Or: Tackling the “Repeat Victim” Phenomenon
How do we as a community, as leadership, as friends, and as acquaintances approach those who exhibit extraordinary risk-taking behavior and self-disregard?
I’ve been hesitant to write on this topic, as it is a sensitive subject for many, including myself. I feel like my insight is something that is important and valuable however, so I’m going to take the time to write a few thoughts.
I was at a convention a few years ago and I went to a class where the presenter introduced the concept of “repeat victims” as a counter-point to “repeat offenders.” The “repeat victim” was portrayed as someone who sought out, consciously or unconsciously, situations in which they would be abused or assaulted. Now, I will be transparent and say that I left this class about ten minutes into it, as I found it completely repulsive. I do not know what the content of the class was primarily about. I do not even remember what the title of the class was or who taught it. It’s not really important. What’s important to me is that I remembered this concept of the repeat victim. It stayed with me, haunted me, throughout my time in the kink scene, until I ultimately left. What’s important is that my friend, who was somewhat of a mentor to me in the scene, told me afterwards that he saw me leave and thought, “Now that’s a mistake, because if anyone needs to be hearing this lecture, it’s her.”
I was a repeat victim.
Let me expand upon that a little:
- When I was seven, an older girl sexually abused me, which continued for about three years.
- At sixteen, I was raped after getting wasted at a party where I knew almost no one.
- When I was twenty, my first boyfriend told me I wasn’t allowed to have sex toys because it was cheating, despite the fact that he was “poly” and had another girlfriend; he made me bring him my sex toys, hundreds of dollars worth, so he could make sure they were thrown in the trash.
- My next boyfriend raped me in my sleep several times, and my therapist at the time said it was normal for boyfriends to instigate sex while their girlfriend was asleep.
- My first night in the scene, I had the inside of my brand new nipple piercing burned so badly that my top said he “smelled burning flesh” and it ultimately rejected. I had specifically told him during negotiation not to touch my new nipple piercings.
- During a flogging, in which I had specified that we would be doing nothing but flogging, my top groped my breast, hard enough to bruise, and kissed me.
- I received a back rub from a man at a club, and established that no play would happen after that. He then proceeded to grope me.
- I was gaslighted for nine months by someone I was very close to.
- I was raped by a girlfriend.
Now there are varying levels of intent involved in some of these anecdotes. For example, the man who gaslighted me for nine months understood exactly what he was doing, from before he started to after he finished. I consider him to have done something truly horrifying, and intentionally so. However, it is entirely likely that the men who groped me were playing fast and loose with consent, without preemptively considering whether or not they might be causing a violation.
The problem was that, from the age of seven, I was taught that what I wanted and didn’t want was not important. That was reiterated throughout my life, and I never really had an opportunity to learn otherwise. By the time I reached the scene, I was hurtling forward seeking pain without much consideration for safety, rolling with the punches as well as I could, and getting knocked down over and over and getting right back up, as I was so used to doing. It was my reality.
But more than that, I was determined to maintain my reality. I sought out risky situations, disregarded red flags, and refused to educate myself on how to protect myself from future injury. When injury did happen, I would inevitably say that I was entirely faultless, and that it’s the entire responsibility of offender not to offend. Honestly, the biggest problem with that attitude was that I kept getting hurt. I kept finding out who the people were who would bend or break the rules by diving headfirst into the most extreme situations with them and then being unprepared when they didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to.
I didn’t completely have my head in the clouds during this time, of course. I considered myself an edge player, and I told people who’d talk to me about my play style that I did not recommend they style their play after mine. I considered myself to be a practitioner of risk aware consensual kink, and I believed I had accepted the risks involved in pick up play and high-risk play. But I hadn’t, not really. Because eventually everyone will make a mistake, forget something, or bend the rules, especially in pickup play, and I wasn’t prepared to deal with that possibility.
A bottom has a responsibility to be proactive in maintaining their own safety, including preparing for such possibilities, just as a top has a responsibility to maintain consistent consent. These two things do not counteract each other. I am interested in the practical aspects of protecting oneself without detracting from the moral obligation tops have to value bottoms’ consent. When something does goes wrong, it’s entirely likely both or neither are responsible. Acknowledging that allows for a lot more conversation about how to move forward.
How did I eventually move forward, and cease to be a repeat victim? Well, I suffered a knee injury severe enough that I was wheelchair bound and thus expelled unceremoniously from the scene without so much as a goodbye. Oh, I clung to it as hard as I could for as long as I could, but eventually I let my grip go and I was free of the scene for over a year, only returning when I felt I was absolutely ready, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
During that time, I was forced to face not only mental health issues, but also physical health issues that had for a long time gone untreated, and had compounded upon each other. I also was faced with the fact that, outside of sexuality, I didn’t have a whole lot going for me. Only after I got my physical health, especially my neurological issues, under control was I able to face what until then I had been too ashamed to admit, even to myself: I was a repeat victim.
I had read The Gift of Fear at the suggestion of my boyfriend at the very early stages of my recovery. When I finally was ready to admit that I was a repeat victim, I returned to this book and faced down some of the things I had learned there, and instead of just accepting what was in this book as information, I instead worked on how to apply it to my life. I sometimes now come across as jaded or cynical about others’ motivations due to this, but I find it truly useful to recognize when and why to trust and distrust others’ motivations.
In addition, I spent a lot of time just doing shit. Reading, writing, making art, talking with friends, going to concerts and events, and essentially, becoming a better-rounded human being, and making the decision to do these things on my own. This I think, more than anything else, is what changed me from being a repeat victim. It may seem silly, but developing a sense of self outside of one singular community, and learning to define oneself independently is essential to learning how to self-advocate.
My question becomes then, what does one do when you suspect someone you care about is a repeat victim?
I consider classes such as the one I went to, but how are we to keep them from leaving, as I did? And even if they did stay, there is a good chance that they would simply hear the information and not apply it, as I had with other classes on negotiation. Are we simply to shut these people out of the scene for their own good? I don’t know if that would be effective either, or if it would just lead them to riskier behaviors elsewhere, after feeling rejected by one of the few communities that might accept them. Is intervention the way to go? Or would an intervention just cause defensiveness and anger?
I don’t have answers for these questions, and I welcome the opinions of anyone who has helped such people before. It seems to me that, as with many things, change is only possible when one recognizes there is a problem. However, I question if there is a way to push someone to see that there is a problem when they are otherwise unwilling.
I request that all comments be made with compassion; any comments made with the intention of cruelty or flippancy will be deleted. I also request that comments be focused towards the topic of how we as a community, as leadership, as friends, and as acquaintances can approach those for whom we are concerned regarding extraordinary risk taking behavior.
The last hospital I spent time inpatient at treated all of their patients with significantly more dignity, allowing us to shower in our own bathrooms, for example. The biggest difference for me is that the other hospitals used eating with the group as a privilege, and if you didn’t attend therapy or misbehaved you’d have to eat in your room. The last hospital did not use food or social interaction as a reward or punishment in any way. The therapists also just spent time with the patients, instead of interacting with the patients solely in therapy settings. When we’d be between therapies, we would all be in the group area, and there would be two or three therapists in there interacting with us and treating us like human beings. That never happened at the other hospitals. These are all important factors in making patients feel that they are valued, and that they have agency in their recovery.
In a treatment style that, quite honestly, has very little to do with what the patient wants, as psychiatry often does – especially for patients who are ill enough to need to be inpatient – the most important factor in making sure that patients recover is to teach them how to have agency in their recovery. Psychiatry often takes away a patient’s agency, but that is the opposite of helpful. Yes, sometimes people go kicking and screaming inpatient, but once they’re there, they should have a say in how they’re treated. They should not be manipulated or forced into treatments they do not understand or want unless there is absolute necessity, and what goes behind that judgment call that is far too poorly developed.
Patients are often called on to make medical decisions for themselves while they are heavily medicated and unable to understand what they are being told; it’s happened to me. I’ve been given PRNs when I wasn’t asked for consent until the medication had already been drawn into the needle and they were prepping my arm – and when I said no, I was treated as if I had done something wrong. I’ve consented to an injection of Haldol that resulted in horrific side effects for five days afterwards – because I was explicitly told it would not cause side effects.
In my various other treatments, I’ve generally been presented with at least two different treatment options, given the pros and cons of each, given general advice, and then I was called upon to make the final decision. I have never experienced such a phenomenon in psychiatry. With psychiatry, I am evaluated, given a prescription for a medication that is often not explained to me at all, and sent on my way. The only discussion is of symptoms, not of solutions. I am deemed incapable of making such a determination myself, but why is that? It is because I have been intentionally under-educated on the topic of medication management, in a way that is simply not standard in any other field. Whenever I have wanted to even find out about the intended effects of a medication I am on, I have generally been forced to seek out answers on the internet, not from my doctors.
Giving patients agency and treating their decisions with respect is a basic human right. Beyond that, it is good treatment policy. It will help patients recover. Patients that take an active part in their recovery are more likely to stay recovered. Patients who feel that they have a responsibility to care for their own well-being, that what happens to them is a direct result of how they behave, will make more healthy choices.
I do not trust the psychiatric community as a whole because I do not believe that the general psychiatric community has the understanding or the desire (or both) to effectively treat patients who are viewed as having severe mental health problems. I believe that these patients are viewed as hopeless cases and are often viewed as incapable of caring for themselves. But the truth is that they have been taught not to care or themselves by the very culture of the psychiatric community that is supposed to be helping them. They have been taught that they are not responsible for their behaviors. They have been taught that they have no control over themselves. They have been taught that they are powerless. Because the system makes them powerless, over and over again, and tells them it’s what’s best.
I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, after having been diagnosed with depression for six years. This change in psychiatric diagnosis is coming on the eve of my narcolepsy diagnosis.
When I recently changed psychiatrists and described my symptoms to her, and mentioned that I was only recently diagnosed as bipolar, she looked at me in disbelief. “It took them this long to figure out?” I have periods of intense sensation seeking, hyperfocus, and impulsive spending, drinking, and sexual behavior, followed by periods of catatonia and depression. The problem? During the periods that could easily be described as “manic” by what I just described, I still slept. I always could sleep.
Now, I would sleep less, mind you, closer to seven hours a night instead of, say, twelve at night plus a few hours in naps. But that didn’t seem to be enough difference for my doctors to say definitively that what I was experiencing wasn’t some sort of impulsive attempt to drag myself out of depression. This was not helped by the fact that I often experience mixed episodes, where I feel both extremely upset but extremely high energy at the same time.
The fact that this disorder went untreated for six years, and instead was treated as depression, was the primary reason why I was viewed as a difficult patient. I was clearly motivated to get better, and would improve while inpatient in the psychiatric hospital, when I had very few stressors and could sleep when I needed to and had a very concrete schedule. However, the real world is not like an inpatient facility. And I was neither on the medications nor the treatment plan to help me deal with that.
I’ve been inpatient at psychiatric hospitals a total of eight times. Every time, their solution to my problems was to put me on more antidepressants and old school antipsychotics like Risperdal and Haldol. Risperdal helped my symptoms a bit, but made me sleep more than ever, and I begged my doctor to take me off of it. Haldol I was on for several years to little effect, until I developed tremors and had to be taken off of it.
I came to perceive myself as untreatable, as someone who, no matter how hard I tried, was just impossible to help. No one seemed able to understand why I would suddenly want to kill myself, and why hours later I’d have no desire to die, but instead to eat everything in sight. No one understood why for a month I’d not want to get out of bed and then suddenly I’d start spending all my money on art supplies for projects I’d come up with at one in the morning. Everyone was at a loss, and I just thought I was a hopeless mess.
Looking back at all of this, it’s clear to me that I had bipolar disorder, but hindsight is 20/20. What frustrates me is the fact that one single element, the fact that I could sleep during manias, was so important to diagnosis, that I was rendered undiagnosable and thus untreatable. Now, my doctors understand that I have narcolepsy and I can, in fact, sleep most times, regardless, and that the intense difference in the amount of sleep is notable, especially in someone with untreated narcolepsy.
I’m finally on the pathway to getting treatment both for bipolar disorder and for narcolepsy, and hopefully they will both be effective quickly, although neurological and especially psychological treatments tend to take time to work out the fine details. I’m hopeful. I feel like we are finally on a path to understanding what is going on with me. I feel like I am finally treatable, and that it really is worth the effort in the end.