May 8, 2013

A National Day of Male Atonement

By Dr. Peter Breggin

Watching TV coverage of about the escape of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight from sexual enslavement in Cleveland, I found myself becoming increasingly uneasy. I knew I would be talking about it to millions of Americans on a nationwide radio talk show that night, but didn’t know what I wanted to say.

On TV there were the usual discussions about how long the captivity had been endured, about why the girls growing into women could not or did not escape earlier, references to the Stockholm syndrome, and questions about how psychologically scarred they would remain and whether therapy would help. But one thing was not being discussed: the male abuse of women that is endemic in societies and cultures throughout the world.

Has any woman in America escaped some amount of sexual or physical abuse at the hands of men? Are men comfortable or even remotely willing to face this? More than two decades ago, when I created and taught a graduate course, “The Male Abuse of Women,” too many male colleagues made dismissive and even off-color jokes about it. Few male students attended.

The known rates of male abuse were staggering then, as they are now. According to a 2000 CDC report, nearly 52 percent of all women surveyed had been physically assaulted as a child or adult. More than 17 percent had been raped, most of them before the age of 18. Approximately 1 million women are stalked each year, according to the same report. The U.S. Pentagon is preparing to release new statistics about sexual assault in the military. Early information suggests sexual assaults have increased by one-third in two years.

In my clinical experience as a psychiatrist and in my personal life as well, nearly every woman who has spoken openly with me has told me about experiences of sexual molestation and physical abuse or threats at the hands of males. Many of them grew up in families or lived for years in relationships and marriages where they felt emotionally, sexually, and physically threatened and controlled by men.

Almost any woman experiences fear at night when walking down a street or crossing a parking lot alone. Even being home alone at night can make a woman understandably uneasy.

Many women watching the coverage of Cleveland will painfully be reminded of events in their own lives, or the lives of other women close to them. Who is paying attention to them? Not the media. There is no recognition whatsoever of the emotional trauma that these current events will be stirring in women throughout America.

Then there is the worldwide trafficking in children — and the widespread raping in the chaos of war.

Without diminishing the heinous atrocities committed against the women in Cleveland, millions of women living with their boyfriends or husbands feel oppressed and controlled on a daily basis, while the men in their lives feel entitled to have sex with them and to dominate them.

Maybe we should spend less time being curious about the female victims and more time asking ourselves as men, “What can we do to resist this age-old male drive to dominate and have power over women?”

Perhaps it’s time to declare a “National Day of Male Atonement.” It would be a good start to finally saying “no!” to the male abuse of women.

Originally published in The Huffington Post.