Tragically, sexual violence and abusive behavior have been prevalent throughout history. It has never been uncommon for the most vulnerable individuals, particularly women, children, and those who are handicapped to be preyed upon by perpetrators of violent and controlling behavior. And it has a long history of being ignored or dismissed.
Sigmund Freud, for example, was a very empathic therapist. He listened to his patients, and they repeatedly told him about their experiences with sexual assault and abuse. In 1896, he wrote that “at the bottom of every case of hysteria there are one or more occurrences of premature sexual experience.” But in the political and social context of his day, his observations were not supported, and he eventually dismissed his findings: “I was at last obliged to recognize that these scenes of seduction had never taken place, and that they were only fantasies which my patients had made up.”
In the United States, it was not until the 1970’s that the sexual and domestic exploitation of women was recognized and reform legislation was initiated in the U.S. by the National Organization for Women. In 1971, the first rape crisis center opened its doors. In 1975, in response to feminist pressure, a center for research on rape was created within the National Institute of Mental Health. Sexual assaults against women and children were shown to be pervasive and endemic in our culture.
Yet, to this very day, we continue, as a society, to struggle with prevalent sexual violence and abusive behavior. We remain a culture in which violence in movies and television is normalized, sexual harassment is tolerated, sexual assault is trivialized, and the victim is too often blamed.
As many as one-third of all high school and college-age individuals experience violence in dating relationships.
While there are many school and municipal programs designed to prevent sexual violence and abusive behavior, the most important education and guidance takes place in the home.
From early adolescence, teens are learning important lessons in respecting themselves by being respectful to others and not looking at others with whom they are in a relationship as a possession over whom they are entitled to make demands and exercise control.
In another post, I will share more information about talking with teenagers about healthy relationship behavior.