Content warning: sexual abuse, rape, arguably trivialising thereof.

When I was 11 an older boy used to pull me behind a door in one of the school corridors, trap me there, shove his hand down my pants, and touch my penis.

This happened about once a week for a couple of months, until I moved to a different school (for non-related reasons).

I knew it was taboo, but I didn't yet know about sex, and didn't really understand why. I never thought about it again till a few years later when he sent me a letter apologizing. My parents were extremely curious about what the letter was but I burnt it before they had a chance to read it.

I never told anyone about this until now, and even now I'm writing this pseudonymously.

Not because I'm ashamed or embarrassed. I'm not - I didn't do anything to be ashamed of. But because I'm fine.

I really am. I don't think this made any lasting impact to my life. I'm happy, well adjusted, married, successful etc. I just don't really think about what happened very much, but then again I rarely think about anything that happened to me when I was 11.

And yet I feel like society is telling me that I ought to be broken. That I've been sexual abused. That recovering from this will be a difficult painful process, probably requiring therapy. And I fear that if I tell someone that, they'll treat me like that's the case, and I might end up believing it about myself.

From a purely objective perspective, non-violent rape doesn't seem quite as bad as society makes it out to be.

It's obviously unpleasant and frightening, but we treat rape as one of the worst things that can possibly happen. We expect "rape victim" to become someone's whole identity. We expect them to need intensive therapy to put themselves back together.

And I'm sure for plenty of people that's true. But for plenty of others it's true only because we expect it of them. People fill the social role that's been made for them, even when that's not ideal for them.

I don't know what to do about this. How do we communicate that sexual abuse is really not ok, without making victims of it feel like it's worse than it actually is?

But at the very least, when you hear somebody's abuse story don't jump straight into treating them like a victim. Find out how they feel about it, and if they don't feel like it was that bad, there's really no need for you to make them feel like it was worse.

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A similar phenomenon is at play in modern Western discussion around age-gap relationships.

Anyone admitting that they experienced one when they were young is almost inevitably told that they were abused, and made to feel that they were suppressing some deep-seated trauma over any and all protestations that they're fine, no really, it wasn't that big of a deal.

In fact, on Reddit and other places, I've seen people get downvoted if they persist in claims that they didn't experience any notable negative sequelae. The same people who did the downvoting are often the ones who claim to value "lived experience" above all else, but perish the thought that your lived experience should clash with social orthodoxy.

In India, we have within living memory people who got married off at the ripe young age of 12 to 14, and grew old and have grandkids with kids of their own. The vast majority of them are well-adjusted, at least compared to their age cohort, and many of the women (because they make ever larger fractions of the population pyramid as men die off faster) had husbands who were older than them by numbers that modern Westerners would immediately see as red flags.

A funny example would be Emma... (read more)

As I understand it in India the parents are very involved in who are the individuals involved in the marriage. The minors are not the ones seeking out their suitors.

For statutory rape purposes the consent of the minor carriers little weight. Thus there is increased responcibility on the behalf of the teachers to keep things proper. Such an exploitation without the target feeling exploited doesn't make it okay.

As I understand it in India the parents are very involved in who are the individuals involved in the marriage. The minors are not the ones seeking out their suitors.

Today? It's 50:50, and even then, arranged marriages aren't usually anything similar to the popular misconception that the bride and groom see each other for the first time when they're underneath the pavilion. It's far closer to dating, but with parents assisting in the search for acceptable suitors, the kids still have a say and (usually) a veto. Think of having your friends setup a date for you with someone else they know is looking, but soliciting a larger section of the social web.

Before the 70s, it was much more dictatorial of course.

For statutory rape purposes the consent of the minor carriers little weight. Thus there is increased responcibility on the behalf of the teachers to keep things proper. Such an exploitation without the target feeling exploited doesn't make it okay.

I don't agree with the is-ought implication you're presumably making here.

A large degree of the harm of "exploitation" is the perception of said exploitation. If you're working a summer job and see the owner's kid making double per ho... (read more)

I would imagine a 12 year old going into marriage would not be doing so at their own initiative. In a western setting the assumption would be that the other party to the marriage would be pushing for it. In an Indian setting its more plausible that a mature person that genuinely has the interest of the younger party at heart is meddling with the situation (parent marrying off child for the benefit of the child). Say that the owner's kid is doing x2 and then 10 other randos are doing x1.5 with not even an attempt at justification why. There is some degree of exploitation which can not be made away by making it not percieved as exploitation. One of the patterns of work exploitation is to arrange for people from poorer countries to come work in a rich country where they are happy to work below minimum wage. In their home country it would be par for the course - from a subjective viewpoint they are not likely to complain especially if they get a little bit more money than they would in their previous country. The fact that they would be entitled to a minimum wage makes it illegal. Whether it is in the legal or illegal zone seeking out parties which will settle for bad terms is predatory. And being aggressed on in this manner does not require for the target to be unhappy. If two equally strong people are fighting people might or might not get hurt. But if a body builder karate master "fights" an anoreksic civilian the issue is not so much how much damage is sustained but what could possibly create a ground for the karate master to geniunely need to defend themself. With enough power difference if there is possiblity of a conflict of interest a relationship can't be a cooperation but will be dictated by one side. Your mileage may wary how much power difference the developmental gap between 17 year old and 25 year old confers, but if the circumstances place the parties in way different leagues then individual variation and detail will get less and less able to make it ok

How do we communicate that sexual abuse is really not ok, without making victims of it feel like it's worse than it actually is?

I'd distinguish between the seriousness of the crime from the suffering of the victim. I think that this distinction is common sense. I agree with you that they are sometimes conflated. It seems like you could communicate this with a message structured somewhat as follows:

"C is a serious crime. Victims of C may suffer X, Y, and Z as a result. Not all victims of C experience these consequences, and it is important to let the victim of C decide how it affected them."

Yeah, I think the reason sexual abuse is wrong is because it has an unacceptably high risk of traumatizing someone, not because it always in all cases does. (Sort of like drunk driving.)

I find this a helpful distinction!

Recently someone did something to me that would have been a very serious violation of trust in ~50% of worlds (involving taking some private feedback I'd written for someone and sending it to them), but on reflection I was happy with what I wrote, so I didn't mind. But I told them that had it gone wrong (which it easily could've) they wouldn't have had any defense and I would have been absolutely furious with them. They realized how close they came to doing something exceedingly costly and changed their policies going forwards, but I did not actually punish them in that instance because nothing bad happened.

This had a similar distinction, where the seriousness of the crime was high, but the severity of the case was low, so there was nothing to punish.

If I was you I'd still trust them less. 
2Ben Pace
Seems right.

This may be trivializing your experiences as well, but I think an important consideration here is that you're a man. Many of the circumstances others in this thread are citing also involve male victims.

Men tend not to react to sexual abuse the same way that women do, and there's no reason to expect that they would. Some of the reasons people aggressively protest that fact or attempt to have anecdotal evidence of it dismissed are:

  • They, male or female, genuinely would be distraught if that had happened to them, and project that strong preference onto others.
  • They feel it's necessary to downplay men's tolerance of sexual abuse as part of a general policy that says to downplay sex differences.
  • They feel acknowledging those differences in this specific case will reduce the ability of men who actually feel sexually violated to seek help.

It's a bad idea to assume that, because a lot of men seem to be OK after being assaulted, or because a lot of people seem to engage in motivating reasoning about men being "secretly traumatized", that means there are lots of women in the same situation.

I obviously disagree with the logic that says we shouldn't talk about this, partly because it causes... (read more)

Not sure if a single anecdote is worth anything at all, but I am a woman, and I experienced what is legally and culturally considered rape at least twice (arguably 3x), and it really didn't bother me very much (though I think different versions, e.g. more violent ones or one perpetrated by people I looked up to, would have been much more damaging). One of the people who technically raped me (it was a very drunken screwup with, I believe, no malevolent intent) is still a friend of mine. I feel scared about people finding this out about our friendship, mostly on his behalf.  

Notably, I think it was way less traumatizing than several experiences I have had for which I've never been able to garner 1/10th as much sympathy; a trusted close friend failing me in a time of need, a painful and embarrassing medical experience, a pet dying. 

I share the view of the OP that there's something off here; I think the combination of a pretty wide range of disparate acts being considered rape/sexual abuse + rape/sexual abuse being considered among the worse experiences a person can have, is pretty unhealthy for the reasons described and some others. I also think it drains social energy from recognizing other kinds of trauma people can experience and helping them with it. 

I am a bit surprised about one of them still being a friend of yours. Do you in a sense forgive him because I don't know it wasn't too painful or him being not aware of what he was doing? My intuition was kind of the amount of trauma might be about the amount of pain. If it's really painful one can of cause get very traumatised as you also point out, it would have been diferent if it would have been very violent

This is may be trivializing your experiences as well, but I think an important consideration here is that you're a man. Many of the circumstances others in this thread are citing also involve male victims.

Agreed, from an evolutionary standpoint rape is vastly more impactful for women than men, in a world with no abortion or contraception, rape means the removal of a woman's procreative agency, while it's merely very unpleasant for men, maybe on the level of being humiliated in a fist fight. The closest thing that I can think of to make myself (a man) have an emotional reaction equivalent to what I observe women having to the concept of rape, is cuckolding. A woman lying to me about the genetics of her child, and making me unknowingly raise the child, that is what elicits the white-hot, primal rage that our society seems to feel about rape. No woman that I've talked with has understood my reaction to cuckolding, because in the ancestral environment there was no possible doubt that the child growing in her womb was hers, just like there's no chance of me getting pregnant from being raped. So for men, translate "raped" as "cuckolded" to elicit something like the equivalent emotional reaction.

I think this is a solid point, and that pointing out the asymmetry in evolutionary gradients is important; I would also expect different statistical distributions for men and women here.  At the same time, my naive ev psych guess about how all this is likely to work out would also take into account that men and women share genes, and that creating gender-specific adaptations is actually tricky.  As evidence: men have nipples, and those nipples sometimes produce drops of milk.

Once, awhile ago and outside this community, a female friend swore me to secrecy and then shared a story and hypothesis similar to the OPs (ETA: it was also a story of sexual touching, not of rape; I suspect rape is usually more traumatic).  I've also heard stories of being pretty messed up by sexual abuse from both men and women, including at least two different men messed up by having, as teenagers, had sex with older women (in one case, one of his teachers) without violence/force, but with manipulation.  My current guess is that adaptations designed for one sex typically appear with great variability in the other sex (e.g. male nipples' milk production), and so we should expect some varia... (read more)

I've known several men who had sexual encounters with women that... labeling them is hard, let's say the encounters left them unhappy, and would have been condemned if the sexes had been reversed. These men encountered a damaging amount of pushback and invalidation when they tried to discuss their feelings about those encounters.  One was literally told "I hope you were grateful", for others the invalidation was more implicit.  For at least 2, me saying "that sounds fucked up" and then listening was an extremely helpful novelty. So I'm really nervous about pushing the wider cultural narrative in ways that would reduce the ability of male victims to be upset.

OTOH, one of those dudes had his complicated experiences with a same-age girlfriend, and had nothing but good things to say about losing his virginity in high school to a woman twice his age. You definitely couldn't help him by creating and enforcing general rules about what counts as bad. 

There's probably an important distinction to be made between men who have such high sex drives/wide preferences that they'll sleep with anybody, and men who don't care that much about sexual violence.

I agree that this is probably a reason for the greater harm to women, but I don't think it gets to the heart of it.

Suppose that instead of rape, our culture portrayed some benign, non-sexual experience as deeply harmful. Say, being exposed to the color orange as a kid. In that case, would you predict men or women to be more harmed by having seen orange? If you predict women (as I would), then the explanation has to be more general than evolved attitudes towards sex. 

My theory is that it comes down to influenceability. When an authority figure says that something is true, a man is more likely to note that he must act like it's true, but reserve an inner skepticism; whereas a woman is more likely to accept it wholeheartedly. 

For example, it's easier to imagine a man proactively (without outside influence)...

  • doubting his religion
  • doubting the benefits of hand-washing
  • doubting that perpetual motion is impossible
I know for sure that women are higher in neuroticism. I'm not sure about influenceability, are they really higher on this? In any case, it seems to me that the neuroticism difference can account for this effect all by itself, assuming that the evo-psych explanation by lc isn't quite correct. (Personally, I feel like Anna makes good points against it but I also wouldn't totally rule out the evo-psych explanation.)  Edit: And on influenceability, you could argue that men are influenced to feel worse about being abused because of how people think men should be (strong, in control, not victims).
Just as a short note to support this model, there was that old finding (probably from pre- replication crisis area, I wonder if it's survived?) that women experienced stronger post-rape trauma when it happened in their reproductive age; girls and old ladies were less traumatized. Also, women who were beaten and raped felt better than those who just raped, because then they could show that they had fought back.  Myself, as a woman, I don't intuitively feel like getting beaten as well would lower my trauma, but I haven't tried, so I don't know. What really feels important is the way how it is done, in details. Getting groped by a drunken friend, as described above, wouldn't traumatize me much; getting raped by a group of soldiers who are trying to outperform each other in humiliating the victim as much as possible, that's an event that causes me the white-hot rage just by thinking about it (not because I would fear getting pregnant, but just because of the unbearable humiliation). In some countries group rapes get punished more severely than individual endeavors, for the same particular reason probably, for it doesn't really affect the feared outcome (getting pregnant) much. 

I've long suspected that things like this are almost entirely made traumatic by society's socially constructed ideas about them, but it's very taboo to talk about - it's a very dangerous opinion to have - and I've almost never told people I think this. Thanks for saying it for me.

I had sexual trauma as a child that didn't even involve any actual sexual event. Rather, I had and wrote down a quasi-sexual fantasy about a playmate from the playground (I was 8) and my mom found it and confronted me about it, thinking that I had been molested or something because why else would "a child!!" be thinking of such things. I felt disgusting afterward, for years, like I must be evil for thinking this way about another kid, and throughout my teenage years I would occasionally have almost panic attack like ptsd feelings when I would think about sexuality in certain contexts that reminded me of that experience.

So it seems to me that the trauma comes from believing that you have been violated, because authority figures or parents or society tell you that you have - not from being violated, itself. And what constitutes a violation is to some extent socially constructed. Sometimes, because of this, as in my case, you can feel violated when nothing has even happened to you.

I agree with your point and you give a very convincing example. Still, I object quite strongly to the phrasing "[...] that things like this are almost entirely made traumatic by society's socially constructed ideas about them."

Why "almost entirely"? 

Here some ingredients to my view:

  • There are vast individual differences in neuroticism and ability to process potentially-traumatic events.
  • Just like some phobias develop more commonly than others, some experiences are more likely to elicit trauma than others.
  • On trauma reactions, there might be biological priors that make people more afraid of "bad agents" than "bad environment," just like there are priors that children are less likely to learn to become scared of outlets/power stations and more likely to learn fear of snakes. (And maybe it's not a "prior" per se but rather a logical fact that agents are less predictable than the environment and it makes logical sense to be more scared of unpredictable things.) 
  • Society's take on what's dangerous/scary/bad isn't entirely random; instead, there's often a wisdom it.

Now, looking at the example in the OP with the above background assumptions, I form the following view.

  • The example has
... (read more)
You're right. I shouldn't have used that wording. It was stupid of me.
You don't have the data to make this conclusion (or a similar one). You haven't explored how traumatizing it would be to be raped, and so merely observing that being treated as if you had been traumatized traumatized you isn't enough to conclude that if you were raped and then treated as if you were traumatized, most of the trauma (or even a significant part) would come from the latter. It's entirely possible that the more progressive parts of the society aren't mistaken, and that rape is so traumatizing that your experience of being treated as traumatized wouldn't be anywhere close to making a meaningful contribution to the entirety of the trauma.
-2Jiao Bu
I think OP is painting with a broad brush.  However, he probably has a point that social attitudes end up shaping the experience itself.  Similar to the above poster talking about age gaps or miscarriages. A problem in your objection, as well as any rebuttal to it, is how would we separate social contagion from the data?  It seems that if OP is right, we wouldn't have the data to say he's right or wrong.  If he's wrong, the data wouldn't really show that or not either.  Embedded social attitudes are a matter of the fish not knowing the water in which it swims. If indeed, that water is so think that OP (as well as several others who have responded) feels it is even taboo to admit their own experience was not traumatizing, then such a deep social fact is also likely to permeate all the data. Now, in defense of the taboo (like all taboos), sexual molestation is basically such a bad thing in some sense that we don't want to allow any talk that would make this bad thing potentially happen more.  The taboo is like a field around a Schelling fence that is trying to innoculate everyone against walking even within 200m of that fence.  For whatever reason, the taboo also has some utility that should not be dismissed until it is also understood carefully. In other words, it is taboo specifically because his talking about it risks pushing us deep into nuances that are risky.  In fact, even assuming OPs position in a broad and hard form is fully correct, then it wouldn't undo the damage that people felt from being molested, and talking about it could hurt more.  So, the entire topic is likely to be an infohazard, actually regardless of the truth value of OP's comment.
The Marind people in New Guinea are subjected frequently to sodomy by their elders because they think that absorbing sperm from the anus will make them grow strong and they don't seem to develop any traumas at all. So yes, I agree 100% that what constitutes a violation is socially constructed.

I (maybe) agree directionally but I'm again irritated by the lack of nuance here ("100%").

  • There are good reasons to think that an experience is worse when it's not socially condoned. People aren't just afraid and disturbed about "what happened" – they're also afraid about "what could've happened." Traumatic experiences are often from near-misses (you didn't die, but something went wrong and you better avoid it in the future!). If the experience is contextualized as "elders do this by tradition; it's meant to benefit you" – that seems less concerning than if you have something done to you by someone who is blatantly ignoring your personhood (and engaging in criminal behavior). In the latter instance, you don't know what comes next – the person doing it to you has demonstrated that they don't don't feel the same way about other people (this is disturbing in itself, possibly for hardcoded evolutionary reasons around fear/apprehension of bad agents; it also has implications like "since they have no concern for you, nor for the law, they might murder you if they suspect you could tell someone").
  • Just because something's considered normal doesn't mean it can't traumatize some people. (For instance, it's common among rationalists to express the view that school can be traumatizing – "small t trauma," admittedly.) And activities do differ in their risk-to-traumatize. (See my other comments on this post.)
Those are good points and you are right about my lack of nuance. Thanks
Researching this is hampered by the fact that most work done on it is in old books that aren't fully online, but the little I have found makes me dubious of your conclusion. From what I can piece together, that society was, unsurprisingly, ravaged by sexually transmitted diseases (gonorrhoea, granuloma inguinale...) and resulting infertility (the former inflames the female pelvic region and uterus, making intercourse very painful, and scars your fallopian tubes, leading to ectopic pregnancies, which are fatal; the latter causes worsening painful sores that don't heal, which can progress to the degree where your penis autoamputates). As a consequence of the infertility problem, they ritualised that brides, during the marriage ceremony, were systematically raped by every single male relative of the groom, which often led to the gang rape festivities lasting over a day, in an attempt to "up fertility".  They would also repeat this after the woman had given birth; if you have ever seen a vagina immediately after giving birth, you can imagine the level of pain that would have implied. And the men began giving themselves bloody diarrhoea on purpose in an attempt to mimic menstruation, in the belief that this would somehow help pregnancies now that severely sick women weren't menstruating. Which made the STI induced fertility problem worse, of course. So they also began kidnapping young fertile people from other tribes, headhunting members of other communities to transfer the mana from the severed heads to their few (STI-infected) newborns in an attempt to fix their perceived mana deficiency while eating the remains, and eating young girls who had reached sexual maturity - yep, large scale cannibalism, on an island chain that is known for epidemic outbreaks of Kuru, a prion disease that gives you essentially a novel take on mad cow disease. - Like, I am not doubting at all that social framing has a pronounced impact on perception, but I am dubious of the idea that cultur
This is actually not an uncommon take, but empirical data points in the other direction. I've worked on the topic. There is a concept called "epistemic injustice", which describes a scenario where you are in a society where something that is happening to you that is objectively wrong is not framed by the society as a crime, specifically not named as such. There are many examples of this, like the idea that a woman cannot be raped by her husband. It is particularly frequent when a new crime develops and we as a society don't immediately recognise it, such as sexual harassment at the work place where women used to be absent. Miranda Fricker, who began the field, collected some empirical accounts, and a lot more work has been done since. If your idea was correct, the implication would be that a woman, not having been told that rape in a marriage is bad, would accordingly feel perfectly fine, because only the societal framing makes it bad. But they generally aren't. They tend to do badly in ways that are strange. They don't have the words to express what is wrong, or the social backing that validates them, and tend to develop mental, physical and behavioural abnormalities as a result. This isn't universally true - the woman in question may be kinky and getting off on it, or dislike it, but not find it severely traumatic. But in general, society not framing things this way doesn't make it okay, it just makes it far more difficult to openly discuss. The framing does change perception, it can dim or exaggerate pain, make it easier or harder to conceptualise, allow complex experiences or box them into narrow ones. But it doesn't create the problem out of thin air. Furthermore, these cultural framings come from somewhere - namely from people articulating that a thing is wrong, and other people agreeing with them, coining terms for it, laws against it, values related to it, as a way to express a problem they identify. If there was no objective problem, you'd wonder where
I never actually said that all these notions are constructed and fake, only that some are. Clearly some aren't. There are false positives and false negatives. I feel as if you're arguing against a straw man here.
I think the critical difference is that while marital rape might not be a legal crime, and might not be seen as wrong by people who aren't subjected to it, it's obviously wrong for the person suffering it, and obviously identifiable as coercive and abusive even to the perpetrator.  The spectrum then becomes (recognized as wrong x feels wrong) -> (not recognized as wrong -> feels wrong) -> (recognized as wrong x doesn't feel wrong) -> (not recognized as wrong x doesn't feel wrong).  I think people are only talking about quadrant 3 when saying "sexual abuse attitudes could be [bad]." And that is, like you point out, something that people experience differently, and depends on the specifics of the case rather than the category. It's a near certainty that some of the cases described in this comment are in fact nonconsensual and traumatic, for example. But if someone who did not experience trauma from that practice emigrated to the West and was told over and over again that something deeply traumatic happened to them, this seems like an instance where the problem could be "created out of thin air" as you put it.  Overall, though, the question is whether quadrant 2 or quadrant 3 is bigger, and I think it's very likely that quadrant 3, while existent, is not as large as quadrant 2. Thanks for pointing this out.
The sexologist Joan Nelson had a similar experience with her mother's reaction to learning of an incestuous relationship she was involved in when she was eight. "When I was a child I experienced an ongoing incestuous relationship that seemed to me to be caring and beneficial in nature. There were love and healthy self-actualization in what I perceived to be a safe environment. I remember it as perhaps the happiest period of my life. Suddenly one day I discerned from playground talk at school that what I was doing might be 'bad.' Fearing that I might, indeed, be a 'bad' person, I went to my mother for reassurance. The ensuing traumatic incidents of that day inaugurated a 30-year period of psychological and emotional dysfunction that reduced family communication to mere utilitarian process and established severe limits on my subsequent developmental journey." She related this by way of full disclosure in the introduction to her paper "The Impact of Incest: Factors in Self-Evaluation."  
There's loads and loads of similar stories I've heard or seen that people have compiled over the years. Good example.
need to think about this more, gee

This fits what I've seen from talking to women who have experienced rape/sexual abuse. 

In one case, the abuse happened as a kid and she didn't feel traumatized for many years until she heard people talking about such things as if they're supposed to be traumatic and it was helpful to her to have someone give her permission to disregard those pressures as ill informed and stupid.

In another case, the woman was much older and somewhat traumatized by the experience, but talking to her friend about it just made her feel more traumatized because he emphasized how bad the situation was even more than she did. There was actually a considerable amount of humor in that particular case, and being invited to see it and recognize that she's actually totally fine and doesn't have to freak out about it anymore was helpful.

With respect to the question of "How do we communicate that sexual abuse is really not ok, without making victims of it feel like it's worse than it actually is?", it depends where the harm is. Hypothetically, if the only harm is in the psychological trauma, and the act isn't actually psychologically traumatic in itself, then you bite that bullet and say that nothing bad ha... (read more)


Too late to the debate, but I would suggest splitting this into multiple questions:

  • Is it true of human suffering in general that if you tell people "this was a horrible thing that happened to you", they will subjectively suffer more than if you tell them "shut up, that was nothing"?
  • Assuming that the answer to the previous question is a clear yes, how should we organize our society to minimize human suffering?

Note that these two questions can be explored apart from sexuality. The question whether sexual abuse is different from abuse in general, could then be treated separately.

The reason I would like to have the debate about suffering in general first, is that many arguments made about sexual abuse actually are generalizable to all kinds of abuse -- so it feels like motivated reasoning to only make those arguments with regards to sexual abuse.

I mean, the point of signaling that you suffer is to elicit compassion; and the signal is more credible if you actually suffer. If you were 100% sure you would never get any compassion, no matter what, there would be no need to signal suffering, so perhaps there would be less suffering. Maybe engineering our society to eradicate compassion would lead to less human suffering! ...see, I just made the entire argument without mentioning sex at all. If it perhaps did not convince you in its general form, why does it sound more convincing if I make the same argument specifically about sexual abuse?

2[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
I suspect that it's worth mentioning sexuality as a special case specifically because our society treats sexual abuse as a separate and somewhat magical magisterium; you're correct to note that the dynamic matters much more broadly than just with sex in particular, but if there is a problem here in the way the OP theorizes, it seems to me that it's especially virulent in the domain of sexual assault. Another way to say this is that not singling out sexual assault in particular makes this almost a ... bait and switch? Like, you'd in practice be doing something like trapping people in a way that feels a little disingenuous, by first getting them to admit to a general conclusion and then springing it on them that it applies in this highly-charged, poor-epistemic-hygiene domain as well, ha ha!! Or something. It feels like burying the lede, or failing to put your thesis up front, even though the argument is more elegant the way you want to make it. Something something the pragmatics of people's actual attitudes toward/behaviors around sex in particular.

If we first figure out how things work in general, and then check whether the conclusion also applies to sex, we can find out how much is the same and how much is different. Maybe it is different a lot! But if we start with sex, then the conclusion "sex is different" is kinda already assumed.

I suspect that the real answer will include a lot of "people are different" and "it depends". If one victim is traumatized, it does not necessarily mean that all must be. If one victim says is was no big deal for them, it does not necessarily mean everyone else would also be okay except for having been programmed by the society to react strongly. -- I felt the need to react, because it seemed to me that this debate had a vibe of "one victim said it was actually no big deal, therefore everyone who complains is... oversensitive; hey I am not blaming them, of course, I am only blaming the society that made them so sensitive!"

Context probably matters a lot; whether it was "it happened in a special situation, but I am no longer in that special situation so now I am safe" or "it happened out of the blue, it could happen anytime again" (or "it happened in a special situation, and I am still in that sp... (read more)

Let's not forget that, to a normally socialized man, the latter carries an implicit "and you alone are at fault for not having been strong enough to stop your assailant in their tracks. You should be ashamed forever and have no business being alive". Therefore, it may be more damning than the former.
The reason why sexual harm is (correctly) considered a serious case of harm distinct from other harms might be evolutionary - in ancestral environment, being physically injured or hurt some other way might've been much less of a predictor of that person's future than being raped (and possibly also a predictor of a much less seriously bad future).

Imagine a society where people considered "being exposed to the color orange" inherently very traumatic (inspired by this comment). 

My bet is that people in that society would be a lot less traumatized if they encountered an orange bird in the forest vs. if someone forcibly takes them inside a secluded room and puts a sheet of orange wallpaper in front of them. 

The fact that some commenters don't seem to "see" this difference is IMO what's triggering about some people's attitudes to sexual abuse, etc. 

Sounds similar to what this book claimed about some mental illnesses being memetic in certain ways:

This rhymes with my experiences and thoughts. To say it another (slightly more general) way, it's often the reactions of adults that are traumatizing well beyond anything else that happens to children (and other adults). It isn't always the case that measured response produces a trauma-free experience, and some events tend to leave terrible scars. But where I see people bringing their own feelings into someone else's situation is also where I see far more of lasting psychological trauma.

Parents really need to realize - or be taught - that they are exocortices for their children, one of whose primary roles is to process things that the child cannot and be a sink for big emotions, NOT a source of them. When parents push their own emotions onto a child, that invariably is traumatizing - as in the case of parentification or "emotional incest", or narcissistic abuse, etc. This is another example of that. Arguably, telling a child they ought to feel worse about something that has happened to them is itself a form of abuse.

Driving Under the Influence can have a similar kind of pattern where ti can be painted as a surefired way to mess up things. Then if somebody is a bit drunk while operating a vechicle and doesn't hit anybody that might lead to a "update" that its no at disastrous as advertised. It is not so that DUIng leads somebody to die but that there is a RISK of somebody dying. And this risk is sufficiently high that its not okay to gamble on it.

Being sexually manhandled likewise carriers the risk of things going wrong. Its not like shooting somebody is okay if you happen to miss any vital organs.

The fantasy that maybe a dark experience heals or goes away if it is not talked about or processed can lead to inaction where action is needed. It doesn't remove the fact that action is not always needed. Maybe you can indeed skip going to the hospital if the bullet only gave a flesh wound. And it can be hard to ascertain who is actually fine and who only thinks so (certain black knight comes to mind). So the default on erring on the side of having some people treated/processed that did not need it rather than not processing some people that needed it seems right.

Even for those that do need or benefit... (read more)

So the default on erring on the side of having some people treated/processed that did not need it rather than not processing some people that needed it seems right.

Medicine long operated by that paradigm and did all sorts of harmful treatments. Maybe the person doesn't need bloodletting via leeches but why take the chance? is an article about the current state of the knowledge we have.

It says "Structured psychological interventions, including psychological debriefing, are not routinely recommended in the first few weeks following trauma exposure."

Psychological debriefing is one of the things someone who thinks that the victim might need to be processed might do, but it's not helpful.

Instead, the sense that's helpful to communicate is:

General practitioners can be guided by five empirically derived principles in their early response: promoting a sense of safety, calming, self efficacy, connectedness and hope.

Telling people that they are likely going to need a lot of therapy to deal with their experience is the opposite of providing a sense of self-efficacy and hope. 

Basically, you are telling people "you should not ... (read more)

It is a balancing act and false positives are not cost free and the optimal point is unlikely to be at either extreme. A person that could get it over with self-sufficiently is also less likely to suffer a great deal to being told they are not self-sufficient. I guess it could be interesting if there is a great assymmetery there. The advice seems to say "room now, debrief later by somebody else" which seems to suppose that that later application elsewhere is actually beneficial. There is an important part to the "I am here, if you need me" that leaves really open the possiblity of "No, I don't need you". I would rather have help rejectable than control whether you get helped by covering up your need for help. Parents are unlikely the explicit goal to create trauma for their child. The main way I can imagine being traumatised would be to dig in and make existing trauma worse by poking it. But if there was existing trauma then he was not fine at that moment. And holding psychological scars for two years is not getting off scratch-free.

A person who's suggestible and who you tell "You are not competent to evaluate whether or not experience X damaged you psychologically" might regularly go back to thinking "Did X damage me psychologically?" and suffer psychologically from that. To the extent that there's a strong cultural push to the suggestion or it's given by people with a lot of authority like parents, it might even have an effect on people who are not very suggestible. 

The advice seems to say "room now, debrief later by somebody else" which seems to suppose that that later application elsewhere is actually beneficial.

It suggests that if someone suffers from distress it's useful to give them therapy to help them deal with their distress. 

There are many different ways to do therapy with many different theories of action. Research suggests that attributes such as the empathy of the therapist and the relationship between the therapist and patient are more important than the theory of action of the therapy. As such it doesn't make sense to rule out trauma-based therapy. As described in one podcast from Spencer Greenberg, that trauma-based therapy just might not be any better than therapy that's about banis... (read more)

I understood that the problem is that there is a kind of automatic reaction of "oh you were assaulted, now I am going to help you very intensely for 2 years" where the unconditionality or uncontrollability and the harm from the conduct that results are the problems. Thus the problem is "I am here, whether you like it or not" and not going "I am here, if it helps you" It sucks that people would have legitimate fears for getting such support. I could also imagine that some parents would put the well-being of their child in front of their own psychological comfort. Doing psychological pressure in the name of easing that "something has to be done about this" is not help. I would love for it to be the case that children could rely for their parents to be on their sides in difficult situations like this. If the child models that the parents can not or will not take it in a level-headed or constructive way I guess hiding and soloing the recovery is more constructive way forward. But I would be disappointed in such parents. And I would like the children to be able to have the trust that such disclosure will benefit them. That there is coverup is a tell that things are not going according to my utopia. Like if somebody goes "Off-course I didn't tell my layer" that is in contradiction with the design of client-attorney priviledge similarly if somebody goes "Off-course I didn't tell my parents" I will go "wait, why not and why is that a given?".
A lawyer is usually a trained professional. Most parents just aren't at a comparable skill level. It takes emotional awareness to distinguish between parents themselves getting triggered and the child needing help from the parent. There are certainly good parents who actually provide effective support to their children and who are then likely to be trusted by their children in cases like this, but it's not surprising if someone has a parent that's not trustworthy in this case. 

One of the reasons abusers of kids/teens aren't fully prosecuted is because parents of victims rightly predict that everyone knowing you were raped by the babysitter or whatever will generate additional psych baggage and selfishly refrain from protecting other children from the same predator.

A related point that probably bears making/repeating:

Part of the justification for statutory rape laws is that some people are in a position in which they have so much power over someone that any request from them could be inherently coercive. Some specific examples in which statutory rape may apply even when the victim is a mentally competent adult:

  • Prison guards and prison inmates
  • Military officers and lower ranking soldiers
  • High school teachers and 18 year old students

A post making a related point:

I am no expert in law, but to some extent we treat rape and killing someone similar. I don't know if the way I think is just fucked up or it is really this way, but breaking someone's leg and rape are probably more comparable to each other than rape and murder. So I would like to add that in my opinion even the legal code is punishing rape pretty harsh more comparable to murder than comparable to breaking someone's leg.

Tagged this post with "self-fulfilling prophecies"

Not only do people very often feel it wasn't that bad, not infrequently they remember it as a positive thing if it was mutually willing. I read a paper last year, titled "The Impact of Online Grooming and Sexual Abuse" IIRC, reporting a qualitative study based on interviews with eight British youths (six girls and two boys) to whom the researchers had been referred by police. Not one of them had a bad thing to say about what they'd experienced during the relationship, and at least one (a girl) remained resentful toward police for having interfered. Every s... (read more)