BREAK THE CONNECTION BETWEEN STRESS AND ILLNESS
Heal From Sexual Exploitation & Harassment
by Alexis Acker-Halbur
Sexual harassment and exploitation committed by famous men – movie producers, actors, politicians, co-workers, therapists, and clergy has inundated the news. The lid has been blown off this pressure-cooker and silence is no longer an option. With this exposure I hate to admit it, but men are not the only ones capable of harassing and exploiting women.
After the rape my freshman year in college, I was traumatized and knew I needed help. My counselor was the assistant director of the university’s counseling center, a prominent figure in the community, and a woman. After four years of therapy she knew where I was most vulnerable – I had trouble establishing healthy boundaries, and sex and feeling loved were horribly entangled. To feel love I wrongly felt I had to be sexual. Though I spent hours in her office sobbing, she intentionally sexually exploited me.
Though I had no other therapy to compare this to, I knew what happened was wrong. For four months she sexually exploited me, and I was both elated and depressed; I was emotionally high and physically drained. I loved her and hated myself. I wanted the sex to continue, but I prayed for it to end. When it did, I was devastated. Friends encouraged me to see another therapist, but I was so frightened this would happen again. I did not trust anyone because I feared I would be repeatedly used for sex.
Female to female sexual exploitation and harassment studies are rare, but these types of trauma do happen – and need to be researched. Male to female studies indicate as many as 10 to 12 percent of male therapists sexually exploit female clients at some point in their career. For many men, this is not a single incident, but is a repeated behavior. For therapy clients like me, as many as 90 percent of us suffer serious consequences – such as running the risk of being exploited and abused all over again – when what we sought was help. There is absolutely nothing romantic about sexual harassment or exploitation. It is not about love; sex is used as the vehicle to feel powerful. It happens when an unethical professional meets psychologically vulnerable women patients, clients, or students, and decides to use her trust in him/her – because of his/her power and position, to their own advantage – with little regard to the consequences for the woman.
Luckily, I am resilient and did, indeed, go back into therapy two years later. When I explained what happened, the new therapist (a woman) said to me, “Alexis, I’m not going to be sexual with you.” Her words were shocking, but my heart leapt for joy. Thee were the words I needed to start healing.
Women who have been sexually exploited and harassed feel ashamed and are told “Don’t tell anyone” from a parent, politician, or therapist. Women and girls should hear this statement as a red flag and a dangerous warning. Remember: quality relationships never include physical assault or sexual exploitation and harassment.