psychology degree) says, “Why do you believe her? Her text proves that it probably wasn’t really rape or why would she apologize?” And many people who don’t understand how rape and/or sexual harassment affects a woman emotionally think the same thing.
That’s why Anita Hill wasn’t believed by many. She contacted Clarence Thomas several times after he had sexually harassed her. Again, many people, men in particular, didn’t and still don’t understand how someone could contact the person who has abused them and either apologize or act like nothing happened.
Here’s what people need to understand: The most important thing to a young woman is approval, and because of this they are easily convinced that everything is their fault — especially when it comes to what men do. They can excuse a man’s behavior because they want his approval so badly. In fact, they not only can convince themselves that it’s their fault, but they can choose not to say no because they don’t want to hurt his feelings. But being “held down” (as Ally was) is the first clue that it was rape.
I am not denying that women have sometimes given false allegations. There are girls that have lied and ruined a boy’s life. Often because of that same fear of judgment if they admit it was consensual when their parents don’t think they have sex. But the issue of rape has become more and more of an issue on college campuses and both the boys and the girls are not getting educated in what to do in these situations. The school, and her coach, offered Ally no counseling that could have helped her through this.
What people need to understand is that after any kind of “sex” has happened to a young girl, especially when it’s someone she knows, she often still wants to know that he likes her. This is the a key reason that incest often doesn’t get reported. A friend of Ally’s was sexually assaulted by her uncle and never told anyone for this same reason, after all, it’s her uncle. Even when raped, a girl or woman often doesn’t go straight to feelings of anger as she should. I know it’s hard to understand, and is in fact incomprehensible. But instead, she usually feels vulnerable and shamed. Ally says she was so confused that she didn’t know what to think. It all happened so fast and turned into whether or not a crime just occurred instead of anyone helping her emotionally process what had just happened to her.
One of the saddest parts of Ally’s story is that she’s afraid to turn to her parents because she believes they won’t support her. She finally told her fiancé, but he didn’t really understand either. Most of her approval issues that keep her from feeling angry come from her dad. She admits that she’s spent her whole life trying to win his approval and can’t. He guilt-trips her if she misses church for her work, if she spends her own money on a tanning salon, if she sleeps in late, etc. In fact, he basically told her that something is wrong with her, i.e. that she’s a bad person for ending the relationship with her fiancé because he’s such a nice guy. Her dad’s criticisms keep him in control of her and keep her trying for his approval, just as she does with the boys she dates. She excuses her dad’s behavior, just as she did her rapist.
This is common. Most of us have had someone who was critical of us in our lives, and it was usually our parents. We tried and may still try for their approval — and then transfer that need to others in our adult life, like Ally did. When we seek someone’s approval, we often don’t show our anger when we should and don’t set boundaries regarding what they do to us. That’s no different than Ally’s behavior when she sent that text to her ex-boyfriend who raped her or Anita Hill when she re-contacted Clarence Thomas after he was inappropriate with her. People have trouble “getting it” because they don’t recognize or admit their own need for approval. When someone lacks the ability to confront someone with their anger after being abused, it is almost always because of their desperate need for approval.
But Ally is getting stronger since she started therapy. She has gotten in touch with her anger at the ex who raped her, is writing an angry letter to her coach, who has a therapy degree but did not emotionally support her when it happened, and she is gradually dealing with her father. But she does know that she has to get a full-time job and move out from her parents’ house before she can truly be strong and independent.
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