Sexual Exploitation of Adult Women with Eating Disorders


Sexual Exploiters and Vulnerable Women's Fantasies

Often in my practice a new patient comes in with a distorted perception of the sexual exploition 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. And sometimes she is proud that she is so special, strong, or stoic that she can give him the experiences he wants. Sometimes she feels and believes that his joy in her uninhibited cries of pain creates a special and wondrous bond between them that no other woman could possible fulfill.

To me, after many years of working with adult women who have eating disorders, I am prepared to work through this with the individual woman on the couch across from me in my office. Most of the time she believes that any problem that might exist is due to a fault in her.

Comparing Women with Eating Disorders To Sexually Vulnerable Children

I found a blog post today that can help shed light on this experience. Dr. Paula Prince, a clinical and forensic psychologist in Beverly Hills, CA wrote, "Recognizing Child Sexual Predators, Protecting Your Children."

In her article she describes how parents can recognize the signals of a sexual predator with designs on their children. She also describes how the predator grooms the young victim, what makes a child vulnerable and why the child may not expose the activity.

I was struck by how similar her description was 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 as the children she describes.

Innocence that Leaves a Woman Defenseless

These women do not perceive the difference between "dating" and "being groomed" for 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. Often, sadly, they do not have the capability to recognize a trustworthy person. Their first experience in trusting someone who actually earned their trust is their therapist.

This is why I am so very angry when a psychotherapist betrays that trust with sexual 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 until they have some solid healing and recovery in them, they are as vulnerable as the children Dr. Prince describes.

What's more, they 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 facade that people believe. 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 exploiters.

When such a woman enters my practice, working through her emotional, historical and developmental issues so she can recognize and protect herself from sexual predators is a part of the recovery work we do together.


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