Sexual Exploitation and Vulnerable Women's Fantasies
Often in my practice a new patient comes in with a distorted perception of the sexual exploitation in her life. She may have a stalker. She may have a boyfriend or husband who manipulates and uses her sexually. Sometimes she knows it and is afraid. Sometimes she knows it and feels ashamed she can't live up to his expectations.
Sometimes she is proud that she is so special, strong, or stoic that she can give th exploiter the experiences they wants. Sometimes she feels and believes that their joy in her uninhibited cries of pain creates a special and wondrous bond between them that no other woman could possible fulfill.
After many years of working with adult women who have eating disorders, I am, sadly, accustomed to working through this painful and bewildering way of living with the client before me. Most of the time she believes that any problem that might exist is due to a fault in her. She may not even know that she is often raped. It may not occur to her tht she sets herself up, unknowingly, innocently, to sexual exploitation.
Comparing Women with Eating Disorders To Sexually Vulnerable Children
Dr. Prince describes how parents can recognize the signals of a sexual predator with sexual exploitation designs on their children. She also describes how the predator grooms the young victim, what makes a child vulnerable to the sexual exploitation and why the child may not expose the activity.
I was struck by how similar her description is to what I see in many of my adult woman patients who have an eating disorder.
Dr. Prince has written, in my opinion, a most accurate description of what can happen to sexually molested children. I am particularly taken with the section on parental safety precautions. Many adult women who have not yet worked their way to eating disorder recovery are just as vulnerable to sexual exploitation as the children she describes.
Innocence that Leaves a Woman Vulnerable to Sexual Exploitation
These women do not perceive the difference between relationship building and "being groomed" for sexual exploitation.
They, like the children, feel guilt, shame and fear and are reluctant to tell a trustworthy person in their lives what is happening to them. They do not have the capability to recognize a trustworthy person. Their first experience in trusting someone who actually earned their trust often is their therapist.
This is why I am so very angry when a psychotherapist betrays that trust with sexual exploitation, behavior or seduction of any kind, with a patient.
These adult women look like adults. They are old enough to be adults. They are expected to have adult resources and be able to protect themselves.
But they have some solid healing and recovery in them, they are as vulnerable as children to sexual exploitation as Dr. Prince describes.
What's more, these women have an additional burden to carry. They hold the shame, fear and guilt as does the child. They carry the secret of the experience, as does the child. But the adult woman also carries the knowledge that she is pretending to be an adult. She is wearing a façade of strength and maturity that people believe. She presents a picture of a woman who knows how to take care of herself, is fun and free and not available for sexual eploitation. She looks far more mature and competent than she is, and she knows it.
And, of course, she has no adult parent caring for her and protecting her the way a fortunate child may have because the woman is well over 21.
In fact the adults closest to her may themselves be the carrying on the sexual exploitation..
When such a woman enters my practice we work through her emotional, historical and developmental issues. How to recognize and protect herself from sexual exploitation is a part of the recovery work we do together.