Dr Maria Luca: Sexual bullying among young people and how psychotherapy can help
Sexual bullying and abuse is intertwined with abuse of power and betrayal of trust. The child who is rented out for sex by her/his parents, young women and men, as well as children who are trafficked for prostitution, deceived and manipulated into believing they are in for a good life, the girlfriend whose ex-boyfriend takes revenge through ‘texting’ sexual images of her to his friends, all are examples of sexual bullying. The internet with its global communication and easily accessible pornography lends itself to a thriving culture where sexual bullying can take place anonymously and behind the screen.
The extreme manifestation of what appears to be benign sexual innuendo among young people but is in fact malign, is presented in psychological therapy services, if indeed the person sexually bullied is able to seek help. This article will discuss sexual bullying especially where trust is betrayed and show the impact of betrayal on the mental health of the person. A vignette of a sexually bullied foreign student highlights the lived experience in being sexually bullied and explores appropriate psychological interventions.
The powerful feelings of shame, guilt and self-blame contribute to silence, where sexual bullying remains elusive until victims break down under the weight of the trauma.
Often sexual bullying remains undetected, unreported or even romanticized as part of a normal and growing sexualized culture. This creates a climate of fear of exposure with the implication that the person bullied suffers in silence and feels guilty by association. The victim’s self-esteem is often compromised. The powerful feelings of shame, guilt and self-blame contribute to silence, where sexual bullying remains elusive until victims break down under the weight of the trauma. Some perpetrators will use manipulation, empty promises, charm, even violence to achieve their aims, while others will carefully select potential victims who are vulnerable and can easily be deceived. Where sexual bullying takes place within families, the betrayal of trust is potentially psychologically crushing. This had been the case with Meryem, a fifteen year old Iranian girl referred to me for obsessive compulsive disorder.