There are a million reasons why I despise the term “underage women” being used to describe abuses that have been perpetrated upon children — as we’ve seen with the allegations recently brought against financier Jeffrey Epstein. A) It’s non consensual, so it’s rape. B) Age of a victim of non-consensual sex doesn’t make it any less heinous. And C) Sexual exploitation of a female or male of any age is unacceptable.
But there’s something even worse. Something I personally experienced as a victim of child sexual abuse which makes this even more hurtful and reprehensible. Adolescence is hard. It’s a time of rapid physical, mental emotional and hormonal change. It’s a time during which just living within ones own body is hard enough without it being violated or exploited. Adolescence is the time during which humans begin to explore their own sense of what sexuality means. Having these experiences disrupted in any way is not only harmful and destructive, it’s life-destroying.
In my case, I began maturing at a young age. It was a source of great embarrassment for me and something that led to bullying in school with kids calling me “Dolly Parton” and constantly snapping my bra. I was humiliated that my body was different than others and felt betrayed by my genetics. It didn’t help that my family noticed my burgeoning femininity and would tease me about my “mosquito bites.” And it was my advanced development that seemed to push my abuse from ogling to physical violation.
I hated my body. It caused me so much pain. It got unwanted attention and the sexual violation I was not prepared for nor had I consented to. I wanted nothing more than to have that body disappear. I became obsessed with weight and struggled with anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder throughout my adolescence.
The worst part though was what I was robbed of as a developing adolescent. Between the abuse and my family’s unnatural fixation on my becoming the ideal sex object for a man, I was never truly allowed the luxury of discovering myself as a “normal” teenager with human sexuality. I resent that betrayal the most. Human sexuality shouldn’t be shameful or about power or manipulation. It should be about intimacy and the connection between two individuals.
Abuse robbed me of that. Power robbed me of that. Society viewing me as an “underage woman” robbed me of that. So whatever may come of these cases of abuse and assault that are currently in the media, please remember these perpetrators don’t deserve leniency or pity. The victims do. Keep in mind all that they lost, all that they were denied and all that they were forced to experience without their own desire to do so.
We’ve suffered enough. No more excuses. No more apologies. It’s time for action.