Traumatic Sexualization: The Reality

Dedicated in honor of the girl that was KT and the woman she will be.

In a landmark article, Summit (1983) discussed a typical pattern of experiences by childhood sexual abuse survivors. I would submit that many adult survivors have experienced some or all aspects of Childhood Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome.

One aspect of the Childhood Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome is Traumatic Sexualization. There is where the persuasive offender, who is beloved and trusted by the victim, slowly sexualizes the relationship. This is often labeled “love.”

The victim may have acute psychosocial human needs that may not have been adequately met for a multitude of reasons. We, humans, are needy creatures… the need for connection, love, attachment, affirmation, nurture, parenting, wisdom, direction, encouragement as well as endless practical needs. The persuasive offender takes the time to “know” the victim’s need.

The victim often comes to love, trust, and need the persuasive offender. Unwittingly consuming the narcotic of grooming, the victim has no idea of the offenders nefarious intent. By the time the offender has made his first sexual overt sexual move, he is virtually guaranteed unfettered access.

The victim typically understands the relationship in view of their lower estate, believing wrongly that the offender has her best interest in mind. The power differential makes consent impossible. ex. mentor/mentee, father/child, cleric/congregant, teacher/student, parent/child, coach/athlete, employer/employee etc.

The persuasive offender takes the time to gain the trust with the victim before he traumatically sexualizes the relationship, by preying on the legitimate human needs and hunger of the victim. This is a form of interpersonal violence, a source of trauma, and searing shame for the victim.

The victim may feel complicit because she held love for the offender. In some cases, the pre-abuse grooming/sexual abuse proper may have been the only food her hunger has ever known. Those human hungers do not go away they go underground.

Victims often struggle with several sources of betrayal/shame:

1. for needing connection in the first place
2. for struggling with the loss of the connection she thought she/he had
3. for the fact that it was “all a sham”
4. that his/her body responded
5. that his/her human needs won’t go away

Traumatic sexualization is a difficult aspect of sexual abuse, processed by each victim in different ways. The following things may be helpful:

1. Accept the very human need for care and connection and find ways to meet that safely while protecting the self from exploitation.

2. Work hard to normalize the reality of the human biological response that you may have had to grooming and traumatic sexualization. Utterly refuse to accept shame for being eaten. You were hungry and had a reasonable expectation of food. Instead, you were eaten.

3. Recognize that while you may “miss” aspects of the abusive relationship, those are the parts where you felt the very HUMAN need for love, connection and comfort were being filled. Approach your humanity with “compassionate inquiry,” not hatred and self-loathing.

4. Place the blame and shame squarely where it belongs – the offender. Outraged? You should be. But not at you, not at your need, not at your biology – at HIM. You are a person who sees weakness and protects it. He is a person who sees weakness and preys upon it.

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