Have you been watching or reading the news?
If you have, you’ve seen the stories of sexual misconduct pile up, one after another, with person after person – some of whom we perhaps at one point admired (I thought Kevin Spacey was incredible in House of Cards) – being confronted and held accountable for inappropriate sexual behaviors.
Normally at PartnerHope we focus on the betrayal trauma that results from being lied to and cheated on by your significant other, whether that occurs through an affair or through acting out behaviors related to sexual addiction. However, this week and next I am going to deviate from our normal programming, because I think it is important to acknowledge the overwhelming level of betrayal trauma being experienced and expressed in very public ways by women and men who’ve been victimized and harmed by another person’s inappropriate and sometimes illegal sexual behavior.
These stories that we are hearing in the news continue to mount because something is happening in our culture right now. We are witnessing a significant moment. Victims of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault – women and men who have suffered in silence, often for years or even decades, usually because their betrayer held power over them – are suddenly coming forward and using their voices to say, “This is what happened to me, and it is unacceptable.”
As this movement swells with the #MeToo campaign, marches, and other forms of public outcry, I think it is important to pause and become very, very thoughtful about what is happening here. Because in the cacophony of voices that are speaking right now, it is possible to lose sight of the basic truth at the core of this important social moment. Here is that basic truth:
Women and girls, in disproportionate numbers, experience betrayal trauma that is sexual in nature on a regular basis over the entire span of their lives. Extraordinary numbers of women and girls are living with and coping with the symptoms and impacts of sexual betrayal trauma. Women and girls get up every day and face a world in which sexual aggression, harassment, assault, and abuse are a systematic part of home, work, entertainment, hobbies, sports, school, and most other aspects of life.
I want to acknowledge that men also face sexual abuse, harassment, aggression, and assault. That said, the numbers are disproportionately aligned against girls and women, and I think it is important that we validate and face that truth head on.
Unfortunately, when a problem is so systemic, so common, so business as usual, we can become blind to its basic truth. As women have begun telling their stories and sharing their pain, notice that the media has focused predominantly on the offenders rather than the victims. Lots of analysis has been done about what these behaviors are about and why these men have done these things. Meanwhile, very little time and energy has been spent focusing on what happens to the women and girls who experience these betrayals.
Have you heard the term betrayal trauma mentioned even once in the news in relation to what has happened to these women? I’ll bet you have not. And yet, each of the individuals who are bravely speaking up has experienced significant trauma.
The moment that we are experiencing, this groundswell of attention and focus, has the potential to be wasted if we allow ourselves to get distracted and stay blind to the core issue that is being revealed. This core issue is that as a culture, as a group of people, we have created a system in which women and girls experience enormous amounts of sexual betrayal throughout their lives, and men and boys are raised in what is at best a confusing sexual environment and at worst a permissive and entitled sexual environment. This results in enormous amounts of individual, organizational, and cultural level betrayal traumas that impact all of us.
Next week, I’m going to talk about what can happen when a large group of people gives voice to the betrayal trauma they have individually and collectively experienced.