I’ve been thinking about the messages we grow up with. Messages that are verbal, but are delivered like a warning. Oh you know the messages; our parents shake their heads in wonder and disappointment about the youth in our society. Sitting around the dinner table talking about girls that wear certain types of clothing, and calling them tramps or sluts. “No wonder she got pregnant” “If she keeps dressing like that she’s going to get raped.” These messages work their way into our belief system in such a way that if we do get assaulted, we have this little niggling suspicion that it might have been our own fault.
We easily accept the message that our clothing can send such a wrong message that we deserve to be assaulted against our will. We hear these messages everywhere; through movies, youth groups, from peers; they are all over our society. These types of messages can really haunt a girl for the rest of her life if she is assaulted, raped, or taken advantage of in any way against her will before OR after she has heard all this information. It is as though she has been warned that if she chooses the wrong clothing, or chooses a style that does not meet with approval then she will be violated and even worse than that, it is her own fault. The so called wrong clothing styles don’t even have to be defined and often aren’t. These conversations plant the wrong seeds.
Through all this we also get the message that our bodies are not our own, that we somehow make a choice to be diminished into some sort of sex object; that we have no rights and we don’t know why. We have no way to understand why, if we have been raised with these false messages.
Boys are sitting around that same dinner table. They somehow get the message that girls deserve this devaluing treatment if they wear certain things and boys can even decide that they are not responsible for their own behaviour; that the girl asked for it. And even worse, if a boy grows up to believe this stuff, and he finds out that his wife was sexually molested or raped, he may begin to wonder what the heck SHE did to ask for it. This is a result of how his belief system was formed. Imagine the devastation that a woman feels when her own husband doubts her.
So imagine what happens when a girl confides to someone that she was raped, and that someone asks her what she was wearing? How does she feel about herself if there is or has been in the past a discussion and judgement of girls who wear make-up, low cut sweaters, sexy boots, tight jeans or short skirts? What happens to her self esteem when sex is forced on her against her will and she thinks even in the back of her mind that she may have done something that caused it? Can you imagine what happens when her family even hints that it must have had something to do with her? When we hear about another girl who raped or molested, carless remarks like “well I saw that coming” just affirm the already false belief system that has developed in so many of us.
As I said earlier, there are many ways that we come to believe that abuse inflicted on us is deserved, asked for and we come to own the shame and blame. Oh and one more important point; because of how all this works, the girl may have been wearing a baggy track suit; it won’t make any difference because the underlying belief that has been drilled into her mind is that it is her fault; that she must have done something to attract this violation.
Is it any wonder why we eventually end up struggling with depression, low self esteem, feelings of uselessness, guilt and shame, when we have been taught in very subtle ways, that if we get violated, we must have deserved it?
With all the best intentions, Darlene Ouimet
Note: This is just one point highlighting how a woman can come to accept that abuse might be her own fault. I will highlight many others as I continue with this blog.
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