Stigma’s consequences part 1: fear’s connection to abuse

Two masks, a red one on the left and a blue one on the right, are set against a black background. On both are words of different sizes. The red mask, which has a sad face, contains words like "worthless," "unhelpful," and "unimportant," while the blue mask has a smile and words like "valuable," "significant," and "helpful."

If you’re a minority, the headlines have been devastating over the last few years. Trans rights are under attack, your right to read controversial books at your local library is now every Karen’s business, and if you’re not white, your right to exist in the United States is a political nightmare. It’s safe to say fear is at an all-time high, and it isn’t just in the United States. Worldwide, we’re afraid of people different from us, and we’re afraid of how they might undermine us, even when there’s nothing to substantiate that fear.

My name is Timothy, and I’m an abuse survivor. I’m also an autistic married gay man. This is part 1 of a series of posts about stigma’s impact on efforts to prevent sexual violence and how we can explore better options. This part is about how today’s fear of groups of people we don’t know connects to abuse and some of the circumstances that lead to child sexual abuse.

Trans rights and legislative learned helplessness

I’m gay, firmly male, and was born that way, so I can’t tell you what it’s like to be trans. But I can tell you what it’s like to be marginalized. I know what it’s like to grow up gay, be called slurs, and be told I’m a freak. I even tried convincing myself that I was straight because important people in my life convinced me that it wasn’t okay to be gay.

I have feelings about the policies and trends that are facing trans folks right now. It’s bigoted malarkey based on fear. It will create a generation of young people who hate themselves and are traumatized by it, which is not okay. You may ask what this has to do with child sexual abuse.

It is common in abuse statistics for minorities to be overrepresented. In other words, minorities are particularly vulnerable, and trans people are no exception. I need you to pause, not nod and move on. That means something. It means that we as human beings must be better than letting vulnerable people be exploited. We need to systematically change to ensure we are protecting the vulnerable among us, not attempting to call their efforts for protection ‘woke’ in a disgusting attempt to make bullying a good thing.

Most other mammals will herd to protect the vulnerable among them, the young, the old, the sick, and the injured…not deliberately and cruelly exploit them. When vulnerable people and minorities can be targeted by legislation and harassed by large groups, and citizens are powerless to stop those in power from exploiting the vulnerable, it creates a learned helplessness that teaches us all at a fundamental level that they may be treated cruelly. There is nothing anyone may do about it. When children learn that message, you have a perfect environment for child sexual abuse. People in power can then abuse that power with few or no repercussions.

The political situation as a whole

The political situation as a whole is tragic. Citizens are, for the most part, exploited by liars and frauds that promise change and never deliver while partnering with big business across the industry to exploit workers, consumers, and human psychology. Your employment is likely exploitation. You get paid little while C-suite executives make tons of money while legislators do little to nothing about this enormous pay gap. Meanwhile, the media industry tells you that side hustles and AI-power chatbots are the solutions to making more money in an era of record inflation. You, too, can work yourself to the bone with a second job or a side gig powered by an AI chatbot!

This normalized and blatant exploitation serves as a model. Humans are social creatures, and we act how we perceive it is socially acceptable, and if exploiting others is socially acceptable, then that is normal. Changing this paradigm is scary. It’s scary to you as a worker who’s being exploited because we’ve all seen situations where the underdog fights back only to be made an example of. It’s scarier for those in power because they like their power and wealth and don’t want to share it.

That fear drives these cruel, exploitative policies and ‘culture war’ trends. It has nothing to do with any real danger from any minority. When you dig far enough into the data, you realize that any data supporting the idea of dangerous minorities is, of course, the very same fearful exploitation. Because they’re hated, they are targeted by police, legislators, and the dominant group. Due to that targeting, they are shunted to poorer areas where they have to get inventive to find their resources with little help from the dominant group. They have to figure it out themselves, which breeds mistrust and fear towards would-be allies, other minorities, or stigmatized members of the dominant group that could help all members organize for a better future.

Connections to sexual harms

When we normalize exploitation, we create situations in which more impressionable people – children and youth – learn these behaviors more readily. They learn to be cruel because adults are cruel. They learn to experiment sexually because they have been shown this themselves in inappropriate ways. They have not learned how to be responsible towards others with sexual boundaries and behaviors. This is why over a third of child sexual abuse is perpetrated not by adults but by juveniles themselves. Children can learn to take advantage of other children, and child sexual abuse is one form of that. Bullying is another, albeit more common, form. We have normalized cruelty, and we must change how we treat one another.

The path forward

There is only one thing that stands a chance of solving these problems. We must all, as minorities, learn to be a team, fighting in unity. We can’t afford to be involved and then let others do the work. We need to participate and learn the methods that change these trends – whether that’s grassroots political activism, nonprofits like Prostasia Foundation that stand up for hated minorities and support effective methods of abuse prevention, or boycotting big companies that exploit their workers by choosing more sustainable options.

We must also make allies. We can’t afford to be controlled by this exploitative pattern, or we will forever be exploited. We must stand up to the fear. We must reach out to people who are similarly exploited and learn together. That means gay people and trans people need to learn from each other. That means that autistic people need to learn from other minorities that may not understand autistic people. That means getting outside our comfort zones and learning collectively to overcome fear. If we can do that to partner with other marginalized people, we can learn the tools we need to progress against exploitation.

This article is part 1 in a series. Part 2 is available here.

If you or someone you know is a survivor of child sexual abuse, you can find resources and support here.

Notable Replies

  1. Where are you getting this from? The closest this article comes to talking about white people is saying that non-white people face threats to their right to exist. It never says that members of other marginalized groups who happen to be white don’t experience the same

  2. Avatar for Larry Larry says:

    I have to agree. Lately I get that same feeling. Of course, the fact that my father had to change from being Jewish to Christian to avoid rampart anti-Semitism in the 40’s, makes me wonder where all that white privilege is?


  3. Seems we need a “banned words” list?

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