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Challenging lessons learned: A therapist's view on the #metoo movement

#metoo. This little hashtag has paved the way for women everywhere to feel like they're not alone. Sadly, I've heard many people question the validity of these claims. They question the motivation behind these accusations. How would a man have assaulted someone and not remember? He's denying it so she must be lying. It's been years why is she just coming out now?

As a therapist, I have heard some version of the following phrase more times than I can count: “I haven't told anyone this, but when I was 8 years old…” (insert any sexually traumatic memory). So why do women wait to share? Don't we want justice? Don't we want to let others know? There's many answers to these questions, but the one that I have found to be the most consistent is simple: lessons.

From our individual beginnings we learn lessons, teaching us how to interact with others, how to communicate, how to express emotions, who to trust, how to view ourselves, others, and the world. We learn how to respond to stress and we learn what's normal. This is a biggie. We learn what's normal. We aren't born with a “normal” blueprint. We are taught that our opinions and feelings are invalid (“because I said so”), we are taught how, when, and to whom to share experiences and emotions (“that's nobody's business,” “I'm too busy to pay attention right now”), we are taught about gender and sexuality (“boys will be boys,” “all boys think about is sex”). These lessons build our perception of self worth and our moral code.

These lessons run deep so that many of us question the ripple effect of something so violating as lack of consent and sexual assault. “What if no one believes me?” (I've heard many women say that as a child they told an adult about a sexual assault but nothing was done or they didn't believe them or they didn't want to attract the “wrong” kind of attention). “A part of me liked it, so it can't be wrong can it?” (We blame ourselves for a physical reaction, and if it felt good and I was getting attention, then it can't be wrong right?) “He's a boy, that's just what they do.” “All boys think about one thing all the time, so boys will be boys.” Let me share a story with you.

A 15 year old girl was walking down a school hallway (after school) with a male friend. This friend was a year younger than her, though significantly physically larger. He went to her church and was a part of her youth group. Paints a nice picture doesn't it? As the two were walking, the boy pushed this girl into an ice room near the locker rooms, closing the door behind him. The girl laughed at him. He then pushed himself against her (boner and all), shoving his tongue down her throat. The girl stopped laughing. She knew this was not right. She pushed him off her body and walked out. As she was sitting with her friends later in the afternoon, the boy approached the group and sat down (after all, they were all friends from church). The boy completely ignored the girl, though at times gave her dirty looks. The girl was confused. Did she do something wrong? Why was he acting rude and hurt when she was the one who was violated? This didn't make sense, but the boy quickly distanced himself from her in all situations and did not speak to her again. The girl didn't say anything because boys are just all hormonal sex machines, right? It wasn't that big of deal right? All boys think about is sex so it's normal right? He didn’t really do anything that bad, right?

Here's the truth: this sort of thing happens all the time. This experience was nowhere near what many women have shared in my private practice or are voic