The news coverage of Ray Rice brutally beating his fiancee unconscious has brought back a flood of memories for me. I was a teen in the 60’s and fought long and hard, alongside other courageous women, to win basic rights. Our right to be treated at least as well as animals does not seem to apply to celebrities who can beat a woman to a pulp and get a mere slap on the hand. In the mid 90’s (not so very long ago) Joe Biden in the Senate, and Barbara Boxer in the House of Representatives, sponsored the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The bill, written by Biden’s office with input from multiple grassroots and advocacy organizations and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994. Unfortunately in a society in which women are less than, where their value is not as great as men’s, they will continue to suffer physical violence and abuse. Guest author Diane Strickland has written a moving and important piece on this topic that I feel should be copied and displayed on every refrigerator in America. Thank you Diane.
Since the video of Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice punching his then fiancé unconscious in an elevator started making the rounds, there’s been some interesting discussion going on. Some of it we have heard before, but there are some new strong voices speaking sanity into the insanity of a cultural privilege for male violence. This is encouraging in the face of a resilient misogyny.
For me, one of those new voices was from Jackson Katz, creator of a gender violence prevention and education program entitled Mentors in Violence Prevention. I didn’t know about his initiative and was encouraged to learn about it. I believe it was Katz who, in the face of so much criticism of the female victim, asked us to consider whether we could believe Ray Rice would not be a violent abuser if he was with a woman other than Janay. In other words, the focus on her is the wrong focus.
It was in that question that I connected this episode to the misogyny we face as partners of sex addicts/compulsive/predators*. The prevailing treatment model makes exactly the same mistake. It focuses on the female partner, pitching her need to “own” what she contributed to the “problem”. Then it diminishes the “problem”—calling it “acting out” or “lapses” and berates the woman for not “putting it all behind her”. The model sets a stage for believing there would have been no “problem” had her sex addict/compulsive/predator been in a relationship with someone else. Can you believe that these men would not have continued in their sexual activities that many of them began as children or teenagers, if they had just married someone else?
Those who have been working with partners within a trauma-based model of care observe that the co-addict/co-dependent treatment assumptions and therapeutic failures are similar to challenges faced in addressing domestic violence. That is, we have to assert that the woman did not “ask for it”. She did not “deserve it”. She did not “enable it”. She could not “prevent it”. And in most cases we encounter, she didn’t even know about it. Once she discovers his activities, all she does is try and find a way to stay safe. She is with a man who chooses to abuse her, and that choice is always his, and never hers. This clarity, however, is lost in the irrational misogyny of the co-addict/codependent treatment model.
We now recognize many behaviours of the sex addict/compulsive/predator as emotional, spiritual, physical, and psychological abuse. That has not been an easy conclusion. Who wants to be an abused wife? Not me. But that’s what I was. As a consequence women like me will not participate in any tactics that attempt to “normalize” these behaviours that have such destructive results, or de-focus from the abuser by trying to spread the blame around.
On the other hand, the co-addict/codependent treatment approach to partners works very hard to diminish the facts of the abuse, excuse it, make allowances for it, and trivialize the consequences of the abuse to women and also children in the home. They are still hard at the work of normalizing unacceptable behaviour and encouraging partners to stay with abusive men.
Recently we read a therapist’s blog entry who insisted that the sex addict/compulsive/predator’s use of manipulation in his relationship with his partner was neither aggressive nor passive aggressive. In order to diminish his abusive behaviour and its consequences to his targets, this therapist actually redefined the word “manipulation” all on her own. Her conclusion was that his “harmless” manipulation was because he didn’t feel safe with the partner. This ridiculous stretch from credulity works from the same foundation of misogyny that has to be overcome in the issue of domestic abuse. It tries to make it a “normal” experience for women to endure abuse from men.
Dr. Omar Minwalla’s work, however, has been instrumental in pointing out the pre-meditated and strategic nature of trauma-inducing behaviours towards the partner that are perpetrated by the sex addict/compulsive/predator. Dr. Minwalla also includes a trauma category for partners that is therapeutic trauma, which is what we often get when we ask for help.
Like most people who viewed the video of Ray Rice hitting his wife, I was horrified even though I’ve been in the ER with a woman whose face was shattered by her boyfriend. I’ve sat in my clergy office listening to the stories of abused women and children. I’ve called child protective services and the police. I’ve attended the courtroom with victims of domestic violence, and I’ve been threatened by male abusers because I would not hide their abuse.
But in the case of these graphic images, something different pushed me over the edge. It was watching Ray Rice drag Janay’s unconscious body out of the elevator like an inconvenient bag of garbage, and then seeing him kick her feet out of the elevator doorway that brought me to tears. I thought of her possible concussion and the need for immediate medical care. I thought of her dignity as a human being stolen. I thought of her beautiful face dragged across a dirty public floor. I thought of her complete helplessness, with only her abuser to take her hand and yank her unconscious body out of the elevator into the hotel hallway. I cried and cried, until I understood those images of Janay were touching a more personal nerve.
I realized that, to me, this part of the hideous video expressed the kind of help partners of sex addicts get from therapists who intentionally choose to defend the abusers, diminish the abuse endured, and tell the abused to accept her role in it. Now I get it. They are there to help drag abused partners out of the elevator and down the hallway.
There’s a name for that kind of help. It’s called collusion.
*I don’t know what to call these men, so this is what I’m currently using.
Diane Strickland, M.A., M.Div. has been ordained for 25 years and is currently serving the community of High River, AB in post-disaster trauma care and advocacy. She also has been coming alongside women partners of sex addict/compulsive/predators for over five years, to offer support through a trauma care approach.
Learn more about domestic abuse. www.calgarywomensshelter.com/learn has excellent free downloadable resources about honouring women’s resistance to abuse, how the abuser makes a free choice to abuse, and the many different kinds of abuse perpetrated on women. You will discover that experiences described by partners of sex addicts/compulsives/predators on the SOS site and elsewhere are included in the category of domestic abuse.
Thank you for this. I had experienced physical and sexual abuse in a past relationship when I was in college. After dropping out I met a man who made me laugh and feel safe. I didn’t know it then but he was a sex addict. We married 5 years later, rebuilding our lives, going back to school, working etc. We had a son in 2002. There was a lack of intimacy, but not sex. I attributed it to my own trauma. I had experienced nightmares, flashbacks of being pushed into the street, down the stairs at university and so on. I thought my feelings of isolation, my lonliness, my revulsion of my husband was all about my past and my issues. When my son was 6 I discovered he had given me an (easily curable) STD when I was pregnant. I only found out because my L&D nurse was my cousin and, after having too much to drink, asked me why I stayed with him. Long story short, we divorces. Now, 6 years later, I am engaged to a man I just discovered is also sa. Over our time together behavior ranging from intimate affairs to escorts. There seems to be a pattern of decision making on my part that is seriously faulty. While public focus should be on the addict/abuser I know I must focus on the factors that lead me to these relationships so I can change myself. I am broken.
I think what you are speaking of as far as “a pattern of decision making” is actually a result of previous trauma. Let me explain: the addict’s brain wiring has been altered and so has ours, both from trauma. I believe in my readings on neuroscience and addiction, I have come across some literature about the part of our (POSA) brains that determine “safe” and “unsafe” is chemically and neurologically damaged by trauma. It is the only science that makes sense to me to explain why my step-mother, who was sexually abused as a child until 9 by her adopted father, would allow men to live in our home renting rooms and to turn a blind eye to obviously dangerous situations that did in fact result in sexual asualt of a minor, my sister, and her biological daughter. It does not appear to be related to intelligence but rather to a type of “normalizing” of the trauma by our brains. I think this article touches on that concept well. Our natural innate survival mechanisms are damaged to the point that physically, sexually and, even worse or compounding, psychologically abused people are not able to properly decide what is in fact “safe” anymore. I have witnessed this with many survivors of such abuse in my own family and my SA husband’s. I hope there is more research to this end and perhaps that can bring some light to this very serious problem. I am in no way saying we POSA’s are brain damaged, but rather traumatized and often re-traumatized by people over and over because our brain doesn’t see it, perhaps? It is a theory worth more research and funding as it pertains to all areas of mental health treatment and recovery, be it children, women, abusers, victims, etc. In the end, we cannot blame ourselves for wanting to trust and love someone wholly and, in my case, holy, only to discover the depth of their abusive manipulation and betrayals when we are in “deep.” Prior to discovery, I knew my symptoms were not only depression, as I had suffered from post-partum in my previous marriage. I began researching PTSD after my mother died and found that most if not all of my symptoms were the same, but what had been the trigger? After finding the POSA website, it all became clear: the constant manipulation, lies, and betrayals by my SA, abandonment by family and friends, post-divorce penalizing (lol, i had to laugh, sorry) behavior by my ex all served to exacerbate the SAITrauma symptoms. Just when I thought my SA was straight with our boundaries, I would find out he lied to me again. We new porn was a problem for him so he was supposed to be honest about it with me when he had a slip. He was, I just didn’t know there was SO MUCH MORE: secret email account, all deleted after giving me passwords, 202 email addresses restored from craigslist personals, dating site profiles, etc. for almost a year now, that I know of. Foolishly, I married him after being told he had no more secrets from me. He actually went so far as to say two nights ago, “well, lol, you married an addict, lol, what did you expect?” He tries to make me appear crazy and has threatened to kick me out because I am a stay home mom with our 4 year old son…the abuse just finds its way in like a drop of ink in water…THAT is worse for me than the cheating or porn. Being told my suspicions are not real and that I am getting angry because i am “an angry, abusive and unhappy person and always have been” by my SA. THAT is simply not true as my previous relationship and marriage of 17 years shows. I need to learn that I don’t have to be “right,” save my strength and make move to be self-supporting financially, spiritually, socially and emotionally. This has taken its toll on my mental health and my physical health long enough. Women need to support and encourage each other not to tolerate intolerable behavior. I feel deeply sorry for you Rosie that your healing time was compounded by SA betrayal and abuse. :(( I too had struggled to heal from other abuses only to find I had been hoodwinked by my SA. Abuse is Abuse! We need to get back in touch with our instinct to care for ourselves and love ourselves before anyone else. That is what is ultimately taken from any victim of abuse, and, perhaps, it is neurologically hard-wired? I would be interested in any links to such research in any fields of study. All the Best, Rosie and Diane. Thank you for your perspectives. This site is a lifesaver for me!