Tammy Schultz and Hannah Estabrook: The Only Person Responsible for Sexual Violence Is the Perpetrator

In the movie Good Will Hunting, there is a poignant scene in which Will (Matt Damon) talks with his therapist Sean (Robin Williams) while Sean cradles Will’s counseling file. The folder is jammed with gruesome pictures of injuries Will experienced at the hands of his alcoholic dad.

Sean quietly declares that the pictures exposing Will’s brutally beaten body were not his fault but Will quickly dismisses Sean’s statement and remarks that he knows that already. Yet Sean sees through Will’s veneer of disregard and continues to proclaim Will’s innocence.

Will suddenly erupts in anger as he backs away from Sean, but eventually Sean’s words seem to penetrate his soul and he begins to weep as Sean embraces him. Yet, even though Sean repeatedly tells Will that the abuse was not his fault, Will cries out three seemingly perplexing words: “I’m so sorry” (Schultz & Estabrook, 2012).

What incited Will’s words? Why was he sorry?

In a different culture, in a different time, penned on the pages of Scripture, Tamar, the daughter of King David, who was on the precipice of being raped by her half-brother Amnon, cried, “Where could I get rid of my disgrace?” (2 Sam.13:13).

Discussions about this deeply felt sense of disgrace or shame that survivors frequently experience regarding the violence done to them are resurfacing through the #MeToo movement and the sundry of sexual violence stories perpetrated by both male and female clergy who victimize girls, boys, women, and men within sacred places.

However, the question remains: Why are people who are sexually violated and victimized sorry about what was done to them?

The reasons for the self-condemning experience of shame among victims of sexual violence are myriad (Feiring & Taska, 2005). Shame is a common, complex, and deeply self-conscious emotion engendering a sense of feeling dirty, damaged, and defective which prompt individuals to want to flee from the gaze of others.

While no two survivors of sexual violence react in the same way, many female victims of sexual violence believe there was something too feminine or too sexy that caused the abuse, whereas male victims frequently believe that there was something not masculine enough to stave off the violation.

This is only multiplied when the narrative on Twitter, the school gossip line, or the national news is about what she was wearing or how she was being flirtatious. Statements and questions that center on what a victim of sexual violence did or did not do imply that their actions made them responsible, at least in part, for being violated or failing to prevent the violence.

It does not help when he is criticized for being affectionate with his male friends or embodying more traditionally “feminine” qualities. In both scenarios, individuals are blaming themselves and/or being blamed for causing something when they were the victim of a crime.

So, if it is not crystal clear, let us be emphatic: The sole individual responsible for sexual violence is the perpetrator.

Shame is so prevalent among trauma survivors that recent revisions to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(American Psychiatric Association, 2013) included the addition of negative alterations in cognitions and moods as a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (e.g. exaggerated blame of self) (Donde, 2017).

This pervasive shame experience among sexual violence survivors is understood more fullythrough the abuse dichotomy whereby individuals come to accept sexual offenses as deserved (Briere, 1992).

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Source: Christianity Today