Recovering from child sexual abuse online
August 21, 2012 4:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm finally processing the reality of being a victim of online enticement by a child predator. Besides therapy, are there any good resources for helping deal with the shame?

When I was 14, I was groomed by a child predator online and began a sexual relationship with him as my "boyfriend." The relationship was couched in Objectivist philosophy and the idea that we were somehow better/smarter/more Ayn-Rand-approved (ugh) than other people and thus not bound by their rules.

For years I've acknowledged vaguely that I was a victim of statutory rape, and felt ashamed that young, smart, savvy me was taken in by a gross huckster and by Objectivism. It's only been very recently that I've been able to see what happened for what it really was—the grooming, enticement, and systematic abuse of a child. Still, I feel ashamed and stupid. The recent discussion of so-called "legitimate rape" in the media has only made me feel more disgusted and vulnerable with my past.

I'm working with a therapist who specializes in survivors, but I'm looking for other resources—books, forums, etc.—that might help, especially those that target victims of internet predators, pseudo-consensual relationships, and other related topics. Hell, I'd even be interested in "recovering from teenage Ayn Rand idolatry" resources.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Have you ever done anything with RAINN? They have some support groups, for what I understand.
posted by SMPA at 5:10 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and of course there's Darkness to Light specifically. Forgot they had stuff for survivors.
posted by SMPA at 5:13 PM on August 21, 2012

Please memail me. I have some very specific and important information to share with you based on similar experiences.
posted by 3491again at 5:16 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, I'm sorry you had that experience! I do think a lot of predators play to the "you're exceptionally wise for your age" thing that every young teen wants to think about themselves. In the context of Objectivism, where it's declared to be silly and weak to think about things like laws or mores or ethics, the pressure is just so much more intense.

Can I recommend Banished Knowledge and Breaking Down the Wall of Silence by Alice Miller as inspiring reads? Miller was so clear on how children and teens who are abused turn their justified anger inwards and experience it as shame.

Valerie Reyna's research on adolescent decision-making might help you understand some of the neurological, psychological, and sociological factors that would make it difficult for a 14-year-old to recognize grooming and predatory behaviors, if that would help address your retrospective self-blame.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:15 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

It has been a long time since I had a shelf full of such resources. So, unfortunstely, the only title which comes to mind off the top of my head is "Nice girls do", which is about getting over some of the unhealthy messages society gives girls.

In case you don't yet know this, let me state unequivocally that it is standard practice to make the child feel responsible, guilty, at fault, complicit, etc. It is a means to keep them quiet. Unfortunately, societal norms concerning a lot of not specifically sexual things leave the door wide open for such coercion. By the time it is clear that this is Bad, they have gone along with a bunch of stuff that wasn't clearly Bad but led to the really bad things and now feel at fault, though in most cases there was enormous social pressure for them to politely go along.

Some things that helped me:
I kept a journal and recorded a lot of my dreams and analyzed them. I drew nude self portraits. I wrote my own erotica. At some point, I spent two or three years watching tear-jerk movies and crying my eyes out. After that, I stopped feeling sad all the time. I needed to mourn and that was basically how I did it.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 8:52 PM on August 21, 2012

I think some of the research Center for Behavioral Intervention has done on how sex offenders engage children AND THEIR PARENTS in the trusting relationship necessary to gain access to and molest children might be helpful to you to read. These guys are incredibly good at presenting well, being nice, and being the sorta person that children and adults feel comfortable with.

In other words, these guys convince adults. You, as a child, did not have the tools necessary to evade him.

This brochure is a simple, but helpful, place to start.
posted by purenitrous at 9:14 PM on August 21, 2012

I am not your attorney and this is not legal advice. And I am sorry you were victimized by this guy.

But if you determine you want to report this to authorities, please realize that the statute of limitations is very, very long in most states, so you might still be able to hold this person accountable for his actions. (In Oregon, for instance, felony sex abuse based on your lack of capacity to consent could be filed up to the time you turned 30 years old.)
posted by Happydaz at 9:36 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I honestly hesitate to answer a question like this because I am a man and because my childhood experiences- while they go somewhat beyond mere adolescent angst or "my parents don't understand me" (my family history involves some significant psychological problems and substance abuse and my personal history involves some incidents serious bullying) - I didn't include the misfortune of being abused by an adult.

But whenever I read about someone who is feeling shame or anger at or contempt with themselves because they suffered from the misdeeds or the failures and deficiencies of others I feel a lot of compassion because I have struggled so much through this myself. One thing that was incredibly important for me to do in therapy was to become aware of my childhood self as a person who was wholly deserving of sympathy, compassion, protection and support. Thinking this way can feel pointless or even bitterly counterproductive because of course you cannot go back in time and give your childhood self these things when you so badly needed them. And the emotions this kind of exercise brings up can feel intensely threatening because it is just those qualities of childhood - the innocence, the attachment to the attention and regard of adults, the need for validation and definition of self - that made you so vulnerable to being poorly treated.

To be sympathetic, understanding, soft-hearted towards these aspects of the childhood self can feel like opening yourself to being hurt all over again. You feel sad for your childhood self and feeling this sadness can feel like being made to suffer again for those past events. But I found it was not the same: I am an adult now and I can't go back and protect my childhood self from many things that were wrong but I can witness and honor that childhood self and feel the sympathy and compassion that child deserved. And it has made a lasting difference, I can't really even fully articulate why, just that it still seems like a thing that really needed to happen.

In terms of resources if you aren't adverse to this kind of thing I would suggest something along the lines of a compassion-centered Buddhist philosophy like the works of Pema Chödrön, such as Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living and When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. I might humbly suggest Chödrön as a sort of antidote for the one-dimensional and intensely self-centered philosophy of Ayn Rand.
posted by nanojath at 9:38 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

The kind of thing nanojath describes -- recognizing now that the child you were deserves love and support -- may be helped by EMDR.In many situations, the damage done so many years ago stops your emotional growth in its tracks. You may be triggered to react to similar situations today in a way that reflects the person you were then.

In general, the way EMDR works is that the therapist helps "take you back" to the point where your life started cracking apart and encourages you to let that small person be in a safer place in your life story. By doing so, you can integrate the grown-up, well managed parts with the parts that you have historically kept separate or shielded for safety's sake.

It may sound like total woo, but several studies have shown in works well, particularly with victims of traumatic situations. My husband can't say enough about it.
posted by Madamina at 9:57 PM on August 21, 2012

Here's a thought experiment I've found useful in work with a client: Imagine a specific 14 year old girl, if possible, one that you have actually met. Here's a link to google image search for 14 year old girls, if you can't visualize a specific girl, and need a reminder of how young they really are. Imagine that this girl is going through something similar to what you went through. What would you say to her? Would you tell her she should be ashamed? Would you tell her it's her fault? That her stupidity is to blame? If she expressed shame to you, would you agree with her that it's an appropriate way to feel? Would you be able to find any words of comfort and support for her?

When done with this exercise, do it again, this time visualizing yourself at 14 specifically. You may find it easier to find less blame and shame in the situation.

I'm so sorry this happened to you.
posted by namesarehard at 12:58 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Still, I feel ashamed and stupid.

I know it's no consolation but just so you know this not only incredibly common but typical of sexual abuse and rape victims. It is very hard to internalise that you are not to blame. Your predator is to blame because he is a paedophile.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:38 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

The blogger Arthur Silber has written about his experiences as a young gay Objectivist activist here (you have to scroll down quite a bit). After reading Alice Miller's books, he concluded that he was susceptible to a philosophy requiring absolute obedience due to the emotional abuse and homophobia he endured as a child. I am not sure if this applies exactly to your situation, but I hope it may be of some comfort. This is the relevant excerpt:

The psychiatrist wants to "cure" him by means of electroshock therapy. The now teenage boy declines, even though he continues to see the psychiatrist for a couple of years...Later on, in an entirely predictable development, he becomes a follower of a philosophy which conveys the same message that his mother had [Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism]: if he follows the rules precisely, if he has the "right" thoughts -- which even include the "right" emotional reactions to movies, books and music -- then he will be permitted to continue as a member of the circle of the philosophy's adherents.

I'm really sorry that you're going through this. It seems really easy for sexual abuse to flourish in any sort of cultish or ideologically exclusive belief system, not to mention that children are simply more vulnerable to this predation across the board. It sounds like you are beating yourself up for being the victim of a crime and for briefly subscribing to Objectivism, but millions have been susceptible to both. Rand's novels were explicitly written to win converts, and more than one critic has described them as YA fiction. I would not hold your interest in long polemical works against the teenage you. This person took advantage of your youthful curiosity and intellectual interests, and it is not your fault.

And, yes, this horrible "legitimate rape" discussion is probably triggering literally millions of people right now. I second talking to RAINN, in addition to a therapist.
posted by ziggly at 9:48 AM on August 22, 2012

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