When Sexual Assault Doesn’t Look Like Sexual Assault
[Alternate tile: When an Affair Isn’t an Affair]
There is a form of rape or sexual assault rarely discussed. It occurs the result of manipulative luring, particularly of women already in a relationship. A woman’s existing relationship may be good or may have its issues, but if not for the strategies, patience yet perseverance of the perpetrator, that woman would never have been lured into an adulterous looking relationship.
The perpetrator in these circumstances uses techniques of social isolation, exploitation of a person’s vulnerabilities and is frequently presenting himself as troubled by events in his life and needing the emotional support of his target.
We certainly recognize how a young child can be lured: the young child can be offered candy; can be asked to view a puppy; can be told their parent asked that they be picked up. The lures of the adult in some ways can appear similar yet are more sophisticated and sinister: I heard some colleagues talking badly about you. I can’t tell you who, but I have your back.
Consider that lure, that hook.
Instantly, the perpetrator creates a sense of dependency in his target causing him to appear to provide safety in a fictitious situation he creates to make the target feel unsafe. She is now suspicious of her colleagues. He is the only one who can help her through. This is an unbalancing technique.
As the dependency is fostered, then the perpetrator steps up the game: My wife/partner doesn’t understand me…”
Now the target, already unbalanced and likely feeling indebted for him having her back is manipulated into feeling sorry for him. He now needs her support which if withheld would cause her to feel ungrateful. Further, if she withholds her support, she can fear him withholding his and she might therefore be at the mercy of colleagues who may be out to get her. How psychologically manipulative is that!
As one can imagine, this is a scenario that can be further manipulated over time to the point where she is pulled towards sleeping with him. The period of further manipulation is known as grooming. Rarely is this appreciated as a premeditated and insidious form of sexual assault or rape.
As she tries to make sense of her behavior, he may further his brainwashing and grooming of her by alleging they each have feelings for each other. She needing to make sense of a seemingly insane situation may hold on to the perpetrators construction of reality and may engage further in a seemingly romantic tryst, while all the while feeling bewildered, confused, isolated and afraid.
The impact of these manipulated sexual assaults is devastating.
Victims are left to question their morality and indeed it was their morality that was twisted, distorted and used against them. They feel their personal integrity has been shattered.
The woman’s partner also rarely understands or appreciates the dynamics involved; how the perpetrator can actually be better at manipulation than many of us are at not being sucked in. Rather than seeing the woman as a victim of a sexual predator, she is cast as a cheater or adulterer. If her marriage was already troubled, then this can be further used against her by her partner to cast blame and avoid responsibility for issues within their own relationship. These situations so remarkably would undermine even the most otherwise stable and reasonable relationship.
I am seeing more and more of these situation.
The matter comes to me for either couple therapy or mediation to resolve their separation.
If mediation, there is much unresolved anger as the whole situation is cast superficially as a tremendous affair. By the time the couple has separated, it may be impossible to roll back the clock and reconstruct the narrative of what has transpired and why.
In couple therapy, it is no easy task either, but hopefully the couple can more meaningfully unwind what transpired. Hopefully the couple can resist blame and shame of the woman and come to appreciate the insidiousness of the perpetrator’s luring and manipulations and how most anyone can be vulnerable to exploitation.
It is important in couple therapy to support the woman’s partner. The partner will have to address the many personal and inter-personal implications of what has transpired. Anger leading to blame is a common starting point. This is not to be dismissed or seen as inappropriate to begin. It can take considerable discussion and time to come to terms with this seemingly infidelity, not yet appreciated as an insidious sexual assault.
These are remarkably tangled webs to unweave and bear considerable discussion and understanding of not only those involved, but also of their friends and family.
While the effects of the actual sexual assault are many, it is the psychological impact in these situations that are most destructive.
Hopefully this blog post can be of service to those who are in these situations. It can take much time to recover. The aftermath is considerable and counseling with someone attuned to these dynamics can be critical to recovery.
Not all sexual assaults are understood for what they are. Not all sexual assaults look like sexual assault.
I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue. I am available in person and by Skype.
Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.
If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.
Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.