The Tragedy of Lynn and Martha (Kennedy) Latta


Lynn Latta 2My great-grandfather, Lynn Latta, was born 26 June 1867,  the fourth of seven children in a large and settled family near Fulton County, Kentucky.  One day he walked away from his brothers and sisters and parents without telling anyone why or where he was going.  His niece, Mary Emma Pittman, the daughter of his brother, Thomas Benton Latta, suggested that he went away to avoid a fight with one of his brothers over money.  Her mother had once told her that Lynn “got tired of Uncle Guy borrowing his money and never paying back.”

“I never did hear my Father speak of him very often,” Mary wrote,

and I asked my mother one day why.  And she said it hurt him so much as he was so good a person, but he didn’t like his brother treating him the way he did, as he was a good person who liked to save his money.

So, rather than confront his brother about the debt, and, presumably, shame him in front of his family, Lynn decided to take the shame upon himself and leave.  This, at least, is the story given by his niece, Mary, who stayed on the “Old Home Place” that Lynn’s parents, Benjamin Franklin and Mattie (Mitchell Morris) Latta, built.

Years later, Lynn’s daughter Edith noted, “Dad left his childhood home when in his teens, and how he ever went so far north to find a wife, I’ll never guess.”

Lynn was not the only peripatetic member of the family.  All of his brothers and sisters left Kentucky except for Mary’s father, “TB,” Thomas Benton Latta, who stayed on at the Old Home Place and then passed it on to Mary.

Courtship and Marriage

No one knows why, when, how, or where Lynn met Martha Matilda Kennedy,

Martha Matilda Kennedy, circa 1890

Martha Matilda Kennedy, circa 1890

a headstrong, Protestant Canadian of Irish and German heritage.  One of my grand aunts,  it might have been Ruth, told me that her parents met in Detroit or Chicago, where her mother was working as a milliner, but I have not found any census records to prove it.

We know that Martha, at least, was in Arkansas on January 14, 1899, giving birth to Ruth.   Twelve days later–and this seems incredible–Martha and Lynn got married 1,000 miles away, in Huron, Ontario.  A little more than a year after that,  the little family had moved to an apartment building at 507 Ninth Street, in Des Moines Idaho.

At some point during this year Martha traveled back to Canada.  The official documenting her crossing at Rockport, Ontario, wrote that she and her daughter intended to visit her husband, who was in the country for six months.

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Perhaps Lynn had found and especially lucrative job up in Ontario.  Shortly after he returned he purchases six and a half acres on Indiana Road in Des Moines, built a house on top of a hill and opened the  “White House Cafe,” a small restaurant on West Fourth Street that catered to passengers heading to and from the Rock Island Railway.

View of the Country near the Latta house on Indiana Street, Des Moines, circa 1920

View of the Country near the Latta house on Indiana Street, Des Moines, circa 1920

Martha cooked and bore ten more children: Lynn Howard, John, Frederick, Edith May, Elsie, Evelyn, Edward, Albert, and Dorothy. The third child, John, died in infancy.  Lynn and Martha owned two horses, Nellie and her son, Ben, cows, and chickens.  They farmed hay, vegetables, walnuts, plums, cherries, and berries.  They bought an upright piano and hired a teacher to give lessons to the older children.

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Edith May, Elsie, and Evelyn Latta, circa 1920, near their house on Indiana Road, Des Moines, Iowa

Lynn’s second daughter Edith recalled that her father

was a very kind, hard-working man.  He never had enough sleep that I can remember.  He went to his restaurant after doing a lot of jobs around the house in the mornings and early afternoon.  He went to the restaurant in plenty of time to prepare the evening meal, keeping the place open late in the evenings and letting his horse bring him home.  Old Nellie knew the way, so Dad could sleep.  He built our home, little, by little, with the help of a handyman.  He was so good to all us kids.

Ed’s wife Wilma also observed,

the children all remember their father as a kind, loving man.  There is a snapshot of him somewhere with a bunch of kids on a wagonload of hay.  So apparently they played with him while he worked at home.

Martha, on the other hand, was not as much fun.  Edith recalled that her mother

was always busy raising children and working in the fields and gardens.  She was not demonstrative, but she must have had a good business sense, continuing to keep the household going after Dad left, with no monies except what we older ones who were working could give her.  I don’t think she ever had time to do what she might have liked to do; she was just too busy doing what was necessary to keep the family going.

In the margins of this typed letter Edith has written by hand,” she did enjoy her flower gardens.”

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Martha Matilda Kennedy, circa 1885, before she married Lynn Latta, Sr.

On the other hand, he was difficult.  Ed remembered his parents arguing often, which bothered him.  His wife Wilma, who told me this, also recalled that  Martha’s neighbors

tried to help her when she had problems, asking her why she took him back when she knew it meant trouble. She resented their ‘helpful’ interference, and told them so.  So apparently he left more than once, although Ed doesn’t remember.

During the delivery of one child (Elsie, I think), she hemorrhaged so badly that they feared for her life.  (All deliveries were at home, of course.) They sent for the father, but couldn’t find him.  He had left the restaurant to go to a movie.  She never forgave him for that.  She probably was afraid of each of the four pregnancies after that, and felt trapped and resentful.

He must have been charming, to persuade her to bear more children under these circumstances.

My only purpose in telling these details is to help you understand what a hard life she had, and to see why she became a bitter old woman.  It also helped me to understand why Ed refused ever to argue with me; he would walk out instead.

Culture and Traditions

Lynn Latta and Martha Matilda Kennedy  came from completely different cultural backgrounds.  Lynn’s Scotch-Irish folk settled in North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky–Protestant middling people who distinguished themselves for their extraordinary fierceness, stubborn pride, and cheerfulness, which neither poverty nor hardship could suppress.  These out-spoken, hard-scrabbling folk brought their rich and colorful music, dance, and cultural rituals with them, elaborate weddings, wakes, festivals, and celebrations.  The greater freedom they allowed their children fostered independence and self-confidence, but it also caused outsiders to think of them as somewhat wild. The object of their child-rearing practices was not will-breaking, but rather will-enhancing.  Great men and women came from this stock–the brilliant orators and statesmen John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson.

Martha Kennedy had more than a streak of stubbornness in her, having grown up on the western frontier of what was then known as “Upper Canada.” The Six Nations who lived on the land did not surrender it to the crown until 1844, and white people-most of whom were German– did not officially begin to settle in Haldiman County, where Martha was born in 1873,  until 1832.  Her mother’s people were puritanical, staunch, upstanding, orderly, and strict Free Will Baptists, who believed that once a person had renounced his or her faith, that there was no returning to God.

Martha Matilda Kennedy’s grandparents, James Burch Nelles and Martha Matilda Nelles, circa 1870. The children are most likely Alexia Matilda and James Joseph Nelles

Martha Matilda’s maternal grandparents were Nelles family cousins who who traced their lineage back to Andrew Nelles and the United Empire Loyalists, German mercenaries fought against the Americans during the war of Independence.   Passionately devoted to the English Crown, the Nelles family moved north from New York State after the Revolutionary War.  Many German loyalists were given free land, as British crown  wanted to bring in more Protestants, whom they regarded as more tractable than the Catholic French-speaking settlers who had intermixed with the native peoples.

These Germans regarded the women and men who fought for the independence of the United States as radicals and anarchists. In her obituary, Martha’s grandmother’s is remembered for her piety and “splendidly furnished residence,” as well as for her “untiring efforts to make home attractive as well as her skill and good taste.”

Much less is known about Martha’s father, John Kennedy, a Church of England (see the 1881 census) Protestant..  He is listed as a general laborer in Huron in the 1881 census, but Evelyn said that her mother grew up on a farm. Perhaps Delilah Nelles married outside her ethnicity to escape their narrowness when she took up with the first Canadian-born Northern Irishman.  She certainly doesn’t look as dour as her mother:

Delilah Nelles Kennedy, circa 1900

Martha Matilda Kennedy’s mother, Delilah Nelles Kennedy, circa 1900

And what about Martha Mathilda, this half-Irish, half German girl from London?  One of her daughters said she once fell in love with a Catholic but was forbidden to marry him, and that she met Lynn while working in Detroit, Michigan, as a nurse’s aid.  One of her other daughters said she had been a milliner.  I can imagine the first rush of romance, the affable Southern boy sweeping the beautiful, Irish-eyed Northern maid away with dreams of cooking together in their own business. 

 

 In response to my query, “Did [Lynn and Martha] love one another?” Edith responded:

That is a good question.  I never saw any affection between them; I remember one time when Dad put his arm around Mother standing in a doorway, and she shrugged away.” Obviously there was some affection, or at least, a strong physical attraction to one another–they brought ten [sic] children into the world.

The Children

Lattas at the creek near their house in Des Moines, circa 1915

Lattas at the creek near their house in Des Moines, circa 1915

These children had a great deal of merry freedom, much more than they might have enjoyed had they grown up in the stern, well-furnished rooms of Germanic Upper Canada.

Evelyn, Dorothy, and Elsie

Evelyn, Dorothy, and Elsie, circa 1920


a mound of lattaEdith recounted that her brothers Lynn and Fred “were very good to us, …making all kinds of play equipment–a merry-go-round out of an old wagon wheel, a trolley slide across the field that sloped, a greased wood slide from the hay mow to the ground.  That had to be taken down in short order, because we got grease on our clothes.  I remember once daring those who would follow me to jump from the hayloft, turning a somersault before landing on a stack of hay on the ground.  I didn’t do very well, landing mostly on my neck, so no one followed, and I didn’t try again.  How crazy can kids get!! We really had fun, though.…I really don’t believe any child these days can have as much fun as we did, o so many years ago.”

Ed, in front of the barn, House on Indiana St., Des Moines, circa 1920

Ed, in front of the barn, House on Indiana St., Des Moines, circa 1920


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Latta kids having fun, circa 1927

Hard Times

When the train service to Des Moines dropped back, business at the White House Cafe began to fail.  Lynn had to sell his restaurant and began working as a chef under another man.  Edith  wrote,

As I remember, he didn’t like his job at that time, we felt that he had been his own boss for so long that it wasn’t easy for him to work for someone else.  The incident that precipitated the argument with Mother, as told to me, was Dad was coming to Mother, wanting to mortgage the house to get money enough to buy a smaller restaurant in a different location in downtown Des Moines.

Martha Matilda with Dorothy, the youngest, circa 1920, just before Lynn left

Martha Matilda with Dorothy, the youngest, circa 1920

According to Edith, Elsie was there during the argument, and  Martha Matilda threatened Lynn with a butcher knife.  Evelyn discounted this story, but Edith thought it was true.  Edith wrote,

Evelyn told me that Elsie was not there when Mother was confronted with the proposal to mortgage the house.  It was Evelyn and Ruth, and there was no butcher knife.  Mother had something in her hand, probably a spoon, but Evelyn can’t remember what it was.  And all Mother said was, “You old fool.”  Then Dad sat down on a kitchen chair, probably feeling he was at ‘the end of a rope.’  How soon he left home after that, she doesn’t know, but I imagine it might have been the next day.  That’s a relief to me, as he would have had time to get his clothes, and all these years I have believed he left with nothing.”

Edith had more sympathy for her father than Evelyn, who flatly stated, “he deserted us when I was about nine years old.” In a different letter she wrote, “I never could forgive him.  Guess I’m stubborn, but mother had so little.” She remembered her mother rising early every morning to light the fire, and toiling in gardens, raising vegetables and fruit for food.

Lynn Howard Latta with Edith May and Martha Matilda Latta, circa 1920

Lynn Howard Latta with Edith May and Martha Matilda Latta, circa 1920

Lynn’s oldest son, named for his father, also got up before dawn  to milk the cows and take care of other chores around the farm to keep it going while he simultaneously put his younger siblings through school paid for his own law education.  He started working as a lawyer in the 1920s, and gave his brothers and sisters jobs in his offices.

Shortly after the argument in which Martha did or did not wield a butcher knife at him, Lynn left the family and moved north, looking for other work. Edith wrote that “he never intended to leave the family for good.”   Edith wondered if he had “wanderlust in his system.” I remember Ruth telling me once that after that third baby [John, 1902-lived three months and 20 days] was born and died, [Mother] told Dad that she was not going to travel any more.”Lattas, 1920s 9

At any rate, Lynn left his home after 1920, already in his mid-fifties, intending somehow to come back.  Sore feelings, frustration, a short temper, pride, and all the other little factors that lead people who love one another to storm out when they ought to stay, brought him to say goodbye.

Lynn Latta, Sr., circa 1925

The story he tells of the years that followed, of his successive attempts to find work and of repeated disappointments and increasingly degrading jobs, is a familiar one these days, when people who have borrowed tens of thousands of dollars for college degrees, only to find themselves out of work and passed over in favor of cheaper and younger applicants for jobs that are scarcer and scarcer.  In June 1928, on stationary from “Renahan Manor: A High-Class Residential Community” at Round Lake, Illinois, Lynn complained to Edith, who had tracked him town and phoned him:

I have been here two months and it had to be the only time I went to town, 1 1/2 miles, to get my hair cut, that you called…If only you had given…a number, I would have called at once. And now I want to know how you knew I was in Chicago, and how you found out my address. I suppose some one that I have met then must have told you for I have met several that know me in Des Moines…If only you could know how much it hurt me to think what a mess or failure I have been since I sold my restaurant.  But I had been [illeg] with it so long that I had no home, just a place to sleep for a few hours, then go again.  Then when I sold out card [?] to trick to stay home nobody wanted me.  Then that fall and four [?] attempts to work for others, which [ended?] in disaster on account of my foot, which still hurts me in the night, although a little less each year.

It is hard to know what to make of these lines–was he feeling especially sorry for himself or did he really feel unloved and pushed out?  Had he become alienated from his wife because they were both working so hard that they never saw one another?  Was he tricked into selling his restaurant?  How did that happen?  And what about the fall he mentions here, the one from which never obviously never recovered?  In those days working people had little or no health insurance.  There also was absolutely no safety net, no social security, and no disability assistance, which exacerbated the Great Depression that descended on the country after the crash of ’29. These factors certainly contributed to the demise of Lynn Latta, Sr., who was by all accounts an extremely hard worker and devoted father.

It appears Lynn had traveled away from home before to find work, for his letter continues, in a story that many today would find familiar, with the earnings adjusted.

Now when I left the last time I had a chance to get a small room for my old time sandwich business and also a job at Florant City, up near Colfant[?], Minn., at $30 per week on the same day.  Having no money left (just enough to get to [?]); I had to take it.  I did not intend to do as I have done but [meant to] keep silent and save ($300 in 15 weeks and [had] started just trying to find some flour for myself and get in Dubuque 4 weeks in the Spring and find outside work, but my foot hampered me and I came into Chicago, where cooks were in demand.  Went to Flint Mich as 2nd cook in a Hotel at $50 a month, came back, worked in the Mug [?] hospital 3 weeks at $40 a month, three in a steel plant 18 miles south of the Lake…, 5 months at $150 and 7 months at $163; then when good times had passed I lost out for a younger man.

Lynn Latta, working as a chef, probably at Renehan Manor, on Round Lake, IL

Lynn Latta, working as a chef, probably at Renehan Manor, on Round Lake, IL

Then I tried business again, but it takes a lot of money to buck the grade in Chicago.  So five years ago when I was hoping to let you all know where I was I found myself down and out again, but I never gave up, nor asked anything of anyone.  But I found it a lighter burden going until I caught the Light House Lodge the 18th of June with no argument as to wages.  When it was over 2 months and 18 days they gave me $365 and my RR Hay [?] asking me to come the next year, then to get $14 a month and last year a little less, for I had stopped here a week before I went up there, and that 1 week as 2nd cook got me the chef’s job this year, and Mr. Renehan wants me to run a Restaurant (that he owns in Round Lake) next winter after he closes here in Oct.   If I come through successfully here and take it I will let you know about it.  Then you may tell your mother and the other children, for I would sure love to see Ruth’s babies.

Lynn’s agonized concern for his reputation and image in his daughter’s eyes is palpable in the last lines of the letter, where he instructs her to travel to the Light House Lodge, where she should “show them” his picture and

see what they say about me.  You remember I had to get glasses before the War.  Well, my eyes got better and now at 61 last June 26, I can read the Chicago Tribune without them, and then …I finally lost them.  And I weigh 137: one pound more than I weighed before and 10 pounds more than I weighed 2 to 5 years ago. Your old broken-hearted Dad.

Lynn Latta cooking outdoors, perhaps at Renehan Manor on the shore of Round Lake, IL, circa 1929

Lynn Latta cooking outdoors, perhaps at Renehan Manor on the shore of Round Lake, IL, circa 1929

Unfortunately, things did not turn out as hoped for at Renehan Manor.  The Great Depression must have had something to do with that, and his family lost touch with him again.

Lee and Elisabeth Smith Latta, circa 1915

Lee and Elisabeth Smith Latta, circa 1915

In January, 1930, Lynn’s brother Lee, a well-to-do and pious banker living in Minnesota, wrote to one of his daughters, Ruth or Edith:

Just keep on trying, dear, to locate him if possible…make an extra effort to find him, and if he is not well, for brother Tom [Thomas Benton] to take him home with him for a rest, as TB lives on the Old homestead where your Dad was borne.  Then we his brothers and sisters could come, and see him there, if your mother still felt toward him as she now thinks she does.  But I believe for the fact that he has a sense of duty toward her dear children, who love both she and he [sic], may enable her to forgive to a degree the past unfortunate mistakes, which we all are subject to as none of us are perfect, but only human.  One was perfect that that was that we might be saved from sin.

This discovery of your Dad seems like a dream to your Uncle Lee, for had I almost given up hopes of ever finding him and now that I have positive proof of his being alive a year ago, I shall never be satisfied until we locate him, and we can let him learn from us all that we love him as we have always.

Now you do what you can to trace him as you suggest through his lodger affiliation, and we will see what action your Uncle t.B. takes after receipt of my last letter with Lynn’s enclosed.  T.B. is well able to go to Chicago, and put forth this effort and care for him, should he succeed in finding him.  When we get hold of him then we can plan the future, and if it is God’s Will that he should be restored to you children it shall be so.  Because he belongs to your, his blood courses through your body temple, and no matter what his shortcomings may be, you must in no way deny him, for his brother the Christ never will, Your loving uncle, Lee

Thomas Benton Latta and his sons at the "Old Home Place" near, KY, circa 1920?  The area where the farm lay is now called "Latta Bottom"

Thomas Benton Latta and his sons at the “Old Home Place” in Latta Bottom, near Fulton, KY, circa 1940?

At some point in 1930 or shortly afterwards someone contacted Lynn Latta’s oldest son, Lynn Howard Latta (my grandfather), to tell him that his father was in a county hospital in Chicago.  My grandfather then packed his mother, his sister Edith, and himself off to Chicago to see him.  Martha told her husband that he could return, but later instructed her daughter Elsie to write to him not to come home.

“So, he was lost again,” Edith lamented.  “He probably died in or around Chicago, but that is only guessing.”

Martha Matilda Latta, circa 1920

Martha Matilda Latta, circa 1920

In the Viper Pit: Male Rape and Military Sexual Trauma (MST)


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This blog post explores some of the bio-psycho-social-spiritual effects of sexual assault on male survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).  Although the percentage of female survivors of MST is greater than the percentage of male survivors, the number of men who have sustained this trauma far exceeds the number of female survivors, since the veteran population remains overwhelmingly male.  Men who have been sexually assaulted are as likely if not more likely to develop post-traumatic stress syndrome as veterans who have experienced combat-related trauma.   There is virtually no research on male survivors, who face some different problems than female survivors of MST  and who generally have greater difficulty discussing or seeking treatment for their trauma.  It is vital for social workers to educate themselves about men’s issues with MST and to develop novel ways to make it easier for male survivors to discuss their experiences.

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A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil. Tim O’Brien, from “How To Tell A War Story”

The Problem
We have heard a great deal about the plight of female military service personnel who experience sexual assault at the hands of their fellow soldiers lately, but very little about male survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).  A small but growing number of articles about the bio-psycho-social-spiritual effects of MST demonstrate that this corrosive, criminal activity leads more certainly to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than combat experience in women (Calhoun, 1994; Campbell, Dworkin, & Cabral, 2009; Donna L. Washington et al., 2010; M. M. Kelly et al., 2008; U. A. Kelly, Skelton, Patel, & Bradley, 2011; Kimerling, Gima, Smith, Street, & Frayne, 2007; Mary Ann Boyd; Sharon Valente & Callie Wight, 2007; Turchik & Wilson, 2010).  There are as yet no studies showing that MST is as likely or more likely to lead to PTSD in male survivors, but there are in fact very few studies on male survivors of this trauma.  Furthermore, while feminist social workers and theorists have rightly pointed to the devastating physical, psychological, social and spiritual affects that the hyper-masculinist military culture has had on women, we have only just begun to pay attention to how this culture has affected men.  In this paper, I examine some of the bio-psycho-social-spiritual causes and effects of sexual assaults by men against their male military personnel. 

The Veterans Administration (VA) defines MST as “psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty of active duty for training.”  The VA further defines sexual harassment as “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in nature” (Affairs, 2010). Male survivors of MST are only now beginning to speak about their experiences.  Although women constitute by far the greater percentage of survivors of MST in the military, the number of men who have experienced this trauma is much larger than the number of women, since the military remains overwhelmingly male (Affairs, 2010).  Indeed, the number of living veterans who experienced MST over the course of last seventy years is probably far greater than we could possibly estimate.   Cultural attitudes towards gender and sexuality changed dramatically during that period, but mainstream culture has remained cramped by rigid gender norms.  Although the entrance of women and very recent toleration for homosexuality in the armed forces has dramatically altered military culture, it remains hierarchical and masculinist (Burgess, Slattery, & Herlihy, 2013).  Masculinism is the arbitrary elevation of all things masculine over all things feminine.  Within military and civilian life, men’s experiences of MST are bound to differ from women’s.

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Greg Jeloudov

What are the bio-psycho-social-spiritual effects of this trauma in general? Consider some of these stories: Less than two weeks after Greg Jeloudov joined the army at the age of 35,  fellow-soldiers gang-raped him in the shower at Fort Benning, Georgia.   They didn’t like his Russian-Irish accent.   They didn’t like his previous history as an actor.  They called him a “commie faggot” and said, “We don’t like actors here.…We especially don’t like Russian and Irish actors.” (Duell, 2011).  They beat and sodomized him in 2009, and now Mr. Jeloudov takes 13 different medicines as he struggles with PTSD, depression, nightmares, and thoughts of suicide.   “Being a male victim is horrible,” Theodore James Skovranek told a reporter.  In 2003 soldiers grabbed and held him down while another shoved his genitals in his face.  He shrugged it off at the time, but said, “I walked around for a long time thinking: I don’t feel like a man. But I don’t feel like a woman either.  So there’s just this void.”

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Air Force Veteran Michael Matthews and his wife Gerry Lynn Matthews.

In 1974, three Whitman Air Force Base servicemen jumped, beat, and sodomized Michael Matthews, who had just graduated from high school. Afraid to report the incident, Matthews became depressed and suicidal.  His first two marriages foundered while he suffered in silence.  “I lived with this beast in my head for nearly 30 years, before telling my wife and going for counseling” (Evans, 2012).

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Higher-ranking enlisted soldiers in Norfolk raped Thomas F. Drapac on three separate occasions in 1963. He, too, kept the assaults to the himself for decades, worried about his sexuality and drowned his recurring nightmares in alcohol and sex (Dao, 2013).

Sexual trauma, like combat trauma, injures the brain and the body in both men and women.  During the moment of attack, the sympathetic nervous system engages and stimulates a flood of cortisol throughout the system, elevating blood pressure, heart rate, inducing sweating and a hyper-aroused sensory state.  This is the “fight-or-flight” response that humans and other animals experience when we sense danger.   Because the victim of sexual trauma is temporarily rendered helpless to fight or flee, he is overwhelmed; his ordinary adaptations to life break down (Herman, 1992, 1997). The most fundamental psychological element of trauma is a feeling of “intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and threat of annihilation” (Herman, 1992, 1997).  The neural system is injured: people who have been traumatized often feel as though their nervous systems have become unplugged from reality. (Herman, 1992, 1997).

It is difficult to separate the biological from the psychological effects of trauma, since the brain is corporeal, an organ within the biological organism.  Like all traumatized persons, MST survivors frequently re-live the initial moment of trauma in a sensory fashion, because the memory of the event is so terrible that it has not yet been incorporated, as it were, into the set of stories that a person recalls and retells about him- or herself in the past.

This happens because traumatic memories do not encode the same way that ordinary memories do.  They tend to be experienced as “fixed images” or vivid sensations felt in the body but incapable of being expressed in words.  These non-integrated, traumatic memories frequently intrude upon the traumatic survivor (Herman, 1992, 1997).  Involuntarily pulled back into the moment through nightmares or flashbacks, the traumatized person experiences the flood of cortisol again and again, enduring an overload of stress that impairs the immune system and weakens the heart.

Because of the association of sodomy with homosexuality, and the military’s long-standing, profoundly heterosexist bias, many male survivors of MST have been afraid to speak about their experiences.  Living with unprocessed traumatic memories and untreated PTSD over decades, as many survivors have done, can lead to dementia (Chao et al., 2010).  Dementia can be understood as a biological degeneration of the brain and psychological and spiritual disintegration, a kind of wasting away of the mind and soul that has profound social consequences.   Trauma effects people in similar ways.

Traumatized people typically experience what Herman calls “constriction,” the trance that the person transfixed by helplessness and terror experiences at the moment of the assault, as well as the disorientation and psychic numbing, even to the point of paralysis, that the survivor experiences in the aftermath of trauma.  Constriction interferes with purposeful action and initiative as well as with anticipation and planning for the future.

ImageMen who experience this common side-affect of trauma, but who are unable to speak about it or unwilling to seek treatment, may regard themselves as weak failures, men who are not “men” insofar as they are unable to meet cultural expectations that they pursue productive and lucrative action in the world.  Indeed, many if not most men who experienced MST report that their masculinity was impaired or damaged.

Masculinity is a social construction, a sense of self formed in opposition to what is construed as femininity (Bourdieu, 2001). The U.S. military sustains an aggressively hierarchical, patriarchal, and homophobic culture.   By homophobic I mean not “fear of men,” as the name implies, but rather, and ironically, “fear of femininity,” especially in men.  As Pierre Bourdieu observes, masculinity is continually demonstrated in dynamic display:

Like honor–or shame, its reverse side, which we know, in contrast to guilt, is felt before others–manliness must be validated by other men, in its reality as actual or potential violence, and certified by recognition of membership of the group of ‘real men’.  A number of rites of institution, especially in education or military milieu, include veritable tests of manliness oriented toward the reinforcement of male solidarity.  Practices such as some gang rapes…are designed to challenge those under test to prove before others their virility in its violent reality, in other words stripped of all the devirilizing tenderness and gentleness of love, and they dramatically demonstrate the heteronomy of all affirmations of virility, their dependence on the judgment of the male group.

ImageThe soldiers who raped Greg Jeloudev confirmed their brotherhood and shored up masculinity by brutalizing a man who did not fit in, a man whose alternative manifestation of manliness challenged and threatened their own, precarious sense of themselves as men.  They could not tolerate his very difference.  The drill process by which soldiers are allegedly “broken down” often employs a similar dynamic.  The sergeant seeks to humiliate and shame the recruit by demeaning and “feminizing” him, insisting that he is not a “man” until he can himself turn off his emotions, eradicate his softness, and become a killing machine.

The actor in the following clip from Full Metal Jacket (Kubrik, 1987is notorious because was a former marine and gunnery sergeant originally hired only as an advisor.  Unsatisfied with the performance of the actor designated to play the part, he stepped in to demonstrate how the military turns what he here calls a “maggot” and a “lady” into a “weapon, a minister of death”:

Manliness in the military is constructed as the conquest of womanliness, of tenderness, of weakness, of that which is to be despised, demeaned, and dominated.The particularly pernicious effect that this obscene social dynamic has upon the male soldiers who have been raped by their fellows (a method of social cruelty that humans alone among all the animals perpetrate) is that they must become their worst enemies in order to survive.  They must adopt the mentality and sadistic behavior demanded in order to demonstrate that they are, indeed, men, or forever be spat upon as reviled, womanly outcasts who deserve nothing more than to be dominated again and again.

As with women who suffer MST, male survivors who are deployed or in the field often become captive to the culture, forced to endure the indignity of working alongside their abusers without recourse to any justice or understanding.   To report the attack, even to acknowledge its occurrence to one’s self, is to risk being subjected to further, unbearable humiliation and disgrace.   Before the Pentagon reversed its total ban on homosexuality in the service, anyone who reported having been assaulted was generally assumed to be unfit for duty.  “If you made a complaint, then you are gay and you’re out that that’s it,” Drapac explains.   Even though this would theoretically not take place in today’s military, for a man to admit that he has been “unmanned” in a culture that insists that manliness is superior to all other states of being requires immense courage, because the trauma cancels out his trust in others as well as himself (Herman, 1992).

ImageMoreover, because it radically destabilizes his understanding of himself as a male being in relation to other men and women, it unmoors his sexual identity and leaves him feeling lost, sexless, neither male nor female.  “Men don’t acknowledge being victims of sexual assault,” reports Dr. Carol O’Brien, who heads the PTSD program at Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Florida.  “Men tend to feel a great deal of shame, embarrassment and fear that others will respond negatively” (Dao, 2013). If, as happens in a small number of cases, the rapist is a woman, the male survivor of MST feels even further demeaned and unmoored.

ImageMale survivors may surely also experience spiritual isolation and confusion, through the inevitable question, “why me?” and the despair and self-loathing that fundamentally misconstrues his true nature.  He descends into a spiritual malaise, a separation from a sense of purpose and meaning in the world.   In fact the military culture that overtly promotes or covertly tolerates hyper-masculine concepts of honor is spiritually corrupt. When men and women embrace an ideal based on the arbitrary elevation of masculinity over femininity they exist not in harmony with one another, but rather in a permanent state of war against themselves.

The Population Concerned

The VA has been using an assessment tool to screen for MST since 2000  (Rowe, Gradus, Pineles, Batten, & Davison, 2009).  A 2012 study of a subset of veterans of 213,803 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan diagnosed with PTSD from April 1, 2002, to October 1, 2008, found that 31 % of the women and 1% of the mean screened positively for MST (Maguen et al., 2012).    Because the overwhelming number of veterans is male, the number of men is roughly equivalent to the number of women who have experienced MST.  Within this population, 12% of the men and 7% of the women have substance abuse problems, while 56% of the men and 70% of the women suffer from depression.  Male survivors of MST with PTSD displayed less frequency of comorbid depression, anxiety, and eating disorders than the female counterparts.  Both women and men with a history of MST were more likely to have three or more comorbid mental health diagnoses than those with PTSD who had not experienced MST (Maguen et al., 2012).  The most recent Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assaults estimates that roughly 26,000 service members experienced sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact in 2012, an increase of 6% from the previous year.

According to the Department of Defense, sexual assault refers to “a range of crimes, including rape, sexual assault, nonconsensual sodomy, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact, and attempts to commit these offenses” (Defense, 2013). Incidents of sexual assault took place equally, in proportion to the number of troops in each division, throughout the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.  The vast majority of the persons investigated for sexual assault were male, under the age of 35, and enlisted.  Of the reports made, only 12% of the victims were male, but the Department of Defense estimates that 53% of all the assaults actually committed were committed by men against men.   The Department of Military Affairs does not break down their statistics by race or ethnic identity.  Nor does is estimate the total number of living veterans who may have experienced MST.

Social Work Interventions

Social workers have not adequately addressed the problem of men’s experiences of MST. There is little published research on male survivors of MST, and so far no scientific or theoretical discussions designed to guide social workers engaged in practice with the male veterans who have endured this terrible trauma. The 2012 “Handbook of Military Social Work” only discusses MST in a chapter on women in the Military, utterly ignoring the phenomenon.  A different guide for social work with veterans published the same year includes a chapter on MST but only briefly touches upon male survivors.  What is especially needed is a body of literature from social workers, psychologists, and other behavioral health professionals who have worked directly with male veterans suffering from combat- and military sexual trauma.

One very helpful, recent resource is the forthcoming documentary film that social worker Geri Lynn Weinstein-Matthews and her husband, Michael Matthews, have produced.

“Justice Denied” examines sexual assault and rape against men in the U.S. armed forces.  Michael’s experience of rape as a 19 year-old airman is mentioned above (Evans, 2012).  An NASW blog, “Social Workers Speak” has included a few references to male soldiers suffering from MST, but the NASW needs to bring much more attention to this topic (NASW, 2013).

Conclusions and Recommendations

Military sexual trauma is a serious affliction affecting thousands of male veterans and military service personnel, whose problems social workers have only recently begin to understand. Like many people, I originally understood the problem solely as a women’s issue, since the increasing numbers of women soldiers and increasingly expanded roles for women in the service has brought this topic to the foreground of public discussion.  Recently changed policies and slowly changing attitudes towards homosexual soldiers has made it easier for men to speak out.  Sexually traumatized men are not homosexual by virtue of having been attacked, of course, and, in fact, most of the men who rape or sexually assault other men in the military are heterosexual.  As I explain above, sexual assault is a means of domination, of demonstrating masculinity.  It has very little to do with sexual desire.  Yet until recently men who reported that they had been assaulted were, tragically and unjustly, regarded as homosexual and therefore dismissed dishonorably from service.

Former victim testifies before a Senate committee investigating military sexual trauma. AP photo by Carolyn Kaster via KiroTV.com

Former victim testifies before a Senate committee investigating military sexual trauma. AP photo by Carolyn Kaster via KiroTV.com

Male-on-male sexual assault illuminates the fragility and complexity of masculine sexuality in general and illuminates the highly constructed nature of gender identity.  Mild assault as well as violent rape can damage a man’s psychological and spiritual understanding of himself as a “man,” especially in a culture with particularly rigid and narrow notions of masculinity and femininity.  The fault lies not in the man, but rather in the culture at large.

I’d like to see many more seminars for clinicians as well as survivors on the spiritual damage that MST inflicts on men as well as on our culture, seminars that would focus on the spiritual poverty of masculinism and patriarchy in general.  But therapists also need much more training and guidance in working with men who have survived this biologically and psychologically damaging trauma.

Social workers need to build new understandings of how to address and approach men who traditionally do not seek therapeutic healing, and we also need to advocate for a broader discussion of the issue in general.   I’d like to see government funding for scientific studies as well as for training social workers to engage this particularly vulnerable and forgotten population.

This will not be easy.  Men, especially military men who have served their country as soldiers, don’t want to be treated as victims.  Therefore we need to find novel and sensitive ways to discuss their experiences in ways that uphold their sense of themselves as strong, independent, and honorable human beings, respected members of the community, and beloved fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, and grandfathers.

References

Affairs, U.S. Department of Veterans. (2010). Military Sexual Trauma.

Bourdieu, Pierre. (2001). Masculine Domination. Stanford: Stanford UP.

Burgess, Ann W., Slattery, Donna M., & Herlihy, Patricia A. (2013). Military Sexual Trauma: A Silent Syndrome. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 51(2), 20-26. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3928/02793695-20130109-03

Calhoun, Rachel Kimerling and Karen S. (1994). Somatic Symptoms, Social Support, and Treatment Seeking Among Sexual Assault Victims. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(2), 333-340.

Campbell, R., Dworkin, E., & Cabral, G. (2009). An ecological model of the impact of sexual assault on women’s mental health. Trauma Violence Abuse, 10(3), 225-246. doi: 10.1177/1524838009334456

Chao, Linda L., Yaffe, Kristine, Neylan, Thomas C., Rothlind, Johannes C., Meyerhoff, Dieter J., & Weiner, Michael W. (2010). Hippocampal atrophy in young veterans with PTSD and cognitive impairment: A potential link between PTSD and dementia. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 6(4, Supplement), S286. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2010.05.943

Dao, James. (2013). In debate over military sexual assault, men are overlooked victims, New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/us/in-debate-over-military-sexual-assault-men-are-overlooked-victims.html?pagewanted=all

Defense, Department of. (2013). Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military

Donna L. Washington, MD, MPH, Elizabeth M. Yano, PhD, MSPH, James McGuire, PhD, MSW , Vivian Hines, MSW, ACSW , Martin Lee, PhD, & Lillian Gelberg, MD, MSPH. (2010). Risk factors for Homelessness among Women Veterans. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 21.

Duell, Mark. (2011, 4 April 2011). ‘I was in the middle of the viper’s pit': Soldier describes gang rape as male-on-male sexual assault in the military increases, Mailonline. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1373270/Male-male-sexual-assault-soldiers-increases-Greg-Jeloudov-reports-gang-rape.html

Evans, Heidi. (2012). Majority of sexual assaults and rapes commited in military in 2011 were against men, New York Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/majority-sexual-assaults-rapes-committed-military-2011-men-article-1.1150235

Herman, Judith. (1992, 1997). Trama and Recovery: The aftermath of violence–from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: Basic Books.

Kelly, M. M., Vogt, D. S., Scheiderer, E. M., Ouimette, P., Daley, J., & Wolfe, J. (2008). Effects of military trauma exposure on women veterans’ use and perceptions of Veterans Health Administration care. J Gen Intern Med, 23(6), 741-747. doi: 10.1007/s11606-008-0589-x

Kelly, U. A., Skelton, K., Patel, M., & Bradley, B. (2011). More than military sexual trauma: interpersonal violence, PTSD, and mental health in women veterans. Res Nurs Health, 34(6), 457-467. doi: 10.1002/nur.20453

Kimerling, R., Gima, K., Smith, M. W., Street, A., & Frayne, S. (2007). The Veterans Health Administration and military sexual trauma. Am J Public Health, 97(12), 2160-2166. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2006.092999

Kubrik, Stanely (Writer). (1987). Full Metal Jacket.

Maguen, S., Cohen, B., Ren, L., Bosch, J., Kimerling, R., & Seal, K. (2012). Gender differences in military sexual trauma and mental health diagnoses among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Womens Health Issues, 22(1), e61-66. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2011.07.010

Mary Ann Boyd, Wanda Bradshaw, and Marceline Robinson. Mental Health Issues of Women Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Arch Psychiatr Nurs, 27(1). doi: 10.1016/j.apnu.2012.10.005

NASW. (2013).  Retrieved from http://www.socialworkersspeak.org/hollywood-connection/justice-denied-will-look-at-sexual-assault-and-rape-against-men-in-the-military.html – sthash.pgssBZj5.dpuf

Rowe, Erin L., Gradus, Jaimie L., Pineles, Suzanne L., Batten, Sonja V., & Davison, Eve H. (2009). Military Sexual Trauma in Treatment-Seeking Women Veterans. Military Psychology, 21(3), 387.

Sharon Valente, PhD FAAN, & Callie Wight, RN C MA. (2007). Military Sexual Trauma: Violence and Sexual Abuse. MILITARY MEDICINE, 172.

Turchik, Jessica A., & Wilson, Susan M. (2010). Sexual assault in the U.S. military: A review of the literature and recommendations for the future. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(4), 267-277. doi: 10.1016/j.avb.2010.01.005

Turse, Nick. (2013). Tomgram: Nick Turse, A Rape in Wartime.  Retrieved from From: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175662/

The Culture of Rape in the Congo


In the last few days, Congolese thugs raped 60 women, men, and children.  Sexual violence in the Congo has escalated at a terrifying rate.  Over 15,000 cases of  sexual were reported there in 2009.   And in the first six months of 2010, there were 7,685 cases.  More than half of the victims were younger than 18 years old.  The catastrophic transformation of the region has become so severe that Nene Rukunghu, a local doctor was moved to say, “This is no longer a crisis, it’s becoming a culture.”

What does it mean to say that a crisis has become a culture?  What is a culture of rape? What could possibly sustain such a culture, and what happens to people who live in a rape culture?

Let us begin with some definitions:

Culture, -noun: the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

Rape, -noun: an act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.

In a rape culture, dominant human beings sexually force themselves onto others and transmit this “way of living” from one generation to another.  In a rape culture, sexual violation becomes a way of life.

It has long been established that most rapists are men and that rape is an act of extreme violence and aggression, as opposed to an act of sexual desire.  The aggressor inflicts himself on another to get power over another person by humiliating, degrading, and injuring that person.

Rape is a uniquely human act, barbaric but not like other animals’ aggression.  Only human beings rape because rape involves the complex, cultural understanding of “self” and “other” which the act itself reinforces.

Rape is a weapon of war that is used to shatter and erode the morale and dignity of an entire village, community, or people.  The act itself registers differently in different cultures.  It is most effective, or destructive, in cultures in which women are considered to be valuable only insofar as they remain sexually inexperienced and chaste.

This attitude is pervasive in cultures in which women are regarded as the property of their fathers or husbands, as chattel or goods that have a symbolic value that accrues to the owner of that property.  According to this way of thinking, the personal honor of the possessor suffers grievous injury when his chattel, his woman, wife, or daughter, loses her value through unauthorized sexual contact.   This way of thinking dominated Europe throughout the first millennium B.C.E. and is still vigorous in fundamentalist Christian pockets of the United States.

Rape, or any outlawed sexual experience, not only depletes the putative value of the woman, it also allegedly pollutes the honor of her father or husband.  In many cultures the rape of a woman is thought to pollute the honor of that woman’s entire family or tribe.  If you don’t already know about this, you should.  Introduce yourself to the topic with this video:

In order to recover their lost dignity and standing in the patriarchal community, the family or tribe will shame and ostracize the victim.  This practice was widespread in Bosnia and Serbia during and after the wars in that region, where rape was routinely used as a weapon of mass humiliation.  In aggressively patriarchal cultures, it is felt that male/tribal honor can only be restored through the murder of the victim.

In other words, patriarchal cultures are barbaric.  They are founded on the mythical belief that women are inherently inferior to men, and that therefore men have the right to own and control women.  Women do not have the right to own themselves or to make their own choices about their sexuality in these barbaric cultures.

Rape is an ancient means by which men have destroyed the mental and physical health of women to dominate and control them, but it is more fundamentally the crude method by which men seek to elevate themselves above other men.  By damaging the goods, and more importantly, the honor of another man or another group of men through rape, a man crudely proves that he is more powerful, more masculine.  Men in patriarchal culture are caught up in a mass illusionary game of quien es mas macho.

When men rape other men, they “feminize” their victims, treat them to the ultimate indignity to gain weaken their enemies and gain power over them.  But the rape of a man’s wife or child, especially if it is performed in front of him, also effectively emasculates that man.  He is forced to experience his own puny effeminacy in the face of other, allegedly more masculine men who have the power to take, degrade, and supposedly destroy, his woman or children before his eyes.

The rapist pathetically and barbarically “proves” his masculinity–his strength, his power, his honor–to himself and to his fellows, who also must engage in the same barbaric acts to sustain the fiction of their collective superiority over the people, the women, the men, and the children whom they are terrorizing.  For this reason, the rapist is completely unable to tolerate or even imagine how he might feel if someone were to rape his sister, or his mother, or his daughter.

Consider the frightening self-delusion  of the rapists in this video:

In the culture of rape that has grown up, tragically, in the Congo, men pass on to the next generation the perverted understanding that a man is only a man if he can out-man other men by raping their women.  But this culture is itself the natural expression of a culture in which men believe that men are superior to women, and that they have the right to possess, control, and govern their inferiors.

It is common to blame the crisis that has developed in the Congo on the Belgians, who brutally colonized the area in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Certainly it is true that the whites committed many terrible crimes as a result of their own racist and sexist assumptions.  But the culture in the Congo had gone wrong long before the whites came.  It went bad when masculinism–the arbitrary belief that masculinity is superior to femininity–began to infect African culture, probably about 6,000 years before the current era.

One could certainly say–as Andrea Dworkin did say–that all masculinist culture is rape culture. One in four women in the United States has been raped.   In any society in which men and women have internalized the arbitrary myth that masculinity is superior to femininity, a rape culture develops.  It does not always exhibit itself in the brutally overt violence that we are seeing in the Congo.  As explained very well in one of my favorite blogs, Ben Roethlisberger, the degenerate quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a product and producer of rape culture.

At home as well as in the Congo, human beings–mostly men–appear to be degenerating utterly into something that we shudder to call human.  When gangs of children who themselves were kidnapped, raped, and tortured commit these very same crimes against other children, and against women and men who fall into their paths, the myth of masculinity has taken then down a very dark and deadly road.

The good news is it is simply a myth, a perversion of human culture.  We have the power to imagine and built a better world.

Extreme Plastic Surgery, “Artificial” Sex, and the Insane Death of Carolin Berger


Today’s post began as a response to ECHIDNE of the snakes. who brought Carolin Berger to my attention

She was a German erotic actor who died in her sixth breast enlargement surgery, at the age of 23:

She went under the knife for the last time at the Alster Clinic and was having 800g (28oz) of silicon injected into each breast.  But her heart stopped beating during the operation. She suffered brain damage and was put into an induced coma.The tabloid’s headline read: “The senseless death of Big Brother star Cora shocks the whole of Germany. “(Her) frail, 48kg (106lb) body struggled against death for 224 hours. She lost. Cora is dead. …Her previous five operations were reportedly done at a private clinic in Poland which refused to admit her for a sixth time.

I kept going over those weight numbers, the amount of silicone to be injected into her and her body weight. Then I started thinking about the widespread impact of heterosexual pron on what women’s breasts should look like and how we now regard artificial breasts as really the natural ones, how seeing a very thin woman with very large breasts on television now looks normal, in the sense of averages. Porn has also affected the shaving of the pubic hair.

If it has done all that, surely it must have had some impact on general interpretations of sexuality and on the roles women and men take in sex?

I think that the cultural turn towards increasingly artificial bodies would indeed affect sexual habits and roles.

Women who are willing to alter their bodies dramatically are likely to engage in degrading and humiliating acts that do not sensually stimulate themselves, but, rather, their partners.  Of course, being able to excite their partners would theoretically also get them off.  Presumably, they would be more stimulated by partners who fit the roles that they have learned to find exciting–wealthy, powerful, dominant.  These are the very men for whom they are mutating their bodies, after all, the men for whom they (think they) live, presumably.

Or would it be more accurate to say that these women live entirely in the Gaze, permanently disconnected from themselves as subjects, and utterly and only aware of themselves as objects?

I think that porn alters the mind and sexual experience because the culture has prepared the mind to alter.  We are all subject to deep and long patterns of dominant-submissive  behavior that are not at all “natural” in the sense of being permanent and unalterable.

In other words, it has not always been this way.  We have been humanoid, Homo Sapiens, upright, intelligent, and communal, for approximately 100,000 years.  Only about 10,000 years ago did human males begin to figure out how to dominate human females. Human females learned how to cope with that arbitrary and unnatural situation in various and often freakish ways.

Sexual desire is very malleable, easily manipulated–we know this.

But at what point does the subject who is experiencing sex as an object, and nothing but an object, utterly lose herself (or himself)?  At what point does the long-objectified self break down completely, in severe depression, catastrophic phobias, or addictions, or bizarre, disfiguring and self-destructive behaviors?

Coralin Berger seems to have broken down in the last sort of way.  We can imagine that she at one time had a sense of herself as a person, a girl, a young woman, before she became obsessed with her body, or, rather obsessed with the notion of herself as a body, a body that needed, in her eyes, continually to be improved.

We can speculate about the forces that influenced the way that she came to think of herself.  They are the forces that influence all of us: the family, the church, the schools, the juridical system, the economy.  There is also the increasing power of the media that manipulates our sense of ourselves as women, as men  (for some good examples, check out About Face and the film Generation M).  Each one of us resists these forces to the best of our abilities.

My question is: at what point do these forces drive us completely insane?  At what point does the self who struggles to think independently break down so completely that there is nothing left but a shell, thin, brittle, and driven to the operating table for the sixth and final fix?

The Rapists at College


The commonplace that men who rape women are misogynists bears repeating. A recent study by psychologist David Lisak shows that college rapists are overwhelmingly repeat offenders (9 out of 10) who deliberately seek out vulnerable women, especially women who have been drinking. “When compared to men who do not rape,” Lisak observes, “these undetected rapists are measurably more angry at women, more motivated by the need to dominate and control women, more impulsive and disinhibited in their behavior, more hyper-masculine in their beliefs and attitudes, less empathic and more antisocial.”
In response to this observation, Jacylyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti (authors of the book Yes Means Yes and blog by that name), wisely note

Guys who seem to hate women … do. If they sound like they don’t like or respect women and see women as impediments to be overcome … they’re telling the truth. That’s what they think, and they will abuse if they think they can get away with it.

NPR recently covered the story, and note that David Lisak interviewed more than 2000 college men over 20 years. 1 in 16 of those interviewed men answered yes to both of the following questions:

“Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated [on alcohol or drugs] to resist your sexual advances?”

“Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used physical force [twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.] if they didn’t cooperate?”

You might think that these schmucks would have been reluctant to admit to these acts. Lisak reports that the men he interviewed were “eager” to talk about them. “They’re quite narcissistic as a group — the offenders — and they view this as an opportunity, essentially, to brag.”

Lisak also found that the men who admit to coercing or forcing a woman to have sexual intercourse do not generally consider what they did rape. These men also typically rely on the fear or shame of young women to prevent them from reporting the rapes. They want the women they have coerced into unwanted sex to believe that they are somehow to blame for what they have done to them. They also know that the culture on college campuses discourages victims from coming forward and shields perpetrators from detection and conviction in the criminal justice system. He reports:

In the course of 20 years of interviewing these undetected rapists, in both research and forensic settings, it has been possible for me to distill some of the common characteristics of the modus operandi of these sex offenders. These undetected rapists:

  • are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;
  • plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically;
  • use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;
  • use psychological weapons – power, control, manipulation, and threats –backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns;
  • use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious.

College rapists are criminal sex offenders who are largely undetected, unpunished, and unrepentant.

Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself hanging around with someone who openly or covertly expresses his disrespect and hatred for women. Listen and believe what he is saying.