Sexual Abuse is Abuse. Never Sex.



A few years ago at an advocacy event, I met Gretchen Baskerville while she was working on her much-needed book The Life-Saving Divorce: Hope for People Leaving Destructive Relationships. I have been following her work since. She recently referenced on social media a 2015 Focus on the Family post titled “Pedophilia in Marriage”. This especially interested me since I was once married to an abusive man, who managed for years to hide his sexual abuse of a child.


The post begins with a letter from a woman whose husband has been sexually abusing their 6-year-old niece. She expresses her concern for her niece, all the horrific feelings from shame to anger to fear, her confusion over what to do – report him? If so, how? Plus, she asks whether or not there is hope for her marriage.


I get all this. I lived all this. It is a brutal place to be – not as brutal as the child’s experiences – but brutal still.


Since there is much to address in “Pedophilia in Marriage”, I will have a few posts about it.


So, Let’s get started:


Starting off slow, in paragraph 1 the author acknowledges the women’s circumstances, while expressing empathy and affirming her courage. Next paragraph is simple: They advise her to pray. Okay. I’m good with these.


Then, the third paragraph seems good at first. Lots of validating the complex emotional terrain the wife is navigating plus normalizing her response as what “anyone” would experience.


Cool. Cool.


Oh, but then we read, “Among other things, your spouse has broken faith with you. He has violated the marriage covenant by seeking sexual satisfaction elsewhere. (Emphasis mine).


Significantly lacking from the first three paragraphs is any mention that the husband’s behaviors are criminal. To be fair, that comes later in the article, but the author minimizes criminal behaviors by conflating them with a man’s lust, and that conflation is far too common in Evangelical culture.


Shelia Wray Gregoire, and co-authors Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach & Joanna Sawatsky confirm this tendency in their ground-breaking work The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended. In reference to the popular Christian books they've analyzed*, they state, “Not only have the books we’ve talked about normalized lust; some have also confused lusting with true predation” (88).


So, the phrase “your spouse has broken faith with you” is a radical reduction of what this man has done. But notice how the author states this faith was broken, “He has violated the marriage covenant by seeking sexual satisfaction elsewhere”.


Nope. Not True.


First, this idea of sexual abuse, violations, harassment, and rape as activities intended to provide "sexual satisfaction" is a common belief within Evangelical culture, and it is stunning in its lack of knowledge about sexual abuse dynamics, including the motivations for sexual abuse.


Second, the husband violated the marriage covenant with his betrayals, deceptions and cruelties towards a child.


The husband's betrayals of his little niece, her parents, and his wife are significant and sickening, and should be recognized as both horrifying and nullifying all relational or covenantal ties to those betrayed.


Sexual Abuse, Sexual Assault, and Rape are never motivated by seeking sexual satisfaction.


None of his behaviors had to do with "seeking sexual satisfaction" outside his marriage.


Like all abuse, these are motivated by the desire to gain and maintain control over their victims. The fact that the methods of abusing are within sexual contexts does not mean that the reason the abusers act out is sexual desire.


Of course sexual desire and/or arousal may occur during the grooming, preparation, planning, fantasizing and perpetrating, yet sex is not the driving force behind sexual abuse.


Power is the motivation for all abuse, including sexual abuse.


For example, when a spouse financially abuses their victim, their motivation is not to save money. Financial abuse is not about money at all, even though money is the tool used to abuse. Sexual abuse and rape work the same way.


Also, the financial abuser may experience greed when they abuse, but the greed, like sexual arousal, is not the point of the abuse. If the greed or arousal were not present, the abusers would still abuse.


However, if abusers never felt powerful when they abused victims, they would look for another way to feel powerful, because power is the point of abuse, all abuse.


When sexual predators abuse they choose sexual contexts to use as the tools and techniques to gain control and maintain power over their victims.


These tools and techniques are not intended to bring abusers sexual satisfaction, any more than bashing someone over the head with a hammer means their desire or motivation was to complete some carpentry project.


Likewise, during sexual abuse, sexual engagement with the victim(s) is the weapon of choice used to control and exert power.


So, now a simple grammar lesson to try to simplify this:


“Sexual Abuse” is Abuse – “abuse” is the verb, it is an action word, “abuse” is the thing happening.



The word “sexual” in the phrase “sexual abuse” is the qualifying adjective – it is the word that describes the context of the abuse.


This means that sexual abuse is always abuse, and while the tools of secrets, sexual images, words, and behaviors may take place, even if predators may experience sexual arousal while they abuse – it is never “sex”.


One more time for those of us inundated with Purity Culture:


Sexual Abuse is never Sex. It is Abuse.


Just like bashing someone’s head with a hammer is always assault and never carpentry.


Recognizing and understanding sexual abuse as a power issue, instead of a sexual issue, will help us create safer spaces for the vulnerable. It will help reduce the degree of shame victim/survivors experience making it easier to disclose what was done to them. It will reduce, and hopefully eliminate, all blame-shifting from the abuser to the victims or the abuser's spouse. And, it will shift the responsibility to the one person that should be held accountable and suffer consequences: the abuser.


Plus, it will help us to help the spouses, and the families of the abusers, by providing real practical support and resources, as opposed to nonsense intended to emphasize the marriage covenant, instead of the people within the marriage, and within the family.


Check back soon for more on "Pedophiles in Marriage".


Notes:

*The 14 books examined for Gregoire, Lindenbach, & Sawatsky's study, and their ratings from helpful to harmful, are listed on page 246 of The Great Sex Rescue.

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