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By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
Groundbreaking comedian and actress Ellen DeGeneres has come out again.
This time, she’s broken ground for lesbians who have been sexually abused by speaking about her own abuse history.
DeGeneres talked about her experience being abused by her stepfather during her late teens in an interview published in the current edition of Allure magazine.
The entertainer told the magazine that she has decided to talk about the incidents because “it’s important for teenage girls out there to hear that there are different ways to say no. And if it ever happens to them, they should tell someone right away.”
Kathleen DeBold, the executive director of the Mautner Project, applauded DeGeneres’ courage in speaking about the abuse.
“Talking about abuse is often the first step to finding help and restoring a sense of well being, and DeGeneres’ openness about her traumatic experience at the hands of her stepfather will make that first step easier for thousands of women and girls,” said DeBold. “By letting victims of sexual violence know they aren’t alone and that it’s okay to talk about what happened, DeGeneres has once again helped countless individuals of all genders and sexual orientations find the courage to tell their stories.”
Julie Frick, MSW, an Ann Arbor counselor who works with LGBTs and with both straight and LGBT victims of sexual abuse, agreed.
“I think coming out about this (sexual abuse) is very important on several levels,” she said. “Just like coming out as a gay or lesbian person, the act of coming out about sexual abuse helps diffuse the shame.”
Frick also addressed an additional benefit for gays and lesbians in coming out about sexual abuse. “If we’re out there, we can confront the confusion in the popular culture that being abused ‘creates’ lesbian or gay people,” she said.
DeGeneres confronted that misconception in the Allure interview, insisting that her stepfather’s abuse of her, which happened in her late teens, had nothing to do with her sexual orientation.
Frick, who has worked as a counselor for thirty years, concurred that sexual abuse does not “create” homosexuality. Of her patients during that time, Frick said, “I can’t think of a soul where [sexual abuse] really affected their sexual orientation.”
However, according to DeBold, the added trauma caused by the assumption that there is a link between sexual abuse and sexual orientation can make it even harder for lesbians to recover.
“The emotional impact of childhood sex abuse is often magnified when the victim is a lesbian,” DeBold said. “The misconception held by some that molestation can ‘make’ a child grow up to be gay leads many lesbians to hide the fact that they have been abused.”
Frick stressed the importance of realizing what sexual abuse is really all about.
“I think something that is really important for people to understand is that sexual abuse is not about sex,” she said. “It’s about power and misusing one’s power and authority.”
Additional reporting provided by the Associated Press.
Coming out and getting help
Whether or not one chooses to be public when they come out as a sexual abuse survivor, coming out to someone – a counselor, support group, trusted friend – can be an important step to beginning the process of healing. These LGBT and LGBT-friendly resources are available to help sexual abuse survivors.
Nationwide: The Trevor Project. Youth crisis hotline for LGBT and questioning youth; can help with referrals for young LGBT survivors of sexual abuse. Call 1-866-488-7386. This number won’t show up on the phone bill.
Oakland County: HAVEN has five locations in Pontiac, Southfield, Farmington Hills, Royal Oak and Bloomfield Hills. Services include a 24-hour hotline, counseling, and victim advocacy. Call 248-334-1274 or 877-922-1274.
Ferndale: Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center will be offering a support group for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence in July. The confidential group will be held off-site. Call Dierdre Shires at 248-398-7105, ext. 26. Affirmations also offers statewide healthcare provider referrals to LGBT-friendly providers.
Ann Arbor: SAFE House offers a drop-in support group for survivors of sexual assault on Mondays from 5:30-7 p.m. (except holidays) at Safe House Center, 4100 Clark Rd. in Ann Arbor. Call Amy at 734-973-0242 ext. 289. The center offers a twenty-four hour crisis helpline at 734-995-5444.
The Mautner Project will assist survivors in finding help as well. Call toll-free 1-866-628-8637.