Sexual abuse

Issue 

By Paul Whyte

The effects of sexual abuse are a great personal tragedy for each of us. We have much to gain from breaking its hold over ourselves, our relationships and society.

Everyone freezes with shame and horror when someone talks about sexual abuse of any kind. But some people have spoken up, and an increasing number are seeking assistance in the recovery from sexual abuse. Mostly it has been women speaking up publicly against rape, a key to women's liberation.

Sexual abuse begins in early childhood and is perpetrated against both sexes by both sexes. It's also clear that people act out the sexual abuse on others that began as abuse to them in their early childhoods. Often this is occluded by terror or shame and guilt.

Even though society supports perpetuation of sexual abuse in many different ways, it is up to each one of us to claim full personal responsibility, to see that our part in this ends with us and that we organise the needed time and attention to relieve the effects on each of us.

Most of the work has been done in women's groups. Making men's work in this area public is important to get a full understanding of the situation.

The sexual and physical abuse of small children has had an awful lot to do with the failure of millions to function as humans. As adults we carry the tension of sexual abuse in all sorts of ways through our lives. As men, we have key missing pieces that need to become public knowledge to interrupt the contagion of this abuse and enable recovery.

Society is so confused and distorted in this area that everyone's basic needs for closeness and sexuality have been bent out of shape by it. Sex and sexual abuse play a very different role in relation to the oppression of women and men.

Sexual abuse is a tool of the oppression of women. Rape is the extreme case, but sexism can also be acted out in many other ways in sexual encounters between men and women.

The denial of closeness and caring is a key feature of male oppression. Thus sex, especially when it is combined with these elements, looks to many men like their only opportunity to get caring and closeness in the face of the isolation of men's oppression. Because of this, sex can take on a more desperate "importance" to men, whether or not there is any real

closeness or caring in the situation.

Men have been encouraged to fantasise about the perfect sexual encounter as a specific distraction from the isolation necessary to keep our oppression in place. Thus, a compulsive interest in sex plays a key role in keeping men isolated and thereby more able to play an oppressive role towards others.

It keeps us from creating the close, caring relationships we actually want. In addition, males are made to feel that they are bad for being male, for having sexual distresses, and especially for ever having acted them out. We often feel that we must protect others from ourselves. This makes it particularly difficult for many men to recover in this area. We can make the start easier for each other by beginning this work with other supportive men.
Paul Whyte is secretary of the Sydney Men's Network.