Sexual Abuse is Out of the Closet: The Underlying Cycle and the Hidden Cause No One Wants to Talk About

We continue to be shocked when we learn about another case of sexual abuse perpetrated by powerful men. The names of rich and powerful abusers are well known to us and include Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Roy Moore.

A few, like Louis C.K., acknowledge their abusive behavior. “These stories are true,” C.K. said. “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my d–k without asking first, which is also true. But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your d–k isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”

Most, like movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, continue to deny the charges. A spokeswoman for Weinstein denied the rape allegations in a statement provided to CNN. “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein,” the statement read. “Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.”

As a therapist for nearly fifty years, I have treated many men who have abused women and I have treated men who have been abusers. I’ve also treated men who have abused other males and women who have abused boys and girls. What I have learned over the years is that nearly every person I have treated who has abused another person, were themselves abused when they are young. That doesn’t mean that every one who was abused, neglected, abandoned, or harmed as a child will go on to abuse others. It does mean that those who abuse others, were themselves abused in the past.

Here’s a story told to me by a fellow therapist, Richard Strozzi Heckler, author of In Search of the Warrior Spirit.

“I’m waiting in line at the post office, preparing to send a package to the East Coast. A young mother steps up to the counter, looking harried, and holding on to the hand of her two-year-old boy. He’s a cute little kid, but he’s restless and probably hungry. He tugs on her arm. ‘Mommy, let’s go, let’s go,’ he whines. She tells him to quiet down as she looks through her purse looking for money to pay for the stamps she has just purchased. The little boy puts his hand in her purse and pulls out her keys. She grabs them back. ‘That’s enough, now. Stop it.’ Her voice is shrill and she’s clearly losing patience. He continues looking in her purse.” Richard’s voice is calm, but as I listened I could picture the explosion that was about to happen. We’ve all seen these kinds of encounters before.

“Turning quickly, she slaps him hard across the face. ‘I told you to stop!’ she shrieks. The two people in front of me turn their heads away. The clerk at the desk smiles consolingly and passes her stamps across to her.

“I felt the anger surge through me,” Richard continued with his story. “I wanted to grab and shake her. ‘He’s just a little kid,’ I wanted to yell. But I didn’t do or say anything. I watched the little boy’s face grow red and he let out a howl. The mother turned towards him, raised her hand and again and looked like he was going to get another slap. ‘Don’t pull that on me,’ she hissed through clenched teeth. The boy quieted and swallowed his cries. His sucking gasps were even more heart-breaking than the shrieks of rage.”

“Damn, I told Richard. That’s horrible and all too common.” I’d been in situations like that. “You feel so helpless. You want to stop the assault, but you don’t know what to do.”

“Yes, and it happened so fast, quicker than I can tell the story,” Richard went on. “I was stunned and surprised and by the time I could say anything, it was over, the woman and boy left the post office, the line moved up, and things went back to normal.”

But there was more to Richard’s story that put the experience in a larger context. “I was reading an article recently,” Richard continued, “about a bar in Dearborn, Michigan. They have events on Friday nights called Rambo Wet-Panty Night. On those nights the men in the bar are given black, plastic squirt guns. They are shaped like smaller versions of Uzi submachine guns and they’re made to shoot hard streams of water, instead of bullets. On these nights women come on stage dressed in t-shirts and panties. Rock music plays and the guys shoot their guns at the women’s breasts and crotches.”

I’d never been to a bar like that, but I could easily imagine the scene as Richard continued with his story.

“The bartender encourages the men, ‘Shoot the damned guns! If you guys were like this in Vietnam, we would have won the War!’ The women being shot at pretended to be turned on by the experience, and maybe some were, but I suspect most were hoping to win the $200 prize money for being the best at being shot at, while looking wet and sexy.”

Richard continued the story. “The reporter who wrote the article interviewed some of the shooters. ‘You work hard all day, and this is a release. This way I get some aggression out,’ said a worker at a plastics manufacturing company. ‘You don’t get to do something like this every day. How many times do you get to shoot a girl in the pussy? This is great,’ says an auto worker.

Richard breathed a sigh of sadness and recognition as he concluded his story. “It’s as though the boy in the post office will someday grow up and go to a bar like this and blast women with his gun and have no idea about the real reason for his anger. His wife will be pissed off at him for being out without her, for being out late, and coming home again smelling of alcohol and cigarettes. She’ll take her anger out on their son. This son will grow up and take it out on other women. Where does the cycle of violence end?”

In reflecting on the mother hitting her son and the son growing up to shoot symbolic bullets at women’s crotches, I realize that if we are going to end the abuse cycle and protect vulnerable individuals from abuse, we have to recognize and understand the underlying causes of sexual harassment and abuse.

The current news headlines would have us believe that males are the abusers and females are the victims. But if are willing to look more deeply we will see that the underlying causes of sexual abuse in adulthood is childhood, abuse, neglect, and abandonment. In the story I recounted above, we can see the connection of a mother who abuses a boy and that boy growing up to shoot water bullets at women’s crotches. But we also have to ask, what happened to that mother when she was a child that caused her to be so angry towards her son. When we do, we often will find an abusive father or other male relatives.

Since actress Alyssa Milano called on women to speak about their experiences of sexual harassment or assault with #MeToo, over 12 million stories have been shared. We also need to hear the stories of men who have been abused. There are still many who do not talk about abuse and we need more truth telling, which takes a great deal of courage. I know it took me a long while to acknowledge that I was sexually abused by my mother and a woman neighbor when I was four years old.

Sexual abuse of adults by others is now out in the open. Its time we opened our eyes to the underlying causes of adult abuse that occur in childhood. What happened to Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K.,  Roy Moore, when they were children? What happened to you?

Please share your comments below.

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  1. Now that the Cold War has been over 26 years, it is about time to do work on our social, sexual, educational, political, social, and economic problem. Income and labor inequality has finally come out of the closet and can no longer be ignored especially since the wealthy people and their brought off politicians are flaunting their wealth and power and shoving it into our faces.

  2. Someone who has been abused is more likely to abuse. Some American doctors torture (by definition), mutilate (again by definition), and permanently harm millions of American infants who will become
    American men. If we stop “doctors” from circumcising, we will see a reduction in sexual harassment and rapes in the future. America has a higher rate of these abuses, and a much higher rate of circumcision.

  3. I spent 10 years facilitating groups of men, mandated by the courts to take an “anger management course”, because they were abusive, and not necessarily sexually. Intimate Partner Violenc (IPV) also known as Domestic Abuse/Domestic Violence, is typically about power and control and also includes raping their partner. In these situations, anger may become a tool of the abuser, as we saw in the case of the mother, and yes, in many cases, there was a history of abuse in their childhood, so some of it may be learned behavior: this is what one does when one is angry.

    The presence of PTSD was also a factor as some of the men were combat veterans, and as Jed points out, women can be abusers too. In cases of IPV, they turn to abusing the abuser because they don’t know what else to do. They just start fighting back. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” the Ike and Tina Turner movie is a great example of this.

    One of the tools I use in working with those who have been or are being abused is the Power and Control Wheel: It gives credibility to what the victim is experiencing.

    We also need to educate the courts to these dynamics, call a spade a spade, stop using the term “anger manangement” and to stop the victim blaming. Anger is a feeling that we can all manage. Abuse is an action the abuser chooses to take to express anger or other pent up, unpleasant feelings..

  4. We have got to stop using anger as a means of keeping people under control in American society. It happens too many times at home, work, police work, and in the military, because people don’t know how to communicate with each other as human beings and too many bosses plus too many parents are addicted in using it

  5. Jed, great article. Here’s a piece that I wrote a week or so ago and posted in a few places.

    The Problem with Men Today.

    There seems to be more and more troubling news about Bad Men, almost every day we see them in the
    news. It never seems to end. It’s beginning to look as though ALL Men are rotten. Everything from gun
    violence, to rape, to murder, to sexual assault, to drug and alcohol abuse. Plus Men with moral
    compasses so fogged up that lying, stealing, and cheating have been woven into the fabric of business
    and government.

    Our governments are spending hundreds of millions of dollars dealing with the results that are being
    caused by these men. Stop the gun violence with Gun Control. Stop the Drug and Alcohol abuse with
    more drug and alcohol programs and more counseling. Stop crime by hiring more police and building
    more prisons. None of this will ever stop, or reduce the problem.

    There are many things that we can blame these problems on. We can blame the Government, Hollywood,
    Feminism, and the Economy, Technology and our Parents or many other things.

    I see little or nothing being spent on the CAUSE. Everyone is looking to the government to fix these
    things, and they can’t. They certainly can’t fix it by continuing to put Band-Aids on the results. These
    Band-Aids include; more police, more prisons, more government programs, more rules……

    Most or these problems are caused by men. Let me first tell you what is causing men to be like this.
    It started with the breakdown of our Family Unit.

    The truth is that when you have children raised without their fathers and without good male role models,
    you are raising time bombs. It is especially important for our young men to have good men raise and
    mentor them. We now have a society that is full of young men who are alone. They are lost, they are
    confused, they are angry, and they do not know what it means to be an honourable man. They no longer
    know how to be with, or how to treat, a woman. And they certainly have no idea how to be a good father.

    I can guarantee you that the men that are causing ALL OF THESE PROBLEMS are men that are alone. They
    are men that do not have a circle of good honourable men in their life. They are men that were raised by
    an abusive father or no father at all. By the time they reached their late teens or twenties most men had
    no other men to hold them accountable. They had no good men that were there to inspect them for
    success in their relationship, or their career. Most of them are at a place in their life where they don’t
    even know that they need men in their life, and they don’t trust themselves or other men. They are in a
    very sad lonely place.

    A man said to me the other day, “well Harvey Weinstein had lots of men in his life”. I’ll bet he did. I’ll also
    bet that the men in his life, the men that were close to him, knew what was going on, or were part of it,
    or didn’t have the balls to say or do anything.

    At the very least men need 2 or 3 good men in their life. Most men today have NONE. Left to their own
    devices men will fuck up and do crazy shit.

    We can fix it if we act fast. We need to act fast while there are still men with the knowledge that the other
    men are lacking. As Ryan Michler says its time for men to “Step-Up”.

    We need to reach out to men before it’s too late. The children are our future and they deserve our best.

    Men, its up to us to fix this and the only way we can is if we do it together.

    • Our top political, business, and economic leaders have abandon men and women by dis-investing themselves in America for the last 37 years. It is hard for males to have friends when they are being made to move about the country due to bosses relocating the jobs and the parents have to move with those jobs or face unemployment. It is also ridiculous that people have to work two or three jobs and then they get blamed for not spending time with their families. In addition, shipping good paying jobs overseas doesn’t help the American male or replacing the American workers with imported foreign labor. It is also very hard to have friends even at work and nobody goes to neighborhood parties anymore nor are there any kind of company picnics. The Republican party and Corporate America are responsible for destroying the American family.

      • Steve Wilson says:

        The Republican Party is responsible for the family breakdown? Would love some facts to back up that wild assertion.

        • Well, they have fought against putting America back to work when Obama tried to pass a bill in putting America back to work. They have fought against raising the minimum wage. The State Department and the Department of Commerce were directed by Bush, Jr., to help the American corporations in their paperwork in sending their operations overseas. Anytime a Republican president is in office, there is no job growth/creation and the national debt goes up. The Republicans have fought against affordable/free health care. Starting with Reagan who was governor of California, they started getting rid of an affordable/free college education. Shall I go on?

    • Steve Wilson says:

      I completely agree with your assessment Bob. The breakdown of the dare I say it, “traditional “ family unit has left boys being raised without a father or maybe an absent father. Society is afraid to acknowledge this because it might be counter to the current day movements but it does leave boys to grow up to become men without having a compass in how to live.

      There is a lot of blaming and it doesn’t accomplish much.

  6. Bob,
    Thanks for the insightful comments. You and I both know the importance of health, involved, loving, fathers in a man’s life. My new book, out next year, will focus on those issues. It describes my own journey in search of my lost father. Stay tuned for more information.

  7. This is great! I’m so glad that men are speaking up about this issue and supporting each other in healthier ways. There are many layers to this issue. Abuse is not limited to gender, class, religion, or political viewpoint. The comments about the breakdown of the family unit are key to understanding how so many of us humans feel overwhelmed and unsupported. I would add that when tribes became smaller and morphed into individual families on an isolated farm, life became much harder without the support of a functional community. This problem is systemic. Thank you, @jed diamond ⚡️

  8. Rick Herranz Sr. says:

    Hello friends
    Has anybody done the research on the Adverse Childhood Experiences and the evidence based practices that prove this is valid science. That early childhood trauma is a accurate predictor of Adult Health. This research was done by our federal agency of the C.D.C.

    Rick Herranz Sr. Tuesday 11/28/17

  9. Annabelle James says:

    Hello fellow readers, I have a seemingly odd question, but as a female, I couldn’t say I fully know the answer. What is the ideal “man” or what is the “manly” way to be in today’s day and age, according to society? In an article ( which Jed took part in about Irritable Male Syndrome, which was an immense help for my research paper on IMS, there was a quote stating: “We don’t need to go back to some kind of idealized, pseudo manly persona in order to be manly. What we do need is a clearer sense of purpose in our lives.” (Jed Diamond) What should the real way to be a man be instead?

    • I would just like to have men be allowed to have a full range of emotions instead of having some of them be repressed. It doesn’t mean that a man misuses and abuse his emotions like being angry over anything and everything or use angry to put fear and intimidation into other people in order to beat them down and control them.

      • Annabelle James says:

        You’re right, I say men have every right to show emotions of all sorts, but I can’t understand why the world says no. If they’re only allowed to show anger, then of course it’s going to be misused sometimes! If you can only show joy at a funeral, of course people will think something is wrong with you. But men are just as human as women are, so why are they denied the right to feel? I have a boyfriend (for name’s sake I’ll call him Stuart) who is afraid of showing his emotions. His entire life, he has stuffed them inside; up until a few days ago, maybe even upwards to a week, that was true. Whether it was by a miraculous circumstance or with me encouraging him, I don’t know, he started crying tears of sadness, anger, joy, and other emotions even I couldn’t pinpoint. Even with that, I’m the only one he’ll cry with, and it’s in private, plus it’s over the phone because it’s long distance. To be honest, I’ve never been happier in my life for him and us, despite the really tough time he’s going through. So do you think I’m wrong when I say what he’s doing is right, or do you think there are other or better solutions?

        • No. you are not wrong. It is wonderful that your boyfriend is right displaying his emotions right now even if it is in private. I can’t say that about boys and men. I hope that he keeps at it and does not go back to his old way of repressing his emotions.

        • Steve Wilson says:

          Hi Annabelle- I don’t know if my comments are going to shed any light on the topic or your situation. About 5 years ago I found myself upon Jed’s work because I couldn’t understand why I was angry, why I was irritable, and why I was only feeling those emotions outwardly versus balancing out laughter, tears, and the whole range of other human emotions. I think depression and mid life play into it but I didn’t feel like that was a complete answer. What I have found is that stereotypes of men in society and maybe our changing roles causes discontentment. Relationships are transactional and communication electronic., Men need other men to support them in the same way as a father I need to foster love and encouragement for my kids. But it’s tough because us men think we can do it alone and we cannot. While I can only speak for my own situation, my marriage is transactional, my career is somewhat unfulfilling and society still says and pop culture reinforces the macho man image and the half naked woman image which further exacerbates what we are seeing today. I’m working really hard to be a man that my kids admire and friends respect for the choices so make. But I do suffer from less than I need in the male to male suppirt area and when guys like me are isolated, anger and irritability can and will build up. So it requires action. Men don’t tend to share emotions and when we do, we try to hide it because it’s not macho. Society needs to reverse course by showing the importance of fathers and the invaluable role we play in a family unit. Once society values this again, our role will once again be more easily defined and I think reduce anger and resentment and rage.

          • It is going to take a huge culturally change for society regarding how boys are brought up and that is not going to happen overnight or even in our lifetime; however, we do need to start somewhere

          • Steve Wilson says:


  10. Steve,
    I appreciate the comments. This topic has gotten a lot of feedback from very thoughtful people. Thanks for adding your voice.