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.
Today, a close friend of mine made a post about a comment I made to her that really made an impact, and I thought I’d write a bit more about it at length.
What I had mentioned to her was a concept called forced intimacy. This is a type of manipulation where an acquaintance shares very intimate information with another person in order to create a false sense of closeness, usually soon after meeting. After sharing said information, the acquaintance then proceeds to expect said closeness to be reciprocated, either with personal information shared or with emotional support from the other party.
These situations usually feel uncomfortable for the individual being manipulated, as they feel that they have not established this intimacy through the time and effort that usually is required for that level of sharing/support/etc. and yet they feel guilt because they now feel obligated to respond by the other person’s vulnerability. This is exactly how the person who overshares wants them to feel. What then proceeds from such relationships is often a highly intense relationship that is not based on trust or common bond, but rather on heightened emotions, requiring every interaction to have high intensity in order to be maintained.
I’ll give an example of an experience that I went through recently, where I encountered forced intimacy:
I went to a support group for one of my disabilities, and afterwards, an individual caught up with me afterwards, alone, and started chatting with me about some things I had said in said support group, including the fact that I am autistic and bipolar. They then proceeded to tell me at length about how they had supported a past partner through grad school, who then proceeded to leave them after graduation. They told me about how this partner had bipolar disorder, and told me at length about the partner’s mental health issues. At several points I tried to cut the conversation short, asked no questions, and only gave noncommittal responses.
Eventually this person, after sharing with me for over an hour, switched the conversation over to attempting to extract information from me, about my dating life, about my diagnoses, about my treatment, etc. At this point, I did manage to extract myself, but this person did follow me and continued talking at me until I reached my car, at which point I finally made my escape.
Now, I had done, to my knowledge, nothing to indicate that I had any interest in having a conversation with this person besides perhaps a polite smile and nod, and had not directly spoken to them during the meeting. They had likely chosen me because I was new, and thus likely looking for connections.
Now, let me be clear, I have no idea whether this person did these things understanding what they were doing, or whether they were behaving manipulatively out of habit, as so many of us do. Many people, especially those with mental health issues, behave in manipulative ways in order to get the support they need because they have learned that is the only way that they can acquire it (at least in the form they want, which may be via friends, and not therapists).
I am by no means saying that all manipulators are people who are social puppeteers who know exactly what they are doing when they are doing it and have some big end game in mind; in fact, I would say the majority of manipulators are the exact opposite of this. I would say most manipulators know what they want for the next few steps; they know how to get from Point A to Point B. But this sort of manipulation is still unhealthy at best and abusive at worst.
Becoming aware of manipulative behaviors is an incredibly eye-opening experience, and coming to understand that we all, in fact, behave manipulatively at points has motivated me to become a more genuine person. As much as I may seem to others to be mistrusting or cynical, I believe that learning to see manipulation as it is and to learn not to respond to it, and, in fact, to reject and avoid it, will not only improve my quality of life, but will encourage others to learn to behave in ways that are less manipulative and more genuine in order to get what they want from me.
It is the day after Easter Sunday and I’m thinking about redemption.
I’m not a religious person by nature. Something about this holiday struck a chord with me.
I believe in redemption. That may seem like a strange thing to say, like redemption is a matter of faith. But for me, it is.
I am reading a series of novels right now by Stephen R Donaldson called The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which is a story of redemption. It features a man who has been plagued – but not overcome – with leprosy. He is a man who was once a beautiful human, turned wretched – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – by illness. He lost everything to leprosy, first in the physical realm – his wife, his child, any social ties – and then he pushed himself to become almost mechanical, nearly sub-human, in order to survive.
Early in the first book of this series, Lord Foul’s Bane, Thomas Covenant commits an act so atrocious that I – as a reader – was not sure I could forgive him. I’m still not sure I have. And yet, somehow, the characters in the book maintain faith that there is good within him. They hold not only to their precept of peace, but the majority of them somehow forgive him.
I have not finished the series, but I believe Covenant will be redeemed.
I’m afraid I am on a similar journey to Covenant. Although there is no singular event to pinpoint as the height of my instability and grotesque illness, I have definitely been near where Covenant was. For Covenant, he was not dead, but on the brink of dying, and fighting to stay on life’s edge of death. For myself, I was not dead, but on the brink of living, and unsure what side of death I wanted to be on. We both made ourselves sub-human, for a time. And in becoming sub-human, we immersed ourselves in self-loathing.
My story of redemption has sat squarely in the realm of allowing myself to be vulnerable, uncomfortable, and honest. A big part of this, I realize, is accepting that, while I have a unique set of life experiences, this does not mean others cannot engage with me as a whole person. I do not have to pare down myself into bite-size chunks and only dole out the ones that I think people want, hoarding the rest to go rotten.
I struggle to write on the topic of the redemption of others, as I have much more fear that it may not be universal, redemption. I fear that redemption is not available to all. It is a fear that sits deep in my chest. But in the end, I choose to have faith. I have faith in redemption. I guess, in the end, I have faith in myself. In humanity. In the world.
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.
There is a link going around about a soldier who left his position and was then held captive by the Taliban, who has since been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder. I have seen calls for this man’s execution, and claims that STPD is not a mental illness, but rather a personality disorder, which is supposed to be different. I understand that the military is a very polarizing topic, but I’d like to give my two cents.
First of all, there are multiple categories of personality disorder. STPD is categorized under Category A, which is described as odd, eccentric, bizarre. The personality disorders people usually think of when they hear the term Personality Disorder is Category B, described as dramatic or erratic, and includes Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. These are the three that carry the stigma of the term Personality Disorder, and I have further opinions on whether all of them deserve that stigma, but that is irrelevant here.
So, what we have established is that the traits normally associated with the term personality disorder does not necessarily apply here, so let’s go over what personality disorder does mean. Here is the definition of personality disorder from the Mayo Clinic
A personality disorder is a type of mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving. A person with a personality disorder has trouble perceiving and relating to situations and to people. This causes significant problems and limitations in relationships, social encounters, work and school.
Now, my understanding, from this definition and from further research, is that a personality disorder is, effectively, a mental illness that is much more pervasive than what is traditionally expected of a mental illness, especially in terms of interpersonal relationships. So now, here is the definition of STPD specifically, also from the Mayo Clinic:
Peculiar dress, thinking, beliefs, speech or behavior
Odd perceptual experiences, such as hearing a voice whisper your name
Flat emotions or inappropriate emotional responses
Social anxiety and a lack of or discomfort with close relationships
Indifferent, inappropriate or suspicious response to others
“Magical thinking” — believing you can influence people and events with your thoughts
Belief that certain casual incidents or events have hidden messages meant specifically for you
So, given the context of a man in the military who feels his superior has made a dangerous decision, and this man has STPD, it is entirely foreseeable that he may believe that attempting to bring his misgivings to an even further superior officer in a traditional manner would either result in nothing, or worse, in persecution. It would also be entirely foreseeable that a man in this position with STPD would feel that it was most appropriate to cause a scene in order to gain the attention he felt was suitable for the seriousness of the issue. By not only getting the attention of a superior officer, but the attention of multiple bases, he would, in his mind, force the hand of the superior officer to take notice.
Calling for this man’s execution, saying that STPD is irrelevant to this issue, and many other responses I’ve seen on social media to this issue have appalled – although not surprised – me. It shows me just how little understanding there is of mental illness, still. It also shows me how we pick and choose when mental illness is and is not an excuse for behavior.
This man did what he did because he viewed it as his best option in order to protect his comrades, and we call for his death. When a random white man kills several women for no reason other than that they are women and he wants revenge, we say he was mentally ill (without any proof of such) and call it a tragedy for all involved. Not only does this show me that we value the military more than we value the lives of women, it also shows me that what we value most about the military is not necessarily our soldiers or their well-being.
Mental illness is not something that can be cherry picked as an excuse when it suits one’s worldview. Murder is immoral regardless of whether a person had mental illness, and mental illness should not be an excuse, unless, perhaps, there is a break from reality, such as psychosis. What this man did should not be excused either simply because of mental illness, either; however, he did not murder, and what he did do is much more ethically ambiguous. Why is it then that he is the one who deserves execution by the standards of the masses?
There’s a version of me that only exists in past tense. I think that’s true for everyone, but I realized recently that the difference is much more stark within me than it is within many. My past tense is a stranger towards whom I reach, simultaneously trying to pull inwards and push away. The realization that I cannot become who I once was is viciously painful. Sometimes I wish to forget that I have a past tense, as I realize more and more that the virtues I hold dear were stronger in me past tense.
There’s a version of me that only exists in the present tense. I came to the realization that I do not like who I am, present tense. And I have not liked who I am in the present tense for a while. This is not a new realization; it’s one I come to every few weeks, and I make changes and hope for the best and those changes stick or they don’t and I still don’t like myself present tense.
There’s a version of me that only exists in future tense. I’m not sure this is true for everyone, but it’s true for me, and it seems that my future tense is so wildly separate from my present tense that it could be a whole different person. My future tense has all of my emotional and physical limitations, but none of the character flaws. When building my future tense I didn’t plan to continue being unhappy with who I am.
I don’t believe I can reach my future tense until I become happy with who I am present tense, but I do not believe that has to or should involve giving up my values in order to find peace with my faults that I find intolerable and unethical. I also have come to the painful but necessary realization that the flaws I dislike about myself, others dislike about me as well.
I have become my illnesses. I have become narcolepsy. I have become bipolar disorder. I have become arthritis. I have become chronic pain. I have become post-traumatic stress disorder. I have become sickness. My personality is Unwell. And I am not proud. I am utterly ashamed.
I try to have empathy with myself, to realize that my life for the past few years has been a barrage of injury and illness. And on a level, I do understand that there is a reason I became the way I am. What that does not mean, however, is that I am excused to continue dwelling in despondent self-loathing. I am no longer excused from trying. And I don’t just mean trying on my own behalf. Trying means working to understand others. Trying means cooperation. Trying means being willing to be uncomfortable. And on a larger scale, trying means trying to work to improve the world as I see myself capable.
To be clear, I do not seek to divorce myself from my body, or from my illnesses. What I do seek is to divorce myself from the idea that my illnesses culminate into the total of my self. I have chronic illness, and I cannot and will not act otherwise. However, I am also a human being outside and alongside my illness, and these aspects of my self require time and space to thrive.
My future tense is a very long way away, and to be honest, I will always have some of my character flaws, although they may be smaller, more manageable shadows of the hulking barriers I currently have. Eventually though, my future tense may become my present tense. And in my future tense, I like myself uncompromising. If none of the rest of my future tense becomes my present tense, I dearly hope that I can one day like myself, present tense.