A few books and blogs written by and for adult Aspie females have alluded to the fact that an alarmingly high percentage of females on the spectrum have reported having experienced sexual assault, molestation, rape and other forms of sexual abuse. This information was of great interest to me, as a survivor of similar, but it had never occurred to me that the incidents could possibly be related to my Asperger’s.
This topic was recently explored within a particularly close-knit online group of adult Aspie females and I was shocked, not only at the number of other women who had experienced some form of sexual abuse, but the sheer extent of some of the abuse tolerated. As stories were shared, we were all taken by surprise at the similarity of many of our situations and experiences. One conclusion that seems to be indisputable is that the Asperger trait of being unable to read non-verbal communication (and therefore unable to discern intent) and our tendency to be naïvely innocent and trusting of people, has resulted in dire consequences for many of us. Furthermore, the difficulty we experience in establishing connections with peers, and our general communication difficulties, mean we often don’t know who to tell or how to obtain support, so therefore continue to suffer in silence.
Respect for the privacy of my friends precludes me from writing about their specific examples here, so I will use my own experiences to illustrate my point.
I was sexually assaulted by a large (15+) group of boys in my high school toilet during one lunchtime when I was 14 years old. It was set up by two females who didn’t like me and persistently bullied me, most likely because of my AS traits. I didn’t perceive myself to be in any danger, even as the boys blocked my route, closed in on me and began pushing me backwards towards the gents toilets. Perhaps if I’d been able to read their intent, I’d have realised what was happening sooner and possibly made enough noise to have alerted help? Who knows. Subsequently, I was also coerced into sexual activity against my will by a few boys/men between the ages of 14 and 16, finally losing my carefully guarded virginity when I was raped by a boyfriend at 16. My literal interpretation and unquestioning acceptance of my misogynistic upbringing and Christian faith meant that I assumed I was now obliged to marry him. So I remained his girlfriend for three months, tolerating all manner of sexual abuse as he ‘trained’ me to meet his needs. That was, until he grew bored and moved on to the next girl, leaving me confused and devastated.
Most, if not all, of these situations could have been preventable if I had been able to read nonverbal communication.
This conclusion has also been reached by many of my fellow Aspergian female friends but as harrowing as many of their stories are, another character trait appears to emerge. Resilience. We each have our emotional (and in some cases, physical) scars but there is a resilience that I think could be born out of the AS tendency to process things logically, using intellectual rationalisation. Although, quite understandably, there is evidence of dissociation of various sorts and many of us have struggled to reclaim our own sexual identity and autonomy, there is still something so very uniquely pure, innocent, and irrepressibly frank in the recounting of these incidents that endears us to each other.
Discovering our common experiences and traits has been a very liberating experience. However there’s no escaping the fact that these incidents have had their impact. Speaking for myself, in my early 30s I was finally in the fortunate position of being able to undertake extensive psychotherapy to undo the damaging effects of my upbringing and experiences, but it wasn’t an easy process. It took two years of serious commitment and nearly cost me my marriage.
Now, as the mother of a young girl who also appears to have many AS traits, I find myself agonising over trying to strike a balance between leaving her to enjoy her childhood innocence and making sure she has learned the safety skills she may need, especially as she starts school soon and will no longer be fully under my watchful protection.
My own mother tells me of a terrifying moment for her, when I was nearly 3 years old. She was shopping and dropped my hand for a moment to pay at the till for something, then turned to look for me and saw me being led off towards a small passageway by a strange woman. Needless to say, I’ve already had the ‘stranger danger’ talk with my daughter and she is fully aware that there are a few circumstances when it is absolutely ok with mummy for her to kick, scream, bite, hit and run away from a stranger. At what point I extend that advice to include people she knows, who are behaving inappropriately towards her, I still haven’t decided. That requires explaining what is inappropriate. And at her current age, much ‘inappropriate’ behavior is still very innocent exploration. This is where I rely on my more neurotypical friends to keep me right. Their more typically developing children seem to acquire this knowledge and reserve quite naturally. I didn’t. I still often struggle to understand the unspoken societal rules surrounding some behavior and hope that people make allowances for me since I’m a ‘thespian’.
Hopefully I can prepare my daughter for the world a bit more thoroughly than my (very likely undiagnosed aspie) mother managed to prepare me.