When Hugging is the wrong choice

May 4, 2015

tumblr_nnmyqwSENZ1qcwiw9o1_1280A companion told the Messenger of God, peace and blessings to him, “I have ten children and I have never kissed any one of them.” The Messenger of God, peace and blessings to him, looked at him and said: “The one who does not show mercy will not be shown mercy. (1)” I begin with this hadith to make the point that the advice given in this essay applies to those who it applies to. The generality of how we interact with children is the playing, hugging and kissing that the prophet did, peace to him. But in our highly sexualized culture where rape and sexual abuse are common, especially its occurrence within the family it is important to consider the particularities and our place in fighting against being and perpetuating the statistics. For this reason I will begin again with a saying from Imam Malik:

Imam Malik was asked “Should I hug my daughters when I get home?” He said, “Only if the person doesn’t experience any feeling it is fine (8).”

Sexual abuse is a difficult topic and for good reason, it makes us all very uncomfortable. But it’s hard to deny statistics. Sexual abuse rates are astoundingly high in the U.S., including within a family –stepfamilies more predisposed than biological families (4). 1 out of 6 women and 1 out of 33 men have experienced rape or attempted rape in the US (2). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “38% of victims were raped by a friend or acquaintance, 28% by “an intimate” and 7% by another relative, and 26% were committed by a stranger to the victim. About four out of ten sexual assaults take place at the victim’s own home. (3)”

As shocking as these statistics are we can only imagine they are an underrepresentation. Victims are in a double bind. The classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t. When someone is sexual abused there are usually no traces of it on him or her. If they ever tell anyone they have only their word to go on. And once they say anything the violations only continue. What did they do? Why were they there? Or worst they’ll just think the victim is lying. But more than that there is a deep feeling of disgust: the victim with themselves and the world with them. As much as the Western world talks about sex in all its glories sexual abuse is a great taboo and rarely treated with the attention it deserves. Something that’s suppose to be pleasurable wasn’t, it was disgusting. And people have a hard time grappling with that conundrum. Even victims themselves may sometimes feel confusion. They know they didn’t want what happened to happen but in the act their biology took over and this act, this act that God has made a gratifying means of producing the human species was in that moment, enjoyable (5). This isn’t true for all sexual abuse victims but it is true for some. And this leads to further confusion. Sexual abuse is one of the worst violation to one’s humanness. The sexual act is supposed to be mutual but instead in rape, it is forced.

One of my favorite psychoanalytical essays is one by Ferenczi, a psychology scholar who was belittled by Freud (the founder of modern Western psychology) and only recently came back to life in some circles, he spoke about sexual abuse (specifically child abuse) in a way that plays in to the reality of the experience for many victims. He called his essay, ‘Confusion of Tongues’. A child likes to spend time with their stepparent –for example, they like to cuddle with him and talk to him, and they love his attention. If the stepparent sees the child’s act not in a childish manner but in a sexual manner and reacts in a sexualized adult way they violates the child. But the child does not know this. All they know is confusion. They know they wanted attention, love and care, but what kind of care? Something within them knows what happened is wrong but something within them also wonders if this is what love, caring and intimacy between child and adult should be. They have no grounds by which to base right and wrong in a black and white manner. A sense of shame tells them sexual acts shouldn’t occur between adults and children, a desire for attention leaves them feeling they brought it on themselves.

As much as I’m influenced by Freud’s work I find it hard to over look his decision to abandon the seduction theory (In the plainest language seduction theory suggested that adults developed innumerable/ varied problems in adulthood as a result of sexual abuse by adults in their childhood). It is a mystery why he did. People were coming to him with complaints of child abuse. Instead of looking further at these complaints he concluded they were too many to be true and abandoned the theory. He then went on to explain these memories and complaints as unconscious wishes that all of humanity shares. His famous Oedipus complex is based on Oedipal, from the Grecian myth –a boy who (unknowingly) kills his father and marries his mother. This, he went on to assume, was the nature of all men. Men –boys wanted to marry their mothers and destroy their fathers but because their father might kill them they would distinguish their wishes and hope to merely marry someone like their mother.

One of my favorite case studies is of Freud’s, mostly because of the detail in which he describes the case, a rare fortune to peek in to the clinicians’ room. Her father’s friend has seduced the woman seeking help. Throughout the case Freud attempts to convince Anna she did indeed desire this older married man. Only in reading it a second time in graduate school –I first read it in undergraduate, did I realize how twisted this case was. This women being seduced by a man she took comfort in as an uncle- like figure is being convinced she must have really wanted him. His approach to her was only an extension of the very dangerous theory he felt so app to hold on to: Blame the victim, they wanted it.

And this is true for so many sexual victims with or with out the aid of another. A deep sense of guilt resides. They question themselves: what did I do wrong? Out of all the people or all the children why did they pick me? I cringe when I hear public indictments of rape or molestation. I cringe because I know the publication of it won’t bring the victim any freedom. The public will debate their story; their character is often defamed and worse is the accusations that they had some part in it. There’s nothing heroic about being a survivor of sexual abuse except that maybe for once and all the abuser pays.

But what do they pay with? A few years in jail? Is that any compensation for the victim’s misery? For a child who was abused? For an adult who was violated? One of the most horrid effects of sexual abuse is that it puts in to your mind the possibility. Suddenly the world becomes a place where people can and do harm others sexually. Suddenly the people closest to you, the one’s you’re suppose to trust, can take advantage of you. Not as a theory but really and actually.

tumblr_nn5gcxma9T1u6l40do1_500One of the worse places for a rapist or molester to be is jail. Of all the rotten crimes one could commit, of all the low lives that live behind the cell, he is seen as the lowest of the low. The filth of the world, a scum, a disgusting excuse for a human being. All well deserved. But we all know the facts; many of those rotten low lives were once abused themselves. Someone has to show you the world is a rotten place before you can show anyone else. You had to be violated before you knew it was an option.

When that abuse takes place in a family they violate not only one’s morality but also one’s humanity. Adults don’t have sex with children, especially their own. It’s rooted in our biology. Incest breeds not only disgust but also disease. It is also why you’ll find it more commonly takes place in stepfamilies (4). Biologically men merely trust their wives that the children they give birth to are his. He also has calculations he can make to reassure him but there will always be a distance between him and the child. The mother knows they are her children, she gave birth to them. In a connected family this is all ok. The husband takes care of children not only as a biological duty but also as an extension of his love and commitment to the wife; it also makes him less likely to harm them.

Not so for a stepfamily. In Martin Daly’s book, The Truth About Cinderella, he states that children are far more likely to be abused by stepparents than their own parents. With all things being equal people care about their own children a lot more than someone else’s. I can only imagine how much higher sexual abuse is now, with men and women jumping in and out of marriage. And so people learn that trusts and bodies can be violated and they (sometimes) go on to do it to others. Society’s answer is to throw them behind bars and they are psychologists’ worst patients but they like anyone else learned hard- wired patterns and possibilities for living.

When you’re a victim of sexual abuse the most empowering thing you can do is not abuse someone else. Don’t just go through life trying to put it in the past. Use it as a reminder to never harm anyone else. When you’re a victim you learn sexual abuse is an option. You don’t think it’s ok, you know it’s not but it’s there as a part of your life story. If you just let it sit there it may become a part of your life story on the other end. How many drunks had drunk parents? How many losers have low life parents? The patterns and paths and habits of living that we experience are a part of us if we don’t actively acknowledge them we may end up repeating them.

Scream as loud as you can to the highest authorities. Don’t let your abuser get away with their crimes, if you have the strength to do so. But if you don’t, don’t feel weak and discouraged remember no matter how many years they could spend in jail it will never remove the pain. The only way to remove the pain is to use it as a means to not hurt someone else. Teach someone else how to live a meaningful life post- abuse. Acknowledge how disgusting you feel but know it’s not your fault. Even if you are a drunken woman bare-naked in the middle of the night, no one has a right to violate you. Or if you were a young boy looking for your step dad’s attention, no has a right to violate you.

I will only give a bit of advice I‘m sure most of which is meaningless because I know it’s never the victims’ fault and I know abusers abuse. If you’re a woman, be safe. Society wants to tell you that you’re as free as men so you should go out late, wear whatever you want and act however you want but you know that isn’t true. We don’t live in a society (America and elsewhere) where women are equal to men. If you dress attractively, men get aroused most won’t act on it, some will. Are you going to dress however you want knowing that the more attractive you dress the more men stare and the stronger the possibility that someone will act? Women out at night just aren’t safe. Be out with friends or family and try to get in before the sky turns black. Walk in places with light and carry something you know how to use against an attacker (i.e. mace or whatever you like). If you’re getting remarried consider having your children live with their biological father. Especially in they’re younger years where knowledge of right and wrong are blurred. And be on their side. I’ve heard too many stories where children report sexual abuse and their biological parent chooses their spouse over their own child. Choose your child even if it leaves you spouse-less. What kind of person are you creating if you don’t?

Sex with children isn’t ok. This was actually a public announcement in the states not too long ago. The same western society that is repulsed by a man marrying a nine years old (hundreds of years ago when such an act was the norm, and the act was marriage not forced sex, essay on this to come) is the same society where there is such thing called ‘child pornography’. Children are not sexual objects. If their behavior seems sexual know that you have a problem. Don’t get confused. Get help but do yourself and the children around you a favor and don’t put yourself in situations where abuse is an option. If you have these feelings, especially if you’re a family member, don’t ever agree to babysit children alone, never be in a closed room with a child, and avoid affection. Better to seem like a jerk than to be an abuser.

An Imam who raised his daughter to be a scholar in her own right was known to never look at her. When asked about it he said, “as a child I feared to look at her bed crib and it became habitual”. These feeling of sexual attraction towards children are real and disgusting but they are only painful to the other party when acted on. This Imam, however cruel he may have seemed to outsiders, knew something wasn’t right in him towards his daughter. And so he loved her through teaching her but he averted his eyes as the only way he knew to not harm her (6).

Because of the political correctness of our times it’s hard to question the root of a person’s promiscuity or homosexuality. I was once in a psychoanalytical class and we were discussing a case of a homosexual promiscuous man. As a child he was abused and his father was also promiscuous (with women). I asked the instructor about what I thought was the obvious link. Here’s this man who grew up with a promiscuous father and was abused by a man at a young age, is this not a connection to his present state? He agreed with me than quickly brushed off my statement saying, “We don’t want to think of his homosexuality as a mental illness”. What a hopeless state. Sure I don’t agree with the act of homosexuality because I am a Muslim. But in that moment I wasn’t judging him morally, I was worried about why he’d become who he’d become.

How many men turn to homosexuality because they were abused? (“…under 4 percent of boys are molested by men, a recent major study found that the rate of childhood molestation by men among homosexual or bisexual men was nearly ten times that (35 percent). It is also notable that 75 percent of homosexual men report their first homosexual experience prior to the age of sixteen, as compared to 22 percent of heterosexual men reporting their first heterosexual experience (7)). Or how many women turn to promiscuity for the same reason? Telling people to keep living their lives however they like and have a good time creates an environment where people are forced to suffer with their demons alone because no one is allowed to judge their sexual behavior as a link to some horrendous incidents of their past. This man goes to a psychologist and never really gets to reflect on the way being abused changed the course of his life to make him the man he’d become. We slip it under the rug because everyone’s suppose to have sexual freedom but really only victimize him more, never acknowledging the hurt of a little boy who was a sexually violated.

Everyday countless people are violated and those people become adults, some will violate others. Everyday our past affects us. If we’re not willing to keep our abuse painfully at the forefront so we can bare it and instead of being merely affected by it and effect change by it, we are doing ourselves a great disservice. It won’t simply go away if we turn a blind eye to it. Be vigilant against the ghosts of the past and take care not to become a ghost in someone else’s past.

  1. http://www.islamicfinder.org/articles/article.php?id=112&lang
  2. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/172837.pdf
  3. http://www.bjs.gov
  4. http://www.cep.ucsb.edu/buller/cinderella%20effect%20facts.pdf
  5. http://kevinsartain.com/aps/confusion-of-the-tongues-between-the-adults-and-the-childe28094the-language-of-tenderness-and-of-passion.pdf
  6. http://www.sakeenah.org/LearningResources/files/Family_And_Society_Part_14.mp3
  7. http://www.citizenlink.com/2010/06/17/childhood-sexual-abuse-and-male-homosexuality/
  8. http://www.sakeenah.org/LearningResources/files/Family_And_Society_Part_15.mp3




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