Sanctuary for the Abused

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Virtual Relationships & Online Betrayals

Do you tell total strangers your most intimate secrets and desires? Do you share details about yourself that you wouldn't even tell your spouse when you know nothing about the person you are telling those details to? Would you have phone sex with someone whose number was carved on the wall of a subway restroom?

You might ask "who would do things?" and wonder how I could ask such silly questions. But, if you've ever entered into an online relationship, you may have done all of that and more.

The virtual world can be a very dangerous place. It is the only place I know that anyone, anywhere, can be anyone they want to be. Who's to know if "Mr Perfect" is a truly sensitive guy or if he's on death row and having fun with trusting strangers?


Betrayal is devastating when it happens in real life, when our husband or wife does the unthinkable. Regaining trust after a spouse betrays us can take years, if ever. And, yet, we think nothing of trusting someone we "meet" online, exposing our deepest secrets, and becoming emotionally involved even before we've met them in real life.

In real life, we're able to put a face and personality together, and, while we certainly don't know everything we may need to know to form a friendship or relationship, we have quite a bit. In a first meeting we can tell whether or not there's a "spark" that might grow to a flame or more.

In the virtual world, we use our imagination to "flesh out" the other person, giving him or her all the characteristics that we "need" him or her to have.

A skillful manipulator is able to use just the right words to draw us into an emotional and/or sexual relationship, all without stepping away from his or her computer.

Photo exchanges are no guarantee of who you're sending email to, IMing or chatting with. It's very easy for someone to "lift" a photo of another person from any number of sources online and pass it off as their own.

Not every online encounter is going to be dangerous or deceptive but do you know which ones are honest and which aren't? When you're in a support group sharing details of your marriage, don't assume that everyone in the group is there for the same reason.


Do you have an online friend with whom you feel comfortable talking about everything including very intimate personal issues even though you've never met in real life? Do you feel that honesty is an integral part of this relationship? Do you feel that this person may be or is your soul mate?

Here's how one woman described an online relationship: "We talked about everything and he was so honest about how he felt and he offered me the support none of my family -- and certainly not my husband -- had ever offered. He didn't push for anything more than what I was willing to give; he was the ultimate gentleman. He even said he understood when I told him I was emailing other men, and he didn't object. He said there was no rush, that he'd take a cue from my needs. There was no pressure like the other guys I'd met in chat.

I was emotionally hooked by the time we arranged a meeting and I really thought it went well, no awkward pauses, and we seemed to 'click' in a physical way although I didn't go back to his room with him.

He was only in town for one day and when we parted he said he missed me already and promised to call as soon as he got home.

I expected to get an email the next day but there was nothing and he wasn't in chat and he didn't log onto IM. I waited until the second day to send an email which he never responded to. By the end of a week I felt emotionally raw. I've never heard from him again. What did I do wrong?"

She, as so many others before her, trusted the written words of a virtual stranger. With those words, she created a "real" person, one who filled all of her needs. She "fleshed out" his words to create her soul mate.

Never underestimate the power of the imagination. When he says he has dark hair, you imagine he looks like your favorite movie star. You give him a sexy voice, a beautiful smile, a winning personality. He becomes the perfect man, the man with all the right words at all the right times.

He becomes the one person who can brighten your day just by emailing "Hello, beautiful!" or IMing a smile. He's the first person you think about when you wake up in the morning, the last person you think of as you fall asleep at night. He fills in the emotional blanks within your life.

The two of you grow closer. You become dependent upon him and distance yourself from your real life relationships.

Would he be as wonderful, as comforting, as perfect, in real life? We'll never know how many women have pushed for an off-line meeting only to have their cyber soul mate disappear forever. Other women meet their dream man to find that he isn't single or separated but married and looking only for a lover. Words are easy, reality isn't.


In the virtual world, assume that at least one person in a chat room or a forum is a predator and act accordingly:

Don't post personal details in an open forum; don't assume that a private forum is any safer. On the Internet, there is no 100% safe place.

Don't email personal details to strangers no matter how understanding and solicitous they may appear.

Don't give out personal details when you're using chat or Instant Message programs even if the other person gives these details to you. They may have given you false information in an attempt to build up your trust.

Even if you feel you can trust the person you've been chatting or emailing, don't give out your address, phone number, or last name. With internet searches, someone with even one personal detail can probably find out where you live and more.

If you're planning to meet someone you've met online, make your first meeting in a fairly busy public place and take a friend along.

Be SURE to take someone with you, at least give them details of who you're meeting, where you're meeting, and when you'll be back to work or home.

No matter how the sparks fly at that first meeting, don't invite him or her back to your place.

No matter how comfortable you feel at that first meeting, don't take a drive with them or let them drop you off at your house.

Trust your "gut." There is no need to force yourself to like someone. That's exactly the point of meeting face-to-face: to see if the "bond" you feel for this person is real or illusion.

Have you been betrayed by your spouse? Have you come to the Web for comfort and support? Have you trusted in virtual friends and been hurt when they've betrayed you? After being betrayed in real life, why would you think a virtual relationship would be any safer from betrayal? Behind that keyboard, all those many miles away, is a real person, not a perfect person.

Remember Ted Bundy? He was a real charmer. I'm not implying that your online friend is another Ted Bundy but until you are absolutely certain he or she isn't, play it smart and safe.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Porn Use and Sex Crimes

by Rory Reid

Intuitively, one would think that pornography contributes to the high rate of sex crimes being committed in society today. It is not uncommon to discover sex offenders in possession of large collections of pornography. Furthermore, if we were not influenced by what we see, why would advertisement companies spend millions of dollars creating the perfect ad or commercial to catch our eye? Despite these arguments, some suggest that sex offenders seek pornography to feed or fuel their pre-existing deviant sexual fantasies. They contend that pornography provides validation for unhealthy (sometimes referred to as "alternative") views on sexuality and deny that the material itself creates those perceptions. There have been several research studies to substantiate these positions. Some producers of sexually explicit material are quick to site these studies as a defense for accusations or allegations made against their industry. Regardless of these positions, newspaper columnist James Kilpatrick writes:
"Common sense is a better guide than laboratory experiments; and common sense tells us pornography is bound to contribute to sexual crime. . . . It seems ludicrous to argue 'bad' books do not promote bad behavior" (Kilpatrick, 1975).
As part of my experience working with incarcerated sex offenders, I listened to countless disclosures of inmates describing their heinous sexual assaults on victims. During these therapy sessions, it is not uncommon to hear an inmate indicate that part of the reason for their sexual deviance was due to consumption of pornography which influenced the way they behaved. This response from a prisoner in a sex offender treatment program is unacceptable because such disclosures attempt to minimize responsibility for behavior by shifting the blame. If someone can successfully avoid or reduce the amount of blame they must accept for their actions, then the accountability for their behavior is also reduced. This tactic ultimately attempts to manipulate the consequences one must suffer for their own wrongdoings.

As an illustration, one inmate attempted to convince a group of his peers that he had never considered molesting his child until he saw similar sex acts normalized in child pornography. Although this may be true, the focus must remain on the individual and his behavior, not the pornography. Part of his behavior resulted from his distorted interpretation of what he saw depicted in the child pornography. Why was he not repulsed by these images when initially exposed? Are we to believe he stumbled across these pictures by accident on the Internet? In his case, there appeared to be some pre-existing pathology and deviant arousal that drew him to these images while someone else would have been mortified and avoided exposure to the same material.

One research study analyzed the various arguments and data presented by other studies that contended the lack of reliable connections between pornography and aggressive sexual behavior. The study concluded that, in fact, there was existence of reliable associations between frequent pornography use and sexually aggressive behaviors, particularly for violent pornography and/or for men at high risk for sexual aggression (Malamuth, Neil et. al., 2000).

Another study collected from 100 survivors at a rape crisis center discovered that 28% of respondents reported that their abuser used pornography and that for 12% of the women, pornography was imitated during the abusive incident (Bergen, Raquel Kennedy, 2000).

In spite of these findings, others persist in their contention that there is little correlation between pornography use and causation of sexual deviant behavior. In part, they cite as evidence that, although many sex offenders do use pornography, there are just as many others who consume pornography who do not engage in sex crimes.

Regardless of your position, my experience indicates the majority of sex offenders have pornography consumption as an associated behavior. It is imperative that these individuals maintain abstinence from pornography as part of their effort to minimize possible risk factors for re-offending. But what about everyone else?

Consider the fraudulent message pornography teaches about healthy human intimacy. It portrays both women and men as objects with insatiable sexual appetites. Sexual relations with multiple partners are presented as normal and healthy, while monogamous relationships are depicted as cumbersome and undesirable. Distorted views of perverted sex acts are presented as exciting and acceptable, and in many instances, the viewer is exposed to otherwise unimaginable ideas about sexuality that they themselves would never have considered. These same acts are normalized by desensitizing the viewer after numerous exposures to the material. Other aspects of sexual intimacy, such as communication and tender affection, are usually omitted from pornography while consequences of promiscuous sexual behavior such as STDs and unwanted pregnancies are minimized. Surely, these ideas cannot be considered healthy. And yet, that is what many producers of pornography would have us believe.

I believe it is safe to say that people who consume pornography, specifically violent pornography, place themselves at risk of engaging in inappropriate and unhealthy behaviors. Just as alcohol impairs one's perception of reality, likewise, pornography distorts a healthy view of human sexual intimacy. Of course, in saying this, I risk criticism from those who will argue that healthy sexual intimacy in itself is a subjective matter and that I should not impose my opinions about healthy intimacy on them. I wish these same individuals could sit in my chair as I listen to some of their spouses cry bitter tears of resentment about the various sex acts they have been subjected to in the name of their spouse's definition of healthy intimacy. These clients often report feeling manipulated and coerced into participating in sexual behavior that their spouse wanted, but they did not. These are, perhaps, some of the more subtle sex crimes that will never see prosecution, a courtroom, or an indictment. These crimes are emotionally and physically abusive but often fall on deaf ears because they happen behind bedroom doors in the context of marriage relationships.

As we consider the contribution that pornography makes in the high number of sex crimes in our society today, let us not overlook the less obvious sex crimes that are committed by individuals whose views about sexual intimacy are distorted by pornography and who, in turn, seek to have their loved ones indulge in those same unhealthy views of sex. These relationships can sometimes be more damaging than the violent rape cases perpetuated by a complete stranger. At least in the case of a rape, an individual might easier come to acknowledge that they are not to be blamed for the sex crime, although I am not suggesting this is an easy process either. In the context of the committed relationships where the less obvious sex crimes occur, an individual is often left wondering if their view of sexual intimacy was too conservative or prudish. They blame themselves for going along with what they thought was an attempt to please their spouse. Unfortunately, sometimes when they confide in those whom they trust, they are told to dress more sexy so their spouse doesn't turn to pornography, as if they are to blame for their spouse's behavior. One client even reported she would have preferred a one-time traumatic experience with sex from a stranger than have over ten years of being subjected to perverted sex from her spouse who was being influenced by pornography.

The role of pornography in sex crimes-both subtle and not so subtle-is one that deserves more than dialogue and discussion. Community efforts to educate and create an awareness of these issues are certainly steps in the right direction. Yet more must be done to reduce the exposure of those we love to pornography and to keep them from the heartbreak and danger of unhealthy sexual intimacy. Such tragedies are truly crimes that can best be avoided by taking preventative measures in the home and in our communities.

Bergen, Raquel Kennedy, Violence and Victims. 2000 Vol 15 (3): 227-234)

Kilpatrick, James as quoted in Donnerstein, Edward; Linz, Daniel: Penrod, Steven; 1987: The Question of Pornography: Research Findings and Policy Implications. New York: Free Press.

Malamuth, Neil M; Addison, Tamara; Koss, Mary; Pornography and sexual aggression: Are there reliable effects and can we understand them? Annual Review of Sex Research, 2000: Vol. 11: 26-91

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Destroyer of a Soul

by Lionel Johnson

I hate you with a necessary hate.
First, I sought patience: passionate was she:
My patience turned in very scorn of me,
That I should dare forgive a sin so great,
As this, through which I sit disconsolate;
Mourning for that live soul, I used to see;
Soul of a saint, whose friend I used to be:
Till you came by! a cold, corrupting, fate.

Why come you now? You, whom I cannot cease
With pure and perfect hate to hate? Go, ring
The death-bell with a deep, triumphant toll!
Say you, my friend sits by me still? Ah, peace!
Call you this thing my friend? this nameless thing?
This living body, hiding its dead soul?

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