Sunday, June 21, 2015

Coming To Terms With Date Rape and Child Sex Abuse: I Was "The Sinful Woman"

Many people assume that the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears while he was dining in the house of Simon, the Pharisee, was a prostitute.  The story is told in the Gospel of Luke (7:38-50).

Simon observed Jesus’ interactions with the woman and said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman this is.”

Jesus heard Simon and rebuked him.

If the sinful woman was a prostitute, then her sin of sex outside of marriage made her unclean and unfit to touch a man, especially a priestly man.  But was the sinful woman just a prostitute?                 

I know the sinful woman.  She is me.  I am a survivor of sexual abuse as a child and date rape as a young adult.  When adults sexualize their relationships with children, they puncture boundaries and teach children that their greatest value to others is through sex.  Many survivors struggle all their lives with relationships and sex.  While some withdraw from sex, others become very promiscuous.  A few survivors are so crippled by depression, low self esteem, and punctured boundaries they find it difficult to support themselves in other ways and end up prostituting themselves. 

Although I never prostituted myself, my experiences being sexually abused at age 4, made me vulnerable to date rape at age 22.  My life has been a textbook of symptoms caused by these twin traumas.

At age six I told my mother about the abuse.

She said, “That’s where babies come from.”

But she didn’t do anything.

At age seven I told the neighbor girl and her teenaged friends where babies came from.  They were amazed by what I knew (It was 1966), but if they ever told anyone about what I said, I would not know.  Once again, nothing happened.

As a child, I sometimes hid in the closet when boys came to our house to visit my older brother.  My family hauled me bodily out of the closet but never asked me why I was afraid of boys.  I didn’t know myself.  Concerned about my constant sadness and believing me to be afraid of men, my mother insisted on taking me to a pediatric specialist when I was nine.  My mother blamed my problems on my father.  She told her theories to the doctor.  The doctor instructed me to go sit on my father’s lap.  I obeyed.  The doctor commented that my interactions with my father were normal.  But of course they were. My father never abused me.
          
Once again nothing happened.  My problems continued.  By the time I was a teenager, I suffered from a mild form of bulimia, alternately binging and starving myself.  My depression also deepened, and I made the first of several suicide attempts.  When I started dating, my romantic relationships were uniformly brief and unhappy.  I experienced problems with touch, problems I recorded in my diary.

During my first Christmas break from college, one former high school classmate asked me, “Are you still impossible to touch?”
          
Another young man said, “I can’t tell if you like it or not when I touch you.”
          
I loved his touch, but intimacy provoked feelings of fear in me.  My feelings made it difficult for me to respond to the young man.  This young man also accused me of being a prude.
          
“You come right out of the Victorian era,” he said.
          
I was unable to tell him about the abuse.  I didn’t know what it had done to me.
          
The summer I turned twenty-one, I worked as a wildlife intern for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and shared a dorm with a BLM fire crew.
          
The fire crew asked me, “How come you don’t have a boyfriend?”
          
“I wish I knew,” I replied.
         
That summer I fell in love with one of the fire fighters.  He had blue eyes and auburn hair.  He teased me constantly and made me laugh, but once we started spending time together, he began avoiding me around the other fire fighters.  When I told him how hurt I was, he rationalized his behavior, explaining to me that he behaved the way he did because the other fire fighters teased him about me.  He promised to write when the summer was over.  I waited for his letters, but they never came.  I was devastated.  I wondered, If I had been more attractive and had a better personality, would the fire fighter have wanted a real relationship with me?  Once again, I became suicidal.

I survived that year saying to myself each morning, “Don’t kill yourself today.  You can always do that tomorrow.  Just get through the day today.”

When a friend’s roommate propositioned me for sex, I consented.
          
The man complimented my curves, “No man would turn you down.”
          
It was just a one night stand, but I felt better about myself for a little while.
  
Then another young man, a former high school wrestler, asked me to join him and his buddy, a former high school quarterback, for a menage a trois.  I consented again.  Two young men wanting me for at least one night made me feel desired.
          
When I got to the wrestler’s house, the atmosphere was all wrong.  The two young men were much more interested in getting stoned than in me.  I thought of leaving, but I could not walk away from the crumbs of attention promised to me.   When the young men finally put down their bong and turned their attention to me, there was no easy way to leave.  What could I, a five foot two inch tall, one hundred pound woman, do against a former wrester and quarterback combined?  Truthfully, I was scared.  I didn’t know what to do.
          
That night was as though someone took fifty strips of duct tape and placed them over a light switch in the “off” position.  In the 34 years that have passed since that night I could count the number of times I enjoyed sex on my two hands.
          
The morning after than night I wrote in my diary, ”I am dying.  I feel degraded, a whore, a prostitute.”
          
Several months later I wrote, “I hate men and sex.  I hate men and sex.  It occurred to me that all the men in my life have been like the men who raped me.  It mattered less to them, who I was, than that I had the basic asset of all women.  If I had feelings, too bad, that was none of their concern.  I am just a number, a trophy.  If they could cut the insides of me out and hang them on the wall, they would.”
          
Years passed before I told anyone about the rape.  The circumstances hurt too much.  I had agreed to sex.  What could I say?  Ironically, date rape is often more difficult to recover from than stranger rape because it elicits less sympathy and support from others, who often blame the victim.
          
Problems with sex plagued every relationship I had after that and devastated my marriage.
          
My most skilled lover said to me, “Virginia, you’re a cold fish; I can’t move you.”
          
My husband knew about my abuse and rape but still took my dislike of sex personally.  We divorced after eleven years of marriage.
          
I know the "sinful woman".  She is me.  My shame and guilt over sex were so deep, I remained silent, alone, and paralyzed with pain for decades.
          
The Catholic clergy abuse scandal finally galvanized me into seeking treatment.  My children and I were befriended and baptized Catholic by a priest who was later removed as pastor of our parish because he sexually abused boys.  The Church focused more on limiting discussion of the abuse scandal than on promoting healing.  I was left alone with my grief and unanswered questions.  To cope, I delved into the sexual abuse of children by priests and ended up confronting my own past.  I met clergy abuse survivors who encouraged me to seek therapy specifically for the symptoms for abuse and rape.  I also found healing in attending workshops, retreats, in reading books on the various forms of abuse and healing, and in working to help other survivors heal.

I share my story, hoping to encourage others to seek treatment instead of remaining silent and alone with their pain as I did.

© 2010 Virginia Pickles Jones

Future blogs will list my resources for healing:  Lessons I have learned on how to heal, psychological treatment modalities I found helpful, books on healing, and organizations that helped me heal.


You can contact me at compassion500@gmail.com.

Please check out my Facebook at Facebook/Compassionate Gathering.

Please check out my You Tube Channel at Healing Is A Sacred Journey/StopAbuse/HealWounds.



Was the "Sinful Woman" in the Gospel of Luke a Child Sex Abuse Survivor?

A woman enters the house of Simon, the Pharisee, and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair while he dines.  Her story is told in the Gospel of Luke (7:36-50).

Simon remarks to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

Jesus hears Simon and rebukes him with a parable about two debtors owing money to the creditor.  The creditor forgives both debts.  Jesus asks Simon which debtor is more grateful.  Simon correctly understands that the debtor owing more money is more grateful.  The parable is normally understood to illustrate the power of God’s forgiveness of sin.  As a survivor of sexual abuse, I think there is an untold story in this Bible passage -- the story of Jesus’ feeling special compassion for the losses and pain endured by abuse survivors.

Many people assume that the sinful woman is a prostitute.  Her sin of sex outside marriage makes her unclean and unfit to touch a man, especially a priestly man.  Scientific studies show a strong correlation between childhood sexual abuse and prostitution.  One study found that adults who were sexually abused as children are almost 28 times as likely to be arrested for prostitution as adults who were not abused. (1)  Another qualitative study of female prostitutes found that 63% of participants reported being sexually molested as children. (2)

When adults sexualize their relationships with children, the children often grow up learning that their greatest value to others is through sex.   Sometimes the survivors already feel so degraded that deliberately prostituting themselves comes easily.  If such a strong correlation between abuse and prostitution exists today in a time of less stringent social condemnations of moral flaws, then a case could be made that in the time of Jesus, a prostitute was even more likely to be an abuse survivor.  

Particularly in young children, it has been shown that sexual abuse can cause irreversible, biochemical and structural changes in those portions of the brain governing emotion, memory and the body’s reaction to stress.  Medication, therapy, retreats, workshops, conferences and emotional support can help abuse survivors to cope better.  However, many survivors never completely recover.

Perhaps Jesus knew what Simon the Pharisee and his own disciples did not know -- that the sinful woman was a sexual abuse survivor, plagued by feelings of guilt and shame, and condemned by a society completely lacking in compassion for her plight.  In our own era, many abuse survivors are unable to hold steady jobs up to their level of abilities so crippled are they by depression and low self esteem. Indeed, a few survivors turn to prostitution because they find it difficult to earn a living in other ways.

Why wouldn’t there have been such an interpretation written into the Gospel?  Jesus was crucified and gone by the time the Gospels were written down.  Moreover, he would likely have kept the woman's painful secret knowing that revealing it would have resulted in more condemnation and judgement of the woman had it been known.  Two thousand years ago there were no psychiatrists, no psychologists, no social workers working with and studying people who survived abuse.  Understanding of the consequences of childhood sexual abuse simply did not exist.  

But I think there is a lesson for today in the story of the "sinful woman".  Even today, in more enlightened times, many survivors do not receive support and compassion when they come forward.  Can we  treat victims of child sex abuse, sexual assault, date rape, domestic violence, clergy abuse and even prostitutes with the same compassion with which Jesus treated the "sinful woman"?  They all have untold stories we don't know.

Notes:

1.  Widom, Cathy Spatz, “Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse--Later Criminal Consequences.” National Institute of Justice Research in Brief, March 1995.

2.  Dalla, Rochelle L., “Exposing the ‘Pretty Woman’ Myth: A Qualitative Examination of the Lives of Female Prostitutes.”  Journal of Sex Research, Nov. 2000.





© 2010 Virginia Pickles Jones

Virginia Pickles Jones was sexually abused at age four by two teenaged boys and raped on a date at age 22.  She was baptized Catholic in 2002, by a priest who was removed 11 months later when it was revealed that he had sexually abused children.


Contact Virginia at compassion500@gmail.com.

You can visit my Facebook at Facebook/Compassionate Gathering.