MenWeb - Men's Voices Magazine

Yes, Women Do Abuse

Copyright © 1997 by Scott Abraham


Men are perpetrators.

Men cannot be victims.

Women are victims.

Women cannot be perpetrators.

The message is simple and exclusive, and pervades virtually all literature about childhood sexual abuse. Whether overt or covert, direct or indirect, a survivor molested by women who looks for confirmation of the horror, for an authority who can offer acknowledgement, is going to find denial.

Whether male or female, the survivor of abuse perpetrated by women will find precious little comfort and minimal support from books that purport to address their needs. Indeed, rather than finding tools for healing, the survivor may-as I did-find themselves attacked and shamed by the invested incest recovery establishment. Just like in our families.

Shut up.

You lie.

You're making it up.

It wasn't abuse, it was love.

Women don't abuse. Men abuse.

At times the omission is subtle, a matter of exclusion, of being ignored in books that proclaim an all-inclusive perspective. I remember reading a book recommended by a female friend-one of the pioneering studies on child abuse-and finding myself baffled by the narrow perspective. Not only did the authors virtually exonerate the non-offending parent from any responsibility (as the non-offender, in this book, was always the woman), and virtually ignore female perpetrators, but they casually dismissed males as victims, not only pretending we did not suffer greatly, but that we barely existed in numbers worth mentioning.

I raged. My friend, of course, hadn't noticed the discrepancy, as she was a victim of the classical form of incest: brother and father. The book spoke to her needs, and ignored mine. I'm not in the habit of condemning authors for ignoring me, but their bias was actively damaging to me, for they not only ignored me, they asserted that the problem of female on male incest did not exist.

By chance, I saw the only film that deals directly with Mother-Son incest, Breaking The Silence. I tuned in only because the title intrigued me. The TV listings gave a thumbnail sketch that only hinted at the subject matter. The film had not been promoted the normal hype; there were no advertisements, no promos, unlike the more common huckstering that precedes more traditionally plotted incest movies (male on female).

It seemed as if the network was airing the movie as a distasteful duty, hidden in the doldrums of summer, although in my opinion, the movie was competent both in content and in form, and far more watchable than most of the dreck that poses as socially enlightened movie-making.

I've watched more talk shows than I can count that deal with traditional forms of incest, but I have yet to see a show that focused on men or women who survived molestation by females.

Two and a half years ago, I wept when I found the first book that was written specifically for male survivors, Mike Lew's Victims No Longer. Previously, my only resources were books written by and for women that focused exclusively on male-perpetrator, female-victim sexual violence, and I would have to translate the experience into my terms. I was not at the stage where I could distance myself from the rage against men that pervades most of those works, from the subtle shaming, from the sometimes deliberate, sometimes unconscious inclusion of all men into the ranks of perpetrators.

The tone reminded me of my mother's voice. She condemned all men as congenital monsters as she raped her sons. She inherited her voice from my grandmother, who raped her grandsons. Mother chose friends who resonated to her hatred, like the neighbor who seduced me when I was a wounded fourteen year old boy, and killed herself two months later.

I need to hear kinder voices, yet today, three years after the publication of Lew's book, men are just beginning to build a bibliography that speaks to our common experience. More to the point, to my knowledge, there has been no publication that speaks generically to survivors of female abuse, either men or women; no book that boldly proclaims the reality that women abuse children, nor have I run across a book book that explores the more subtle, passive aggressive evil of the non-offending parent, who either in deed, or in willing ignorance, permitted the abuse to happen. The dynamic of the perpetrator has been thoroughly explored, but all too often in the literature, the non-offender is excused as another victim, with responsibility diminished or nonexistent.

The list of slights and omissions is endless. I mention a few to illuminate the problem; of greater concern is the cause.

The obvious target of blame is society at large: the ingrained taboo against speaking about incest, the tacit permission granted by the absurd notion that children are property. No matter the gender of the survivor or the perpetrator, all of us must battle ignorance and prejudice, silence and ostracism, to tell our stories and to heal.

Yet a climate has been created wherein a survivor of male-perpetrated sexual abuse can find venues in which they can speak their truth and hear others, where we can testify about our wounds and debate needed changes to stop the violence.

There is no comparable venue for survivors of female abuse.

I think the nature of this exclusion runs far deeper than traditional societal pressures to keep silent about child abuse. The prejudice partially seems to stem from an idealization of womanhood: from a perception that women are incapable, not just of violence per se, but of violence against their own children. Both society at large and, to a great degree, the originators of much of our current psychological theory seem to be blind to the reality of the testimony of legions of survivors.

This inability to confront the reality of women's violence comes from more than just an idealization, of course. Male perpetrators, by their physical nature, tend to leave demonstrable evidence of the more extreme forms of abuse: a penetrating penis tears and scars. There was no mutilation of my body when my mother forced her five year old son to perform cunnilingus. Damage to the soul the law cannot identify, measure or quantify.

The nature of female sexual abuse is by nature far more subtle and harder to identify and define than that of males. One penetrates, the other envelops, one tends to be overt, the other tends to covert. Female perpetrators can mask their sexual abuse under the guise of normal childcare; for example, my mother could have easily explained her torture of my genitals by claiming that she was merely bathing me a bit too enthusiastically.

But she never had to explain her actions until I confronted her, because no one defended me, nor would anyone have believed me, if I had the temerity to complain.

Male survivors also must transcend the societal attitude that sexual initiation by an much older woman is a rite of passage, especially when the perpetrator is not a relative. I've posed a hypothetical question to several people while trying to explain the dynamic: A thirty-two year old man has sex with a willing fourteen year old woman. Is that seduction or rape?

Everyone answered, "Rape."

Trade genders of perpetrator and victim and the standards of ethics and morality change.

I didn't get "lucky" when I was a fourteen year old. I didn't enjoy a necessary transition into manhood.

I was raped. I was exploited by a woman of vastly greater power and experience, and I cope with the aftereffects to this day. Yet that horrible victimization is neither understood or acknowledged by society at large, and the lies that brand my experience as an initiation sound suspiciously like the rationalizations of a perpetrator.

Yet the denial of female perpetrators is not just the common denial of society at large of any and all incest, or merely a product of the idealization of women. There's a sneakier and uglier force at work, the dark, political side of many of the pioneers in incest recovery.

I can't prove it, and I'm not going to name names, for few leave an overt hint of their prejudice. For what it's worth, I offer my opinion.

The crucial, ground breaking work to expose the wide range of sexual assault was done, and in large measure continues to be done, by women invested in changing a society that actively discriminates against women, that perpetuated a brutal system that sexually exploited women.

To awake society to the very real holocaust, a subtle demonization of men began in media, with a concurrent and equally inaccurate sanctification of women. It was women who described themselves as feminists that motivated this dynamic and promoted the supposition that women were pure victims of a patriarchal society, innocent of any crimes.

I give great credit to the women who pioneered in healing for incest, for I doubt that I would be alive today if they had not blazed a path, yet at the same time, I am angry about their exclusion of males as victims and of women as perpetrators. There is no question that men do perpetrate in greater numbers than do women, but that is no excuse for ignoring that women do perpetrate.

The indiscriminate blanket shaming of all men without regard to their individual actions served a greater and somewhat noble purpose-guilting men into making necessary changes in themselves-yet it has had a destructive side effect by masking female abuse under the guise of incapacity: that women were naturally unable to perpetrate such abuse.

I believe that the founding mothers of our recovery movement, whether consciously or unconsciously, ignored the issue, for to accept that women abuse revoked women's claim to moral and ethical superiority over men. No one enjoys the painful process of exploring their own dark side. Given that seventy per cent of perpetrators were abused themselves, it is inescapable that women were infected themselves, and had the evil of the monsters introjected into their core.

Accidents of gender do not grant a natural immunity to the acting out of rage, though there is evidence that women tend to act in while men tend to act out. Not all women turn their inevitable rage into themselves, however. My grandmother molested my mother, and my mother molested me; my paternal grandmother molested my father, and my father molested me. I did not perpetrate, and I can only ascribe that miracle to grace, not to accident of gender. Yet I am a man, condemned by the current orthodoxy, while those women who inherited the disease continued to spread the disease.

I am not alone as a victim of female abusers, yet our voices go unheard in the cacophony of victims at best, and are actively silenced at worst.

The painful irony of this dynamic is that survivors of female abuse are dramatic proof that women are created with the potential for the full range of human behavior, up to and including the most vile crimes. That contradicts the dogma both of a large segment of professional therapists and educators and a large portion of the recovery community. The survivor who breaks the silence, then, is frequently dismissed and shamed by the very people who have the capacity and knowledge to help them heal.

We are tragically revictimized, at times, by those we look to for assistance in our healing-damned because our wounds are not politically correct-because we challenge the notion that one sex is safe while the other is dangerous. It would be a neat solution, and such a comfort, if we could assuage our fears by being wary only of men, and blaming only men. Oh, to know our children were safe, and assure their safety by turning our vigilant eyes on only one sex, knowing our backs were protected by stalwart and incorruptible women.

If only that were the truth.

But you and I know that women do abuse.

And you and I must speak that truth.


Related stories:

"False" Memories, Repressed Memories, by Scott Abraham.

Domestic Violence: By Women as Well as Men. Our domestic violence page has an article Working with Violent Women by Erin Pizzey, author of Prone to Violence, a summary and full transcript from a segment of Great Britain's BBC1 show Panorama that focused on woman who sexually abuse children, facts about domestic violence by women and men, and information on dealing with anger.

Battered Husbands. We hear a lot about domestic violence against women, but not nearly so much about domestic violence against men. But it's there. One reason that domestic violence against men keeps happening is that men don't speak out. And when they do, all too frequently, nobody listens. Our Battered Husbands section has feature articles from the Detroit Times and Orlando Sentinal that speak to the seriousness of the problem.

Take Care of Your Mother - Or Else, by Scott Abraham.

Revenge: A Dish Best Served Cold, by Scott Abraham.

Be Gone!, by Scott Abraham.

Climbing Out From Hell, by Jeffrey Miller.

Wounded Boys, Courageous Men, a photo-essay about male survivors of institutional child abuse in a Canadian institution, by E. Jane Mundy.

Survival and Living, by Scott Abraham.

Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse: Book Reviews, by Scott Abraham.

John Lee on Anger, an interview with John Lee

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