When Sexual Violence Goes Public, an essay by Michael Watson, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC

Regular Wednesday Writing Prompts will resume on January 3, 2018. This thoughtful piece is shared here with Michael’s permission. It was originally published on his blog, Dreaming the World.

Well, the weather turned warm again, with a bit of rain; now the temperature is dropping slowly and there are hints of blue through the overcast. There are rumors of a snowstorm next week and more before Christmas. We shall see.

Here in North America we tend to forget how pervasive sexual violence is, and how retraumatizing public conversations about sexual abuse and harassment can be for victims of sexual crimes.

This was brought home to me again yesterday while speaking with a colleague in Boston. She works with severely traumatized individuals and spoke about her clients’ experiences of retraumatization due to the recent flood of sexual assault accusations against prominent men. We agreed the resulting, much-needed, public discussion about sexual assault has resulted in a cascade of memories and fear for our clients. This adds to the retraumatization caused by the behavior of government officials who seem Hell-bent on glamorizing sexual assault while destroying the social framework. We also agreed we are experiencing much increased anxiety as we try to understand how to provide some sense of safety to our clients and ourselves in an increasingly difficult social environment.

Not surprisingly, our culture’s focus on sexual assaults and intimidation by males has felt isolating for clients who were abused or harassed by women. Somehow we as a society appear to have once again lost sight of the uncomfortable fact that women can also be abusive. Perhaps there is less attention to assaults by women simply because abuse and harassment at the hands of women appears to be underreported in general. In addition, men, particularly, report experiencing more shame when speaking of being abused by women and are, thus, more reticent to report being assaulted.

The sad truth is that people of all genders are capable of harming others when given the opportunity. Further, such abuses become more frequent when openly, or tacitly, accepted by communities. I’m sure we will hear much more about sexual abuse by persons with power in the days to come. How we respond is crucial.

© 2017, Michael Watson, essay and photograph, All rights reserved


Michael Watson

MICHAEL WATSON, LCMHC (Dreaming the World) is a poet of the spirit, if not of the pen, and a contributing editor to The BeZine, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent.

Michael lives and works in Burlington, Vermont,where he is retired from his teaching position in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College. He was once Dean of Students there. He also had wonderful experiences teaching in India and Hong Kong, which he’s documented on his blog, Dreaming the World. In childhood Michael had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.


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