You Are Not Alone

Sexual Exploitation Victims/Survivors

If you have been sexually involved or in an emotionally inappropriate relationship with an adult professional who was originally helping you, then you may now be dealing with a complex set of issues and emotions. Mental health and medical professionals, counselors, social workers, clergy, coaches, and others who enter into a helping relationship with you have made a covenant to act in your best interest and not exploit or abuse you. This is true for others such as attorneys, educators, emergency/crisis counselors, victim service personnel, and law enforcement professionals as well. In aprofessional-client relationship, there is an inherent imbalance of power. Depending on the relationship you have (or had) with the professional, this imbalance of power, combined with the natural development of feelings of trust, intimacy, and emotional dependence, along with phenomena known by psychologists as “transference”, can place you in a very vulnerable position in relation to the professional. Professionals are required to maintain boundaries with you and to not exploit your vulnerability, dependence, and trust. When a professional does have a sexual or romantic relationship with you as his client or former client, it is considered to be professionally unethical and (for many professions) illegal behavior and the professional bears full responsibility for any harm that results. There is no such thing as “mutually consenting adults” in such a situation, since the exploitation of your emotional dependence is not ethically considered to be true “consent” (this viewpoint on “consent” is supported by laws in some states).

Sometimes, people don’t realize the degree of harm that is caused when a person is sexually/emotionally exploited by a “trusted helping professional” (mental health, medical, clergy, law enforcement, teacher, coach, etc.). Time after time, in news articles, the focus is on the professional’s “misconduct”. This abuse isn’t just a theoretical ethical “no no”. There’s another side to each of these “professional misconduct” stories which is usually glossed over… the victim’s story. Victims pay a tremendous price for this abuse, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, socially, sexually, physically, and financially. It’s no wonder that an increasing number of States are criminalizing this abuse, as a serious felony offense and professional codes of ethics prohibit this abuse. This is NOT a victimless crime. When you encounter these stories of abuse, ask yourself a question:

“What about the victim?”

The Question:

Having been sexually/emotionally exploited by a helping professional, what has been the ‘cost’ of this abuse? What has it taken from you?

The Answers:

Words are insufficient to explain the cost of this exploitation on my life-and to my family, friends, subsequent therapy, etc. I try to write this over and over and I cannot find the words that convey my sorrow, grief, betrayal, anger, etc.

  • I lost my identity. My sense of who I am was shattered.
  • I lost all hope of recovering from childhood sexual abuse.
  • I lost any hope that safety exists anywhere on this earth.
  • I lost my connections to important people in my life- due to the extreme isolation.
  • I lost the few good feelings I had about my body.
  • I lost 99.9% of everything meaningful in life: trust, faith, value systems, 2 babies’ lives, motherhood, family, friends, career, and a nearly successful attempt on my own life
  • The abuse was a re-enactment of childhood abuse and It re-traumatized me to the core.
  • He took my dignity and self-respect.
  • He also took my ability to be physically close to and sexually intimate with my husband and my ability to go to Church without feeling sick to my stomach.
  • I can honestly say that although sex was a regular part of my experience, 90% of the damage came from the long term emotional and verbal abuse.
  • He has taken from me my trust in male doctors.
  • He took my innocence, my love, and almost my soul.
  • He has taken my peaceful nights of sleep – I still wake up with nightmares, and in tears.
  • He did not take my integrity, my fire, or my spirit — but if he would have been able to keep exploiting me, I’m sure he would have sucked every ounce of self-respect out of my being. And called it love.
  • Flashbacks awake… Nightmares asleep…He took away my definition of who I am.
  • He ROBBED me of my courage, my trust in others, confidence in my own judgment and past healing by re-enacting the prior abuse.
  • Sex was the weapon or means used to abuse us emotionally and spiritually.
  • This abuse has cost me my friends and my family who just don’t understand.
  • His abuse has cost me my freedom, my rights, my privileges, my trust in others and the mental health profession; and my freedom to be who I am.
  • It cost me valuable years of my life, when I felt incapacitated to enjoy life or to be a vital member of a family consisting of members who needed me.
  • It cost me the sense of being capable of protecting myself, of solving problems for myself. I realized I was unable to know soon enough what was profoundly dangerous to me, nor did the experience teach me how to do that other than by withdrawing from the world.
  • It cost me my sense of who I was, of well-being, and hopes and dreams for the future.
  • The experience placed me outside cultural expectations, leaving me with feelings of profound confusion. At the same time it separated me from important others as it was an experience beyond what those near and dear to me could comprehend.
  • He stole away my faith that there is good in the world. I don’t know who I can trust any more, now that I’ve learned that the people I am “supposed” to trust CANNOT be trusted.
  • I’ve lost my church, all of my friends, all of my support at a time when I needed them the most. I have to deal with this violation alone.
  • She stole from me my faith in the office of rabbi, and the failure of the movement’s leadership, also rabbis, to respond in a just and healing way has destroyed my faith in my chosen religion and very nearly my faith in God.
  • I’ve lost my ability to do the work I loved.
  • I’ve lost the ability to take care of my house and yard; I’m not a good ‘mother’ to my cats anymore.
  • I’ve lost all the waking hours from every day in my attempts to achieve justice and to heal; I’ve lost all the sleeping hours from every night to nightmares.
  • I’ve lost my energy and motivation for life.
  • I lose many many thousands of dollars every year in lost income and in healing expenses.
  • The very foundations of all I held dear and sacred were undermined. The very principles I had grounded my life on were ripped out from under me, hurling me into dark chaos.
  • I lost my church, my friends, my support network, my ability to trust, my faith, and my sense of who I was.
  • I was injured to the core, at every level of my being. It nearly cost me my physical life as well. I am determined to reclaim my life, and raise good out of the ashes of evil.
  • My mind shattered, and picking up the pieces and putting them back together may take a lifetime.
  • He stole my personhood, and never gave it back. I thought I was going to be healed, but instead I was wounded almost to death. I ended up in the hospital despairing of life again and again.
  • It made me realize the difference between church and God! I lost church, but not God. I lost trust in the clerical collar. It hurt to my very core. I feel bruised, discarded, ignored, violated, angry. I lost, but also gained . . . my soul, my God.
  • It is now terrifying to ask for help from any mental health professional. I have to go to the professionthat devastated me for help. It is an impossible double-bind.
  • I lost the joy in my life, my ability to trust myself and others, faith in God, my inner strength, respect for the church, my identity.
  • I lost belief in myself. I told myself that I could handle him, that I could stay out of danger, but I couldn’t. I lost my self-determination and personal feelings of power.
  • I have lost my sense of relationship with God and Christians. For most of my life, God was my Source of strength, courage and unconditional acceptance. Because the abuse was from someone who represented God to me, my feelings of shame and betrayal have separated me from this Source. And so many “Christians” don’t or can’t understand…
  • It has cost me trust. It has made me wear a frown on my face and have a suspicious look in my eye.
  • It has cost me my innocence, my ability to think wonderful of life.
  • It has cost me myself. Who am I? I don’t know. The “me” has been lost Never to be seen or heard from again. Just plain gone. Now, I just “be” what everyone else wants me to be…..whatever, whomever that is.
  • It has cost me my marriage, my family, my financial security, my trust in others, my sense of safety in the world, my sense of Self, my ability to feel joy, my desire to truly live.
  • Most importantly, the abuse by my therapist has caused me to lose my belief in the God that I had always embraced, faith in something bigger than myself, hope that there will be more beyond this life. The man who was supposed to care for me has robbed me of my life and I am left with a hole where my heart once was.
  • It has cost me and still costs me the joy in my life. I still harbor hopes that he truly loved me and that someday it will all work out.
  • It cost me the ability to think and trust my own rationality, my own intuition. He always said my intuition about his feelings for me were right on target… are they? Can I ever trust myself again?
  • It took the reality out my life and replaced it with false hopes, false images of myself and others. I no longer function with the hope that I can be something different, but rather must accept the trash I have become because of our relationship!
  • It cost me 1) my sense of God as a presence and factor in people’s actions, what kind of God did this man profess to follow, 2) my church family, 3) most of my friends, 4) my good name, 5) my self-respect, 6) the thought that I have a clue about peoples intentions and motives, 7) the trust of my husband and 8) all faith in fellow Christians in general, 9) the clergy in particular.
  • When I go out now, I almost always encounter at least one person who gives me that “oh you’re THAT woman” look, and some men feel that they now have a right to hit on me because if I would sleep with my minister then why not them. So many things about me have changed due to this I don’t have the time or enough space to list them all.
  • The cost of abuse: Incalculable. Costs you the tiny bit of self-respect you had, your ability to trust/love anyone, including yourself, your soul. Your minute will to live.
  • He shattered me, leaving permanent shards of glass in my psyche.
  • I became spiritually, emotionally, and morally bankrupt. He took away my reasons to live. I’ve had to learn to live my life all over.
  • He conspired to discredit me, and his brutal abuse ended up costing me the loss of my hospital. He isa deviant Registered Nurse, and he continues to provide “services” to female patients. What will he cost our society?
  • My priest discarded me after he took away dignity, my integrity, my sense of spiritual wholeness. Heleft me with pain, terror, nightmares, shame and self-loathing.
  • I feel like I am terminated. I was controlled, and then deleted. If I committed suicide, I would only be finishing the job he started.
  • She was my coach, my mentor. Because of her I have lost my innocence, relationships with the people I love, my goals for the future, my spiritual wholeness, and all ability to be independent. She gained my complete love only to leave me broken and alone.

Victim/survivors of this abuse may add comments to this page by sending an email to Contact us Here.

A life circumstance can arise where we find ourselves vulnerable and dependent on someone else to help us, to guide us, to be strong for us in our weakness. In these circumstances, society tells us to place our trust in various professionals to assist us. We turn to a counselor, therapist, or minister to help us through a problem or crisis. We seek help from a doctor or nurse about a serious medical condition. If we are a victim of a crime or find ourselves thrust into a legal situation we don’t know how to deal with, we trust and need law enforcement officers and lawyers to help us. Sometimes by choice, sometimes out of desperation, we trust these professionals, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We believe the professional will act in our best interest. Depending on the degree of our vulnerability or dependence and our need or gratitude for their help, it is entirely possible for professionals to take advantage of us. We might even think “it could never happen to me!” The sad truth is, it can, and does happen. And it can take place without us even being fully aware of what’s happening.

Mental health professionals, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, therapists, doctors, nurses, clergy,attorneys, professors, educators, social workers, law enforcement officers, coaches, or other professionals who either pursue or even allow a sexual relationship to develop with their patients/clients often are taking advantage of an inherent power imbalance in the relationship. Sexual exploitation does not always include sexual contact — it can happen in a variety of behaviors by the professional. Frequently this is an exploitation of the client’s trust or emotional dependency and/or their need for the professional’s help. Sometimes it is the result of the professional imposing coercive power over the client. Either way, this is considered abuse, even if the client was a “consenting” participant at the time. It is an abuse of the client’s trust and dependence on the professional. It also is a betrayal of the trust imparted on the professional by society. This form of abuse often deeply violates clients and sometimes causes tremendous spiritual, emotional, and psychological harm.

Exploitation of clients is universally regarded as professionally unethical with both present and former clients, and for many of these professions, sexual exploitation is illegal in numerous states.

You Are Not Alone!

We understand the devastating and lifelong effects that victims of sexual exploitation face. We have witnessed the lasting pain that has been suffered at the hands of abusive professionals/adults.

Professional care providers fulfill a vital function in helping vulnerable individuals. They have a fiduciary duty to help, not harm, the patients who trust in them for treatment and guidance. Unfortunately, however, cases of abuse and exploitation are all too common. Therapists sometimes abuse their positions of trust and authority, leading to negligent acts due to defective judgment and impaired integrity. Such abuse can inflict lasting physical, psychological and emotional harm on its victims.

Professionals serve an essential and noble function in society. They fill a vital role in improving the lives of individuals and families. However, because their clients are often in the vulnerable circumstance of seeking help and guidance, professionals also have the unique power to exploit their position of authority for harm rather than good.

All too often, professionals violate the fiduciary or trust-based relationship that exists between them and their clients. Abuse can take many forms. Sexual and financial exploitation, invasions of privacy, and violations of trust and loyalty take place in all types of fiduciary relationships. Mental health practitioners have the power to inflict great harm as well as good on their patients. Their position of authority combined with the vulnerability of their patients creates the potential for countless forms of abuse, exploitation and misconduct. The damage inflicted on patients through such misconduct can be lasting and irreversible. We understand the significant harm that stems from therapist abuse, and we know firsthand the doubts and difficulties that victims of such abuse face.

Few cases are more devastating than those involving clergy abuse. Members of the clergy, such as priests, pastors, rabbis and imams, hold powerful positions of spiritual authority. Their parishioners and followers trust in them for guidance on foundational spiritual and life issues. When a clergy member violates that trust, the victim often suffers lifelong ramifications ranging from damaged self-esteem to loss of faith to a lasting inability to sustain normal, trusting relationships.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of professional exploitation or clergy abuse, you may feel reluctant to come forward. You may feel ashamed or afraid. You may feel like everyone has betrayed you and you will never be able to trust others again. However, you are not alone.

No matter what words you may use to describe it, this is abuse… it is exploitation…

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