DEALING WITH SEXUAL VIOLENCE
"No woman is born wearing an `Open House' sign."
--M. P. N.
Sexual violence leaves you feeling dirty, used, guilty, and shameful. Abused physically and emotionally, your very soul has been violated. If you are a victim of sexual trauma, you will need to work through your feelings and learn how to prevent a recurrence of that kind of violence.
According to recent studies, as many as one in three adult women may have been sexually molested, often frequently, as children. Someone you trusted may have molested you. Molestation can involve touching, fondling, or unclothing, and may escalate into intercourse. You may have also been physically or emotionally abused or neglected.
You may have felt molested if, as a young child, you were treated medically, especially in the genital or rectal area. If your relationship with your parents, especially your father, was poor at that time, you may have subconsciously felt sexually damaged, worthless, and abandoned. Now, you may have addictions or be insecure in relationships with men.
Sexual molestation involves control by others stronger than you. You may still let others decide for you, or you may lash back in an effort to take control. For this pregnancy, do what is best for you and your baby, no matter what others are telling you. Don't do what they say because they say it, or do the opposite to show that you, and not they, are in control. The damaged, controlled, abused child in you can become a sensitive, capable woman as you plan for your baby.
Every woman fears rape. If you are a victim of this violent, degrading crime, you can't bury the memory. News of your pregnancy might devastate others; hiding your secret devastates you. You may want to lie, abort your baby, run away, or kill yourself. These feelings may seem especially overpowering if two or more men took turns violating you, as happened to Shannie (refer to Chapter Three).
Find a counselor who will help you voice your strong, conflicting emotions and release your guilt and shame. You are a victim. You are not responsible for your own sexual assault.
Suppose the man who assaulted you is emotionally or mentally ill due to addiction, abuse, genetic makeup, illness, or other reasons. Suppose he was parented poorly or not at all. You are not responsible for these conditions.
What if the assailant has no addictions or emotional problems? A mentally stable man can always control himself sexually, even on a date. "I just couldn't control myself" should be "I just wouldn't control myself." If a policeman were in the next room, the assaulting man would have "controlled himself."
Nothing gives a man, even a husband, the right to enter a woman's body without her express permission. If someone (even a friend or relative) were to barge into another person's home without being invited in, the homeowner would feel violated. How much more violated a woman feels if her body is entered without her permission!
You aren't responsible for assault, but you are responsible for dealing with your feeling about it. Vent your hatred, anger, and repulsion. Know where you hurt. The hardest person you'll have to deal with may be yourself.
After a stranger beat and raped her, Ina refused her family's pressure to abort and told her fiance. During a Christmas Eve service, he thought of Joseph, who stood by his wife Mary and raised Jesus, whom he had not fathered. Ina's fiance married Ina. Together they are raising Ina's daughter as their own child.
If you are a victim of sexual assault, you may feel no emotion when you learn you're pregnant. Numbness eventually becomes repulsion, anger, and despair. Your disgust for the rapist may transfer to your baby. Yet your baby did not assault you or ask to be conceived. Your baby is a victim, too.
Many people mistakenly believe that continuing your pregnancy will torture you with memories of the rape. Actually, with counseling, going through the pregnancy and birth will help you work through hatred and repulsion. Eventually, you will feel good about yourself for giving your baby a future. Later in this chapter you'll learn how to find a sympathetic counselor for sexual trauma.
Maybe you want to keep your pregnancy a secret. You may feel that you will never be comfortable parenting your baby. You know that adoption will give your baby a family, so that is always a choice, as it was for Opal (Chapter Five). However, you may decide to parent your baby as Bonnie (Chapter Seven) and Shannie (Chapter Three) did.
Incest is rape within the family. If you are an incest victim, the preceding discussion will help you, but you have much additional confusion to sort through.
Incest leaves unique emotional scars. You may love the incestuous family member yet hate him for what he does. Pregnancy makes you wonder if your baby will be deformed or if the police will arrest the abuser.
Most children conceived through incest are normal. If your baby was fathered by a relative who is related to you by your mother's remarriage, your child's risk of abnormality is no greater than any other child's would be. If you are a blood relative of the sexual abuser, your child has a 55 percent to 85 percent chance of being normal. If your child does have special needs or a fatal condition, refer to Chapter Seven.
Hiding incest helps no one. While the community need not know, your family should know about incest (and possibly does). Incest can go on for generations and may involve other victims in your family. You may almost think that incest is normal. It's not.
In a normal family, only the husband and wife engage in intercourse or other sexual actions. Fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, brothers and sisters, and other relatives limit body contact to occasional, spontaneous, brief, loving hugs and kisses. This never proceeds to fondling, unclothing, and beyond. Incestuous family members see each other as objects of sexual exploration and enjoyment. You'll feel, rightly, that the incestuous person is more interested in you sexually than in the real, feeling you.
Family members may choose not to believe that incest is going on. Glenda's mother chose not to believe Glenda's claims of incest, and Luciana was afraid to tell her mother about her stepfather's sexual abuse.
Although Glenda's father sexually abused her for thirteen years, her mother chose to believe that Glenda was "dreaming." Even when her husband got Glenda pregnant at fifteen, and then had a vasectomy, Glenda's mother believed her daughter's story that she had been raped while babysitting. At the family's insistence, Glenda made an adoption plan, and the incest continued until Glenda left home at the age of eighteen. Glenda has had years of counseling to deal with the incest. She has also visited her daughter and adoptive family.
Luciana never told her mother about her stepfather's sexual abuse, begun when she was six. When Luciana became pregnant at eleven, her mother thought that she had been sexually active, and her stepfather said, "We've got to show her all our love." The family adopted Luciana's baby boy. Only later, when Luciana's mother threatened divorce if her husband didn't stop having affairs, did he admit, "That boy you love so much is mine." When Luciana acknowledged the incest, her shocked mother refused to allow her husband into their living quarters. After learning job skills, she got a divorce and moved out, taking Luciana and her son with her.
Families allow incest to continue by denying or hiding it. Family members may swear that they will see that the incest stops if you lie about the pregnancy or abort. This promise won't work. A family caught in incest addiction is almost always powerless to stop without professional help. In order to stop the incest, you will probably have to tell someone outside your family about it. Talk to someone immediately. Choose a professional such as a member of the clergy, social worker, teacher, guidance counselor, or PREGNANCY AIDgency volunteer.
A professional can help each family member vent emotional pain and come to healing. Victims need to learn appropriate ways to seek help. Abusers need to overcome incest and other addictions. People who enable incest to continue need to face their denial.
A professional counselor will embarrass no one. Unless the family presses charges, no one will go to jail. No one will be judged or made to feel guilty. Problems discussed in a counselor's office remain confidential.
If your family won't go for counseling, go by yourself. By concealing your pregnancy and possibly relocating elsewhere, you and your baby can be safe. If you tell a child welfare agency about your home situation, you can probably be moved into foster care, if you are a minor. If you're an adult, you can leave home by using government aid. You may consider adoption for your baby.
If you return home, you'll want to devise ways to stop the incest and keep your baby safe if you'll be parenting. You'll also have to learn appropriate ways of parenting and dealing sexually with your child. A counselor can help you. Consider, however, that it is wiser for you and your baby to leave a home where incest continues than to stay there and risk future abuse.
If you have experienced sexual violence, you need much emotional healing. You are a victim, and so is your baby. Both you and your child are worthwhile human beings who deserve respect, understanding, and help. Reach out for the help you need.
OVERCOMING SEXUAL PRESSURE
"The Streets taught me to trust no one,
`love don't love nobody' . . . .
I now see that my street learnings are not all that
I want to base my life on."
--"Vibrant," a former prostitute
Do you make your own decisions? Do you indulge in a lifestyle that controls you? Does this control make it difficult for you to give birth to your baby? It's time to evaluate just how much control you have over your life.
Six percent of United States citizens crave sex and frequently have multiple partners. They can't stop this behavior. These people are sex addicts. Are you one also?
Society misunderstands sexual addiction. Yes, people view indecent phone calls, exhibitionism, rape, incest, and child molestation as perversions. However, you may have multiple partners and one-night stands, or you may participate regularly in group sex. People may consider you foolish for risking AIDS, but they probably don't think that you need help. However, you might actually be unable to control your bed hopping. If you crave sexual experience, but then hate yourself for your excess, you are battling a sexual addiction.
Although sex addicts can come from any type of background, their family backgrounds often reveal neglect, alcoholism, drug addiction, or abuse (whether physical, emotional, or sexual). You're probably a sex addict if you can't stop your sexual behavior, no matter what it is. You may have other addictions, too.
Your behavior is an addiction if it follows the SAFE formula, developed by Dr. Patrick Carnes, a pioneer in the field of sexual addiction. The formula is as follows:
S--Your behavior is a Secret. You'd be ashamed to let the public know of this behavior.
A--Your behavior is Abusive. You harm, manipulate, or degrade yourself or others.
F--The behavior helps you avoid painful Feelings or makes you feel better or feel worse.
E--Your behavior is Empty of a caring, committed relationship to the people involved with your behavior.
If you see yourself in the SAFE formula, you're probably a sex addict. If pregnancy is the result, it is extra frightening. It may make public your addiction and bring rejection, or it may keep you from continuing your addiction--a scary thought. At the same time, pregnancy might bring an end to your addiction, and you desperately want to control sex and feel worthwhile and lovable again.
You cannot stop an addiction to sex on your own. You need the support of caring individuals, some of whom have been where you are now, to help you. These people will help you see that you are a worthwhile person. People can accept you. Sex need not be the most important part of your life. A self-help group for sexual addiction or other addictive behavior, counselor, or member of the clergy may help you overcome your addiction. A helpline, hotline, or mental health agency can make a referral. You'll learn why you're an addict, how to deal with your past, and how to control your behavior.
When you control your sexual addiction, you can make plans for your baby. A PREGNANCY AIDgency will help you. By overcoming sexual addiction now, you are making a good future for your baby and for yourself.
Jayne's alcoholic mother and workaholic father gave her a strict moral upbringing and lots of material goods, but little personal attention. In college, she became sexually active with two men and began to question her faith. Having had one abortion, which depressed her, she bore a child by a third man even though he, like her second lover, wanted her to abort. Over the next years, she experienced a series of one-night stands, a brief marriage, and suicidal thoughts. She also underwent psychiatric counseling, was involved with a bizarre religious cult, and made periodic trips to mental institutions.
Eventually, Jayne began to attend a more conventional prayer group, whose members helped her deal with her past and reclaim her faith. Finally, she joined a growing religious community, whose founder had been devastated by sexual excess, atheism, and abortion. Jayne married a community member, who adopted her daughter as well as another child. Both Jayne and her husband endured crises and worked on their problems individually, together, and with counselors. Still working to heal past wounds, Jayne and her husband have a deep faith and are happy.
If you're a prostitute, you are viewed as living on the margin of society. You may find it awkward or difficult to reach out for help with your pregnancy.
Many pregnant prostitutes, call girls, and escorts want to have their babies. You probably know some who have done so. They may be parenting their children or they may have chosen adoption. There is much that is bitter, tarnished, and hateful in prostitution. But your baby is grace, innocent beauty, and a pure beginning.
If you're independently employed, you may need government assistance or another job to support you for a time. On the other hand, a pimp or madam may pressure you to abort so that you can keep working. You may be both afraid of and in love with a pimp. Some pimps and madams have connections to organized crime. Your life may be in danger if you attempt to continue your pregnancy or run away. What sort of pressure are you under? Do you foresee any pressure?
Insecurity and fear may keep you from seeking help. You should fight thoughts such as "I can't do any work but prostitution." "If people know my past, they'll reject me." "I can't live in poverty." "I have no skills." "I don't know how to act in straight society." "I'm dumb." "I don't want to be bored." "I use drugs, and no one will want to help me." "I have AIDS or VD so what's the use of having my baby?" "My pimp abuses me, but he loves me. I couldn't get any other man, anyway."
The right counselors will not reject you. Call a PREGNANCY AIDgency, women's shelter, rape crisis center, or women's resource center for help. A shelter for battered women is a safe haven. A PREGNANCY AIDgency can move you anywhere in the country (or even out of it) so that you will be safe.
You may have experienced rape, incest, neglect, sexual molestation, or physical or emotional abuse, which has left many emotional scars. You may have problems that need treatment such as a disease, AIDS, addictions, a pressuring boyfriend, or some other fear. If you had a poor upbringing, you may need to learn parenting skills, money management, social graces, and job skills. You may even decide to leave prostitution but wonder if you can succeed socially and financially in "straight society." Find a good counselor, following the guidelines later in this chapter, and share your concerns. You can certainly make a new life for yourself, with new skills and new friends, if you believe in yourself and are willing to try.
A self-employed prostitute, Yvonne's plan of becoming pregnant to keep her boyfriend didn't work. She left prostitution and went into a shelter for homeless women. With the help of a counseling agency, she learned secretarial skills and rented an apartment. She and another woman took turns babysitting each other's children while each worked. Yvonne is proud of her success.
YOU HAVE FREEDOM
If you feel enslaved to a lifestyle, you still have some freedom.
* Freedom to overcome a lifestyle.
* Freedom to think.
* Freedom to seek help.
* Freedom to give birth to your baby.
* Freedom to change yourself.
Find a friend, a counselor, and possibly a self-help group to help you. Together, you can heal your emotional wounds, leave the past behind you, and build a promising future.
CREATING A NEW YOU
"A woman is much more than the sum total
of her body parts."
--M. P. N.
Women are much more than sexual beings. If a sexual relationship lacks love, respect, and caring, and sometimes even brings physical harm, we feel used. You can be totally unaware that sexual trauma has made you view yourself and the world differently. If you don't heal emotionally, your damaged self-image may cause you to make poor decisions in many areas of life.
Fiona was raised in an abusive, unsupportive home. The only thing she liked about herself was her virginity. While in graduate school, Fiona was cleaning up after a college function when Steve, a classmate of another race, violently attacked and raped her, destroying her treasured virginity. Fiona loathed herself. Now what did she have to offer a husband?
Months later, another classmate Paul, whom Fiona hated and knew to be an unsavory, immoral character, asked Fiona for a date. She felt undeserving of anyone better, so she accepted. Because Fiona considered her raped body no longer worthy of love, respect, or dignity, she let Paul repeatedly fondle and rape her on several dates. When Fiona became pregnant, Paul called her "a tramp." Then he offered to marry her.
Paul made Fiona quit school, then quit himself. They lived in poverty, with Paul drinking heavily. Two months after their son was born, a drunken Paul tried to choke and rape Fiona, who called the police. Saying he wasn't even sure the baby was his, Paul sent Fiona home to her parents. Eventually the marriage was annulled. Fiona's son developed discipline problems and eventually alcoholism, and she questioned whether she should have made an adoption plan for her child.
Fiona has worked many jobs and had many affairs, some involving emotional abuse. Hospitalized several times for mental illness, she has been in psychological counseling for over thirty years. Fiona writes, "For forty years I have been haunted by a sense of being dirty, used, contaminated, and unfit to associate with decent people. I have always associated sex with hate and violence and being dominated and humiliated. I have never experienced sex as love."
Fiona used to repeatedly call a PREGNANCY AIDgency hotline just to listen to the recording which began, "You are a person of worth and dignity." She is still trying to believe that about herself.
Fiona's story indicates the need to heal the wounds of sexual trauma. Burying wounds and feeling shame when you are the victim causes deeper wounds and loss of self-esteem. With little self-esteem, you continue to form traumatic relationships, as Fiona did.
Sexual trauma includes molestation, rape, incest, sexual addiction, prostitution, and group sex, which are all discussed earlier in this chapter. It also results from sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, abortion, and physically damaging sexual acts. If you have been a victim of any of these things, a doctor can treat you medically, but you need counseling to resolve the bitterness you feel toward yourself and others.
A child can be sexually traumatized emotionally while never being touched physically. Some families or peer groups push girls into early dating. The media often imply that being sexually tantalizing and having intercourse are important ways to prove that you're mature.
Do you have sex because "everybody's doing it"? Everybody's not! According to the United States National Center for Health Statistics, at least 17 percent of all women are virgins at marriage, and at least 10 percent of all unmarried women have never had intercourse by age forty-four. Moreover, many of those who have been sexually active actually have intercourse very infrequently. Yes, having sex can be enjoyable and fun, but don't do it just because "everybody's doing it." How do you feel about it? It's OK to say "No," "Not yet," or "Not with you." Remember, having sex doesn't indicate maturity, creativity, wit, intelligence, or love. Baboons have sex frequently, but would you want to date a baboon? (Maybe you've already dated one!)
Maybe you feel you "owe" your date sex. You don't! Would you visit a friend and demand dinner if you weren't asked to eat? A friend doesn't owe you dinner because you visit. You don't owe a man sex because he dates you. If he feels that way, let him date somebody else.
You may feel that you have to have sex to "hold on to" your man. If you don't deliver, he'll find someone else. Why not let a man go if he's dating you only for sex? Suppose you contracted an illness or sustained an injury and couldn't perform. Where would this man's "love" be then?
Pregnancy can add more trauma to your relationship. If your lover is standing by you, encouraging you to give birth, you're fortunate. This will decrease your stress.
However, pregnancy may make your lover distant or angry, or he may pressure you to get an abortion. He might even fade out of the picture. All the promises your lover made may dissolve once you're pregnant. Your lover may say he wants you to abort because it's "best for you," but maybe he really feels it's best for him. Maybe he wants you to be sexually available. Maybe he wants no responsibility for the baby. If this is the case, having your baby might mean losing your man. But is someone like this worth keeping?
Reevaluate your relationship. Did you allow yourself to be used? Were you looking for a man--any man--to replace the love you never had from a father? Did you jump into a relationship to avoid dealing with a recent hurt? Did you choose a man who prizes a sexually available, alluring body above everything else? Did you overlook warning signs and hints of your lover's true character? What can you learn from this experience so that you don't repeat it?
Nikki had one disastrous sexual relationship and wanted no more. Jackie was a virgin until she met Bruce. Nikki became pregnant when a stranger, whom she was trying to comfort after a family tragedy, pressured her into intercourse. Jackie consented to intercourse to snare about-to-be-divorced Bruce, who said he'd never marry again unless he "had to." Abandoned by their lovers to deal with their pregnancies, Jackie and Nikki worked through tumultuous emotions and despair to give birth. Nikki is parenting her son; Jackie chose a family she knew to adopt her daughter. Both women now speak to teens and urge them to control their sexuality.
You can learn from your mistakes. If you have made foolish choices regarding sex and relationships and want to stop that kind of behavior, why not claim "secondary virginity"? Secondary virgins are women who have been sexually active but who have now chosen to keep sex out of casual relationships. They reclaim virginity because they don't "owe" a man sex. Secondary virgins wait to "have sex" until a man makes a permanent commitment, often marriage.
Secondary virginity is not "holding off the goodies" or "being a prude." It's protecting yourself from possible emotional harm, pregnancy, or disease.
Any man can be on good behavior to get you in bed. But what is this guy really like? Keep intense sexual activity out of the relationship, and you'll talk and share more. You'll get to know someone, who will get to know you. A man should love you for yourself. You should love the real man, not a fantasy.
When you've been sexually active, it's hard to change, but you can do it! Keep your clothes on! Ask a date to take you home if things start getting unbuttoned. If you don't want to have intercourse, staying dressed works.
Some men will ask for a sexual relationship. They might drop you if they're ready but you're not; however, others will be glad to wait until you are ready. Which type of man would you rather date?
Maybe you think you don't deserve someone who respects your wishes in a relationship. Why do you feel this way? Perhaps you should speak to a counselor or member of the clergy. With help, you will learn to be strong in your convictions and realize that you should let your own values direct your behavior and not cave in to pressure from someone else.
If you hate to keep attracting men who push you into having sex, you may be looking in the wrong places for dates. Look beyond the local bar or disco and reconsider your neighbor, fellow employee, or classmate. Or look at the men whom you frequently meet in a civic, ecological, religious, literary, political, self-help, or humanitarian group.
Also consider changing your image of the perfect male date. Often the most compassionate and interesting men are not the most physically attractive or socially graceful. Give a shy, less handsome man a chance. You may find someone special.
To find the right man you may have to make some changes, too. Maybe the way you flirt or dress attracts men who want women who are easy to get into bed. If you tone down your flirtations and the way you dress, you might attract a less aggressive male.
Maybe you'll meet a man who wants to marry a woman who is willing to wait to have intercourse until marriage. If he doesn't ask you for intercourse, don't suggest it yourself. If you are sexually aggressive with a man who values his own virginity, you may scare away a good friend and a potential partner.
Deeply in love with Arthur, Martha initiated intercourse. Upset because he had compromised his own values and lost his virginity before his marriage, Arthur immediately dropped Martha. Eventually he married Martha's best friend. She and Arthur now have a child. Martha is still looking for "Mr. Right."
If you want to get married someday, you, too, may be looking for "Mr. Right." Perhaps you think you've found him. Talk over what you will be sharing together--meals, sex, home, finances, children, thoughts, values, hobbies, and religion. Will you be able to adjust to each other? Will this man love and respect you, or does he have problems that could be difficult to handle in a marriage? Appendix F has many questions to consider when you're facing the decision to marry.
FINDING A COUNSELOR
Unless they have personally experienced sexual trauma, few people can understand its agony. You probably do not understand your own depth of pain and confusion. You need someone who will help you deal with having your baby while you work to uncover and address all your repressed emotions.
A PREGNANCY AIDgency is the best place to look for help. Every volunteer can help plan for your future and your baby. Many volunteers are also extremely sensitive to victims of sexual trauma. Some will spend much time with you as you confront and work through your pain. If you meet a volunteer who seems unfeeling, casual, judgmental, or incompetent, or who is simply a busybody, ask to speak to the AIDgency director. Tell her your situation and request another volunteer, or go to another PREGNANCY AIDgency, or ask an AIDgency to refer you to professional or other help.
Professional help can include social workers, psychologists, and members of the clergy who are trained to deal with victims of sexual trauma. You may find compassionate counselors at rape crisis centers, child abuse centers, women's shelters, and drug and alcohol abuse clinics. The counselor must be sympathetic toward your decision to have your baby. One who thinks you should abort will only add stress to your life.
You may be able to find compassionate counselors through referrals from area prayer groups, places of worship, hotlines, self-help anonymous groups for various addictions including sexual addiction, and after-abortion helplines (check the classified ads or call a local pro-life group). Also call some of the national hotlines in Appendix H for referral to local agencies that might have counselors for you.
If you find an insensitive counselor, keep looking. A good counselor will help you understand that both you and your baby are persons of worth and dignity. You will learn to recognize hurts, deal with them, and love yourself.
LET GO OF THE PAST AND EMBRACE THE FUTURE
Sexual trauma leaves you feeling victimized and defiled. You may hate yourself and think you deserve the pain. Holding on to bitter memories enslaves you to the past. Sure, you can't change what's happened. But you can change yourself and you can change your future.
You need to see yourself as a worthwhile person who deserves happiness. The past is done. Even if you willingly consented to sexual activity, you are still a victim of pressures on you to have intercourse. These pressures can come from others or from your own reasons why you thought you had to have intercourse. Since you never foresaw where your activity would lead, you should stop punishing yourself for your actions or their consequences. Forgive yourself so you can love yourself.
A good counselor will help you to release bitterness toward and forgive those who assaulted or victimized you. Then you will accept your own victimization.
Forgiveness does not mean justifying the evil done to you. It means giving up your right to demand revenge. Your assailants are responsible for their behavior and deserve punishment. Born innocent children, they were damaged by human faults, emotional wounds, and mistaken, corrupt beliefs. They are victims of poor upbringing, wrong choices, hormonal or chemical imbalances, or past experiences. Enjoying evil and not knowing good, your assailants are victims, too. Forgiveness means recognizing that fact.
At some point, you may want to tell these people that you forgive them. If this is not possible, or is too painful, you might picture your assailants in your mind and mentally voice your forgiveness to them.
Forgiving those who harmed you may not change them, but it will change you. Bitterness picks at the scab of sexual trauma. Forgiveness slowly heals the festering wound. Yes, you'll always have a scar, but you need not always have pain. Talk to a counselor today. You are a person of worth and dignity. You deserve to feel joy. Today can be the first day of your healing.