Invisible Girls Demand To Be Seen


In my middle-American hometown, there remains a notorious
high school teacher. Every decade or so, he ends up with another former-student
girlfriend. The first of the young women taken in by his authoritative charm
later married, had a child with, and divorced him before he started luring my
generation with a seemingly cool babysitting gig that found more than a few
underage girls sleeping over. Last I heard, he had become involved with a girl
roughly thirty years his junior. Where I’m from, it is the town’s worst kept
secret.

In a revised second edition of her groundbreaking book Invisible Girls: The
Truth About Sexual Abuse
, Dr. Patti Feuereisen explains the intricacies
of mentor abuse among the other variants of sexual abuse and assault that many
young women face. In the United States alone, at least one in four young women
will survive some sort of abuse before she turns eighteen. Because sex crimes
remain so underreported, it is easy to assume that these numbers may in reality
be much higher. While many books written for young women exist, Dr. Feuereisen’s
book is intentionally mostly comprised of girls’ personal stories and letters.
Critical to this dialogue, she believes, is encouraging young women to tell
their own stories of abuse, from their own perspectives. Dr. Patti – using her
preferred semi-formal name in an effort to remain accessible to the women and
girls for whom she advocates – has been working with young survivors in group
counseling and private therapy for the past twenty-five years.

For Feuereisen, the message is simple: in a sexually
permissive culture that does not honor women and children – and often equates
women’s physical maturity with readiness to have sex – women’s sexuality
remains a commodity. While it may not always be bought and sold with money and
gifts, it is often used as barter among families and predatory partners. We all
know that young women are incredibly vulnerable to incest, date rape,
acquaintance rape, and mentor abuse. While we decry priests who abuse young
boys – a horrific crime – it is nevertheless telling that we ignore the
hundreds of thousands of young women who are regularly abused by teachers,
coaches, and pastors. It is easy to act horrified every time we hear that one
of our daughters was violated, but as a society, it is our duty to listen to
and support them.

Among her primary convictions, Feuereisen believes that
telling one’s own story as early as possible will lead to greater healing over
a lifetime. Young women are routinely violated and just as routinely silenced,
which Feuereisen believes can lead to personally destructive behavior later in
life. Feeling isolated in your experience can further exacerbate the pain of
sexual abuse and assault for many young women, who may later act out or shut
down. Without using scare tactics, Dr. Feuereisen’s urgent message is to seek
trusted assistance as soon as possible. There is no time like the present,
especially when you know you are not alone.

Many girls’ individual stories fill the fairly depressing
book, but then, reality is often dismal. Many young women, for example, escape
their abuse in fantasy worlds. While many therapists have dismissed complex,
imaginative fantasies as unhealthy, Dr. Feuereisen believes that they have been a
necessary coping mechanism for many of her clients’ survival. Some young women
leave home; others later change their names in an attempt to erase incestuous
linage. More than advocating one path or set of choices, Feuereisen applauds
not just survival; she validates the difficulties of being a young woman today.

From a practical perspective, Invisible
Girls
offers a lot of useful information for young survivors. Women of
any age can have difficulty advocating for themselves in the wake of sexual
abuse, but young women are arguably the most vulnerable. From detailing STD
testing, rape kits, and filing police reports to a thorough back-of-book
resource section, Feuereisen explains the ins and outs of recovering from
abuse. She doesn’t offer advice; she puts the tools for healing in her readers’
hands.

Not one to shy away from controversy, Dr. Feuereisen also devotes
a chapter to prostitution, which she claims is sexual abuse. While her rhetoric
may anger some former sex workers or pro-sex feminists, her arguments are
solid. She compares an older john who pays for sex with an underage prostitute
to an uncle who bribes an underage niece with gifts and explains the same type
of “do it for daddy” coercion exists across the spectrum of sexual abuse.
Equating sex work with frat house culture, Feuereisen points out that we
imprison prostitutes instead of their patrons and pimps, further supporting the
idea that women are routinely sexually devalued in our society.

When dealing with familial issues like incest, it’s
difficult to avoid blaming an adolescent’s parents. Perhaps because it can be
so difficult for others to offer this crucial validation, Feuereisen repeatedly
takes a stand against parents – and communities – who fail their children by
looking the other way. Dr. Patti explains that physically or emotionally absent
mothers are often compliant in father-daughter sexual abuse, and she does not
believe that forgiving your inattentive family – or your abuser – is necessary
for recovery. Instead, because assault survivors so often carry immense guilt
and shame, she repeatedly explains that the only person you have to forgive is
yourself.

Perhaps most relevant to increasingly wired generations are
Dr. Feuereisen’s online communities at her foundation’s website, GirlThrive, and on Facebook.
Sent to Feuereisen through various online channels and included in the book’s
updated Epilogue are collected stories of hopeful survivors and letters from
survivors’ parents.

Rape is still the number one violent crime against women in
the United States, and young women ages 16 – 25 are at the greatest risk for
date rape. It should go without saying that a culture permissive of this
widespread abuse against its women and girls, ultimately fails us all.

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  • anonymous99

    Here we go again… First, I hope there’s a valid source for this, “…it is nevertheless telling that we ignore the hundreds of thousands of young women who are regularly abused by teachers, coaches, and pastors.” There are “hundreds of thousands” of young women who are “regularly” abused by teachers, coaches, and pastors, eh? One in four girls sexually abused. And that number is likely “much” higher? Do these stats include sweet-talking and getting pregnant as abuse? Has flirting been elevated to abuse? What about staring? Honestly, if these stats are true (and not just another case of gross exaggeration re: sexual abuse appearing on this site) I really need to reconsider my support of comprehensive sex ed for young people. It’s no wonder parents want to lock up their girls. I thought the “right” was crazy but with stats like this maybe the “left” has the crazy ones. Shouldn’t the message to girls be stay in a group, don’t find yourself alone with a boy, and always carry mace? Forget condoms, here’s a handgun! The message of education in hopes of healthy sexual teen relationships strikes me as absurd in light of these stats. With comprehensive sex ed aren’t you just giving girls a false sense of security and setting them up for abuse? At the rate of what, 1/3? 1/2? Honestly, I don’t believe the 25% (let alone higher) any more than I believe Big Ben’s accuser. Also honestly I very much respect Heather and in my heart I know she’s doing the right thing. But I guess I do wonder why people like Heather and Martha find it so surprising that parents are SO scared of comprehensive sex ed. It’s articles like this that are scaring the daylights out of parents and turning them against not only comprehensive sex ed but normal social interaction between boys and girls. Parents I know are truly frightened to have their girls around 6th-grade boys! They fear their hormones. They would rather have them learn Karate than what a condom is. Furthermore, don’t be surprised if you can’t find anyone to teach, coach, or pastor your kids. And let’s try this again… if you have sexual relations with someone willingly and consensually, even if it’s for money or favors, you’re not being abused. You might be desperate or a pushover, but you’re not being abused. And finally, this “It should go without saying that a culture permissive of this widespread abuse against its women and girls…” Are you kidding me? Our culture is “permissive” of “widespread” abuse against women and girls? I have no idea what rock some of you people live under but I find this insulting as hell to all Americans. We live in a much greater culture than you portray. To suggest we’re all just looking the other way is ridiculous. Stop the fear-mongering! YOU’RE UNDERMINING THOSE WHO ARE TRULY BEING ABUSED!

    • catseye71352

      Methinks thou dost protest was, _way_ WAAAAAAAAAAAAYYY too much. 

      Catseye  ( (|) )

    • catseye71352

      Methinks thou dost protest way, _way_ WAAAAAAAAAYYYY too much.

       

      Catseye  ( (|) )

    • emma

      Anonymous99, do you have any links to statistics you’d consider more credible?

  • ch

    Wow, way to miss the point. You seem to be conflating two different issues here, consensual sexual activity between teens and sexual abuse of teen girls by adult men in positions of authority (coaches, pastors, etc.), and/or by men in their own families (incest).

     

    The message of education in hopes of healthy sexual teen relationships strikes me as absurd in light of these stats.

     

    What article are you reading? This is not an article about healthy teen sexual relationships. It’s an article on  sexual assault, rape and incest perpetuated on girls in their own families, or by other adults that have access to them, generally because they are adults who have been mistakenly trusted by the family. And yes, such abuse is detrimental, not only in the short term but the long term as well.

     

    And let’s try this again… if you have sexual relations with someone willingly and consensually, even if it’s for money or favors, you’re not being abused. You might be desperate or a pushover, but you’re not being abused.

     

    Um, what? What does this have to do with the article? Do you understand the meaning of sexual assault, rape, or incest? And that none of those are by any definition, consensual sex? And this article is attempting to address some of the issues surrounding the sexual abuse of girls by people they know and should be able to trust?  Did you even read the article or just see the picture and start spouting nonsense? 

  • dr-patti

    First of all this is a great review of our book. The only part I do not agree with is that the book is ” fairly depressing”. The feedback I get from all over the world from survivors is that although the book is very difficult at parts, “Invisible Girls” is uplifting and freeing. But for non-survivors, yes it can be upsetting and very difficult, and I guess “fairly depressing”. But it is all about hope, and healing. Brittany got it all right, and she touched upon very important aspects of the book. And if anything I am easy on our culture! I am not sure why Anonymous 99 mis understood this review. The fact is “Invisible Girls” is used in some highschool sex ed curriculm. It is perfect and needs to be incorporated in sex education. I am presently proposing sections of the book for just that. Unfortunatly the commentor has the attitudes that are often prevelant in our culture. Blame the vicitmized, blame the pregnant girl for flirting! Oye… This below comment is particularly disturbing:

    if you have sexual relations with someone willingly and consensually, even if it’s for money or favors, you’re not being abused. You might be desperate or a pushover, but you’re not being abused.

    I urge this person to get the book out of the library and read it. Please please try to have some understanding that teenage girls do not want money or favors for sex. If they choose to be sexually active most of them want intimacy, love, care and companionship- as well as sexual pleasure.

    Again I want to thank Brittany for such an indepth, thougtful review. Invisible Girls are becoming visible every day and they are healing, recovering, and thriving. They are the strongest most amazing girls I have the honor of knowing. dr. patti

  • cmarie

    I have to agree with anon99 that our culture doesn’t condone abuse of women. hello, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, much of central Africa? However I would like to point out that sexual harrisment can occour a lot at work as well, especially when girls are very young (14 or 15) because they honestly don’t know they can complain without losing their jobs. I remember running a cash register and dreading having to call a manager for any reason because one owner would kill himself to get to the young girls and then feel them up. And he did it to everyone, all the time. Maybe the fact that it was a mid size family owned business caused this to go on as long as it did. The lesson I’ve taken from this experience is that I, as an adult have a responsibility to look out for young employees at stores or businesses that I patronize. No one ever spoke up for me (or anyone that I know of) at the store I worked at in the 80′s. They were in a hurry and had their own kids to think about but it would have meant a lot and probably made a difference.

  • anonymous99

    That’s great Catseye.  I challenge a post that makes some shocking statements and you try to bully me with a shocking insuation.  I’m still wondering if there’s a source for the claim that we ignore hundreds of thousands of young women who are regularly abused by teachers, coaches, and pastors.  Where is the research on this?  Where did the "number" hundreds of thousands come from?  What is the nature of the abuse?  If this is true where are these young girls’ parents and friends and what is wrong with school administrators, parent organizations, church leaders.  If something "horrific" is happening WHY would everyone ignore it?  Am I really supposed to believe that Americans could care less and just don’t like girls?

  • cmarie

    Also this morning Roman Polansky was finally arrested in Zurich for the 1977 rape of a 13 year old which he pled guilty to and will hopefully soon be extradited to face charges. That story certainly ties in with this one (young model– working) and I hope you will consider it for your follow up article. thanks

  • anonymous99

    I’m not the one who wrote the book or article.  Americans are ignoring the hundreds of thousands of young women who are regularly abused by teachers, coaches, and pastors.  You would think that if someone were to make such a shocking claim they would have some type of study or stats to back it up.  I’m really wondering if this was just fabricated out of thin air or a gross exageration of a real problem.  I really think the authors who appear on this site are great and I agree with them often.  However, I have found that the most overused word around here is "abuse".   If you’re going to use this word I would suggest someone peer review you’re work to make sure you’re not making any false or exaggerated claims.  "Way to go girl" type responses are fine but why not be critical of each other’s post to make sure you’re not overreaching.  And the insinuation that Americans care more about well-being of boys than girls is really outrageous also.  There’s a very real sense of victimhood in feminism that shows up on this site nearly every day.  America aint that bad ladies.  Stop whining.

  • brittany-shoot

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Dr. Patti. It’s really interesting – I’m an abuse survivor myself, but I guess I never stop feeling like abuse is ‘depressing’ in a sense, hence my use of the phrase. Maybe a better word choice would have been ‘heavy,’ as in, this is tough but important. I’ve also suffered from depression and hate to overuse that word as a result, but since abuse and depression can be so linked, it seemed somewhat fitting, if easily misunderstood. I didn’t catch your book when it was first published, so I feel very honored to have been aware of it the second time around! Thanks for your excellent work. I definitely hope this write-up inspires more women – of all ages! – to rethink forms and patterns of abuse, as well as how early these issues can arise.

  • colleen

    anonymous99,

    Perhaps if went to the library, checked out the book and then read it (as the author kindly suggested) you would find the information you’re demanding.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • anonymous99

    "Dr. Feuereisen’s book is intentionally mostly comprised of girls’ personal stories and letters." I’m not sure reading the book would help answer my question.  BTW I have no doubt the book is wonderful and helpful for young women.  I’m simply trying to make the point that there’s no need to make exagerated claims re: the level of abuse or to blame Americans for not caring enough about young women.  This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened on this site.  This is just an honest critique.  Be more careful.  It’s OK to pop-off at the water cooler that Americans don’t care enough about young women.  It’s a whole different thing when it shows up on RHRealityCheck.org.  Thanks for allowing me to post these thoughts.  It would be awfully boring around here if every post was agreeable to the author.

  • colleen

    I’m not sure reading the book would help answer my question.

    Why not explore the possibility or, barring that, do your own research?
    I’m certainly not inclined to argue with you about the extent of childhood sexual abuse in the US, particularly not after you chose to redefine what childhood sexual abuse means in your first post in this thread.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • crowepps

    I have to agree with anon99 that our culture doesn’t condone abuse of women.

    I disagree. Our culture doesn’t condone abuse of GOOD women, but certainly there isn’t a whole lot of excitement about abuse of those who don’t make that grade. There’s a reason why serial killers manage to rack up impressive totals so long as they stick to prostitutes. Consider the contrast between how the protestors at the G8 conference were treated by ‘law and order’ where the people being harassed were wealthy men as opposed to the amount of abuse tolerated by those same cops when it’s directed by ‘religious’ people towards Planned Parenthood clients.

  • anonymous99

    America in NO WAY accepts the serial killings of prostitutes or anyone else for that matter.  Prostitutes work in an underground world and this makes their associations and whereabouts difficult to track.  This is what makes prostitutes easier targets and their abusers/killers harder to track down.  The drug trade presents the same challenges for law enforcement.  The real answer in regards to protecting sex workers in many ways is to make it legal and regulated.  I support this.  Of course, members of the RHRealityCheck community regard prostitution as abuse and, of course, we can’t legalize abuse now can we.

  • anonymous99

    The book does not appear to be heavy on stats.  That’s why I’m saying I don’t think it will help answer my question.  In any event, I’ll try to find the book. 

  • colleen

    Of course, members of the RHRealityCheck community regard prostitution as abuse and, of course, we can’t legalize abuse now can we.

    I’ve seen no evidence that members of this blog see prostitution as abuse. The DOJ says that the AVERAGE age girls are introduced into prostitution is 12-14 (and boys 11-13). The law says that availing oneself of the services of children that young is abuse and arrests the johns. The fact that there’s apparently a huge market for these children does not make my heart swell with patriotic pride or a great deal of respect for American men.
    Try to legalize child prostitution and believe me, the women who post on this blog will be the least of your worries.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • anonymous99

    I’m surprised noone has tackled this story yet on this site.  I happened to be watching CNN tonight and they had a piece on it.  I did see the HBO documentary on Roman Polansky which went into this incident at great length.  I don’t believe Polansky ever pleaded guilty to rape.  My understanding is he was prepared to plead guilty via plea bargain to having sex with a minor (maybe you meant statutory rape).  However, the judge threw out the plea bargain and Polansky fled before the trial in the face of rape and other charges.  In any event, I agree, this seems like an important story that should be addressed here.

  • anonymous99

    Colleen, please read Brittany’s post again.  Here’s an exact quote, "Not one to shy away from controversy, Dr. Feuereisen also devotes a chapter to prostitution, which she claims is sexual abuse."  I disagree with Dr. Feuereisen and given the controversy regarding her position that Brittany points out I’m not alone.  This has nothing to do with child prostitution.  Get your mind out of the gutter.