Secondary wounding

I didn’t know there was a name for secondary wounding until I joined an internet forum not too long ago and saw it mentioned. It’s really nice that I’m finally able to put a name to it.

What is secondary wounding in a nutshell? The cruel, ignorant, or insensitive things people say when they find out you were abused. For example: you tell your friend or family member what happened, and they tell you they don’t believe you, they think you’re too sensitive or an attention whore, they say that the sexual assault you suffered was your fault for wearing revealing clothes or getting drunk, or they tell you it wasn’t that bad and you need to just get over it. It’s very common for children to get called liars when they disclose that they are being molested–I cannot imagine the pain that leads to. And people also don’t understand why those in abusive relationships don’t just up and leave their partner right away, not understanding how they trap you financially and mentally wear you down so it’s very hard to leave. Well-meaning people often make minimizing statements out of their sheer ignorance of trauma, because it can be hard for them to grasp that it’s not something you can snap your fingers and “get over” in an instant. Believe me, if we could easily get over it we would! I have even found that some people with a trauma history of their own exhibit a poor understanding of how trauma affects other people and show little empathy. And of course, some people will minimize abuse deliberately. In some cases, this is how they avoid taking responsibility for their part in it.

As I’m doing more research on secondary wounding, most of what I’m finding applies to rape/sexual abuse survivors. But I think it can happen to people who’ve been through all of the other kinds of abuse, too: emotional, spiritual, physical, psychological, and bullying. And I believe those who’ve been through emotional abuse are especially at risk, because so many people think emotional abuse is normal and nothing to get upset about, and that it was only abuse if you were beaten up with closed fists.

Secondary wounding by various well-meaning people has really hindered my progress in healing, created a lot of anger, and made me feel like less of a person. I have been told that I should be grateful that at least my rapist wasn’t beating me up, that I shouldn’t have “let” him sexually assault me, and also that the verbal abuse wouldn’t have happened if only I was more confident and had stood up for myself. In my experience, trying to stand up for myself only made verbally abusive types angrier and more determined to win the fight. While I was being bullied as a child and adolescent, I got told that this was happening to me as a consequence for not being “positive” enough and frowning too much, even though I don’t think any forced facial expression would have made a difference in how much I was tormented. I have also gotten minimizing statements implying that I’m deliberately “hanging on” to my pain from the past and because it was years ago, I need to not discuss that sad old stuff from long ago. My partner, who was sexually abused as a child and could not tell anyone until adulthood because he knew that as a child he would’ve been accused of lying, has also suffered terrible secondary wounding. For instance, a person in his family told him stories about little girls making false sexual abuse allegations (hinting that he was making it up), and then accused him of being attracted to his abuser for money. I think we both harbor about as much anger over the various instances of secondary wounding as we do over the primary abuse.

More information about secondary wounding in the context of sexual abuse can be found on Aphrodite Wounded and Pandora’s Project for those who are interested.

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Common misconceptions about rape

Even with all the progress in spreading awareness, our culture is still brimming with misconceptions about rape. These myths tend to involve heavy victim-blaming and are insulting to all genders. The misconceptions lead to secondary wounding and the survivors of rape/sexual assault not being taken seriously.

I was surprised by just how many myths and misconceptions I can think of off the top of my head. Here is a list (may trigger for victim-blaming attitudes):

  • It isn’t rape if the victim didn’t physically put up a fight. By not struggling and hitting, the person consented. (Fact: submission does not equal consent–under situations of coercion, manipulation, intimidation, or duress, people will often be too afraid to fight.)
  • Men are entitled to sex from their wives and girlfriends on demand, regardless of whether they say yes or are in the mood. Once a woman has already had sex with a man, he’s free to have sex with her whenever he wants.
  • A married man can’t rape his wife. By agreeing to marry him, the wife gives up her right to say no.
  • Most rapes are committed by freaky strangers jumping out of the bushes in the middle of the night, and there is little risk of it happening at the hands of family, friends, dates, and acquaintances. (The opposite is actually true! Stranger rape definitely does happen, but about two-thirds of rapists already know their victims: source.)
  • All rapists are obviously mentally ill. You can pick out a rapist by their appearance and behavior.
  • Prostitutes can’t be raped and cannot say no. If you’ve paid a prostitute for sex, that gives you free license to do whatever you want.
  • Men cannot be expected to control their sexual urges, especially around attractive, seductive, or scantily clad women. It’s only natural that a guy in that situation would do whatever it takes to get laid.
  • If a woman leads a man on and gets him turned on, then she has withdrawn her right to change her mind and say no. So if he rapes her, she was asking for it by initially showing interest.
  • Some types of rape are really pretty mild and not that bad, and people just need to get over them.
  • Men cannot be raped; it is something that only happens to women, and men are the only attackers. A woman can’t rape a man. (Oh, yes, men can be raped by other women and men. And rapes happen outside of the conventional gender binary, too. Really, anybody could sexually assault anybody.)
  • Men who are in prison deserve to be raped by inmates as part of the punishment for their crime.
  • If a person gets raped while wearing a sexy outfit, out alone at night, alone with their date, drunk, or on drugs, then they should’ve expected it and should take responsibility. Rape is a natural consequence of putting yourself in a vulnerable position, and it’s your fault if you let it happen.
  • “Good girls” with good reputations don’t get raped.
  • Only physically attractive girls and women are at risk of being raped.
  • One that’s been popular with politicians lately: women rarely get pregnant from rape. Their bodies sense when a rape is happening and their reproductive systems shut down.
  • Many rape accusations are false. Vengeful women love to accuse men of rape to ruin their reputations. (False accusations happen, but it’s much rarer than people think.)
  • Women just love to give mixed signals. When they say no, they really mean yes.
  • Nearly all rapes get reported, and rapists will be sent to prison. (According to the RAINN statistics, over half of sexual assaults don’t get reported, and very few rapists end up behind bars.)
  • It’s only rape if a penis is forcibly put in a vagina. (Oral, anal, and digital rape are some of the other forms of rape possible.)

If anyone can think of other misconceptions (and I’m sure they are endless), feel free to comment!

Victim-blaming and the Law of Attraction

I was going to lump this into another post about victim-blaming, but I think this opinion rant deserves its own post. I’m about respecting other people’s belief systems when possible. But I can’t help but feel triggered and angered by The Secret, a.k.a. The Law of Attraction. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s a New Age belief that we attract everything that happens to us, good or bad, depending on the kinds of thoughts we think and the energy they generate. For example, if a person wants a new job, if they think lots of positive thoughts about getting that job then the universe will draw it to them, “manifesting” the job.

I think the reverse side of the Secret coin is very offensive and dangerous to abuse survivors and others, for that matter… the belief that your thoughts not only attract the good things that happen to you, but the bad things, and that the state of our lives is the reality we created ourselves. Some strong believers in this system include abuse in the things we attract. I think this is a pretty offensive form of victim-blaming that promotes not only invalidating comments from others blaming us for what happened, but terrible guilt and shame for the person who’s been abused or who has fallen on hard times, thinking they must have thought too negatively, worried too much, or done something wrong to “attract” this to themselves. Not only does this victim-blaming make me angry, but it simply doesn’t make sense. Who sits around thinking, “I want to be raped!” Or “I want to be in a terrible bus accident!” or “I want an unexpected natural disaster to happen!” If it’s true that we attracted everything that’s ever happened to us, what about people who were abused early in life, for one example? Did they want it? Did they themselves “create the reality” of abusive caregivers? Of course not, and it’s incredibly offensive to blame the child. There are numerous other examples of abuse and natural disasters and financial problems that the person did not think about or wish upon themselves before it happened. And countless others of us who are in life circumstances that are less than ideal. For instance, I really wish I had a job right now. I was trying to stay positive about a particular job opportunity and a rejection letter from that job just landed in my email inbox. If the Law of Attraction really worked, think how many more of us would be rich by now.

Victim-blaming aside, I think the Law of Attraction also creates a breeding ground for anxiety and shame. If you’re trying to think positive in order to manifest what you want, and any “negative” thoughts creep into your head, as they inevitably will from time to time, it may possibly lead to a cycle of obsessing, fear, and beating yourself up. And I imagine it must be hard for a person struggling with depression to keep all their thoughts positive for fear of generating negative energy and manifesting bad things.

The Law of Attraction is scientifically unproven. But, so are a lot of other things. There is nothing wrong with positive thinking, certainly. Often it spurs positive, proactive behavior to help us reach our goals. But if you sit passively and do nothing, you’re much less likely to reach your goals. Some self-help techniques that promote positive thinking and positive action without the victim-blaming can be found here, as well as some more commentary on what makes the Law of Attraction belief system harmful.