In an age of seemingly unprecedented levels of sexual abuse, now more than ever we need men to speak out against it. So why is Serge Benhayon currently being maligned for doing just that?
My husband went to a Catholic boys school in Canberra in the 80s. He tells me of a Brother who was later found out to be a prolific paedophile. Another friend tells me how at a leading Sydney boys school everybody was acutely aware of the need to avoid detention or of being in the locker room alone. All the students knew who the ‘dodgy’ teachers were and they also knew of the boys who were being singled out and constantly abused. In other schools I have heard of Catholic teachers who were known to have paid a lot of attention to a few young girls only to be moved on to another parish.
I went to a co-ed public school. As a teenager I was fortunate enough not to have been the victim of institutionalised paedophilia. But sexual abuse was still a part of life.
At 14 I was walking home from school when a man in his 30s stumbled out in front of me from around a corner and pretended to trip over. He steadied himself by putting one hand on my shoulder and with the other groped deep into my crotch. He thanked me for ‘breaking his fall’ and walked away while I was left stunned and violated and, because of his feigned politeness, completely confused as to what had just taken place. My body shook all the way home.
Later when I would go to concerts I realised that this kind of violation was a standard part of pop-culture. In the mosh pit it was not uncommon to have a guy with a hard-on deliberately push himself up into your back. Crowd surfing became something of a grope fest of anonymous hands but worse was when you got to the front of the crowd and to the security fence where the bouncers would relish in pulling you off the surf by strategically grabbing at your crotch as standard protocol, so casually it was as if they were taking you by the hand.
At 15 I found myself in bed after a party with a guy that was a bit older than me. He had been sleeping on the couch and had invited himself into my bed. Despite me saying ‘no’ to sex this somehow translated to yes in his drunken mind and eventually I just made a conscious choice to leave my body, to disassociate myself until he had finished. He was a big guy and for years later I would wake up in panic with the feeling of his body over me, crushing me and paralysing me where I lay. The flashbacks and nightmares eventually stopped in my late twenties but not until after I had received a lot of support to deal with the experience.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is currently exposing how widespread the problem of sexual abuse is in our organisations, revealing what former Police Commissioner Ken Lay describes as ‘decades of squalid and systematic abuse of children’ (Lay, 2015). It appears there is not a school or organisation they can look into without revealing the rot and stench of abuse. It is rarely a case of if, but how bad was it?
But really we’ve all known this for years. And what have we done?
One investigator involved in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has observed that as recently as the 80s and still today, hebepholia (a predilection for sexually preying on teenagers 11-14) was considered a fringe benefit of some professions, particularly in the entertainment industry.
Citing the deep harm of invisible yet ingrained attitudes about male privilege Ken Lay notes that, ‘recent decades were filled with men who winked happily about their preferences for schoolgirls.’
But how many of us does it take to allow this abuse to proliferate? Did the people who worked with him really not know the nature of Jimmy Saville’s serial predation of young people?
When reports indicate that 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted before the age of 16 (Fergusson and Mullen, 1999) that points to a lot of men who must make up the statistic of sexual abuser. Even after accounting for the fact that many who abuse will do so multiple times, when we consider the sheer number of female victims, that points to an alarming number of men who are perpetrators of this kind of violence.
Sexual abuse has become a cultural norm.
So how do we deal with it?
Despite its prevalence, and curiously, despite the fact that there are many decent men in the world, there are very few men who you will meet in public life who are willing to speak out about the problem of sexual abuse and sexual violence.
Why is this?
Writer and teacher Kristy Wood notes that many boys are growing up on a diet of R rated video games – games such as Grand Theft Auto 5 in which prostitutes can be commissioned to have first-person sexual encounters with the player only then to be mowed down with cars or set alight as entertainment. She asks:
‘What message is this sending boys when everywhere around them in the media they are saturated with pictures of men abusing, bashing, raping, hair grabbing and demeaning women?’
You only need to watch Saturday morning music videos to see the culture of domination and objectification of women reinforced in nearly every film clip.
In discussions with boys of a primary school age about what it means to be a man, one youth worker, who cannot be named for confidentiality reasons, shared how young boys had suggested to him that to be a man ‘you have to be tough and not cry’ and ‘you have to be prepared to beat up a woman if you have to’.
If this is the way our boys are conditioned to understand manhood before they even reach their teenage years, is it any wonder that there are so few vocal men championing the rights of women? The act of truly supporting a woman, by these definitions of manhood, would actually be considered unmanly.
And yet there are men that do speak up. Presenter and Philosopher Serge Benhayon has been speaking publicly about issues around sexual abuse and violence against women for over fifteen years and he has never been shy about bringing public awareness to it.
Alarmingly, he is currently being vilified for it.
In a move that is as nonsensical as it is malicious, his remarks that promote discussion about the problems of sexual violence and abuse are being construed by Internet trolls as a ‘form of grooming’.
More disturbingly, Serge Benhayon has been attacked for highlighting the problems of sexual abuse amongst teens and being critical of the hardcore porn culture that has become their default sex education. In exposing how this is harming teens and their development, he has been accused of ‘raving about sexual violence’ when there are teens in earshot. Teenagers who, one could argue, know better than anyone exactly what is going on, and who also bear witness to the fact that there are so few adults who are willing to pull it up as problematic.
It is a strange world we live in when we safeguard with all our conviction the right for any kind of freedom of speech on the Internet, and for hardcore and violent porn to be freely available and yet if a man speaks out about the problems of sexual violence he is monstered for it.
It is in this world, where a false version of Freedom of Speech is being brandished by some as a free pass to abuse and malign, that the men who might option true understandings of how we can heal the cycle of sexual abuse are being buried in press abuse and false allegation.
But beyond the loud and hollow din of press and cyber abuse that surrounds Serge Benhayon there is a question that anyone with a determined interest in healing sexual abuse is naturally going to ask – how is it that so many women claim that this man has supported them to heal their sexual abuse and sexual trauma? And what role can men play in supporting women to heal from such abuse generally?
There is a specific moment that I recall vividly when I realised that I had finally deeply healed the trauma of sexual abuse.
I am sitting in the waiting room at the Universal Medicine clinic in Goonellabah, Northern New South Wales, I have my laptop with me as I always do. The clinic is busy with people from all over travelling to see various practitioners both complementary and in allied health. There is a physiotherapist, working alongside psychologists, working alongside Esoteric Medicine Practitioners such as Serge Benhayon.
Serge Benhayon walks into the waiting room, I am not there to see him, but I have been working on a website for a friend of his and I show it to him. He sits next to me on the couch to view the screen and I notice something that shouldn’t be profound but is completely profound. I don’t tense up – not even in the slightest or subtlest of ways. And I realise that until that moment there has not been a man since my teenage years that I wasn’t just a little bit guarded with.
It is the absence of tenseness that is most striking. It literally takes me by surprise because until that simple interaction I am not aware that when in the presence of men the default configuration in my body has been one of trepidation. A slight anxiety, but an anxiety nonetheless, and one that now sitting here feeling free of it, reveals itself to have been a devastating imprisonment.
By this time I had occasionally been seeing Serge Benhayon for healing sessions for some years.
Always he was the same with me. Despite my age (I was in my early 20s when I first started seeing him for sessions), my very curvy body and the fact that I was a female there was never any suggestion that he was in a battle in my presence. This can’t be said for most men. Some unashamedly ogle (I have been aware of this since eleven years old when I first developed breasts) and others try to hide it. There are the Starers and then there are the Averters – the men that would clock the size of my breasts and quickly avert their gaze, seeming slightly panicked that their eyes might accidentally stray below my neck line.
Mostly this is because men are anxious not to be inappropriate but it also points to their discomfort with themselves and their expression as men. Serge Benhayon never fell into either category. It seemed to me that to him I was Rebecca before I was any fragment or body part to be objectified. And that is how he met me – always looking at the whole of me, always clocking my depth.
His tenderness with me was absolute.
There is a lost world that we need to recover – a state in which a deep and unencumbered respect between men and women is the norm. Where the great honouring that men can have for women exists without an undercurrent of need or sexualisation. Until I met Serge Benhayon it felt as though my brother and father were the only men I could safely have this kind of love with. Now I have this with many men I know – there is no fear of them getting mixed messages from my affection and no jealousy from my husband, because the affection is genuine and honouring of them towards me and me towards them.
Serge Benhayon lives this irrefutably and has inspired many men I know to embody the same. I would go so far as to say that he is quietly starting a revolution amongst men.
One of the key realisations that he made tangible for me is the fact that it isn’t natural for a man to sexualise a woman just by virtue of the fact that he is a man. Men have been conditioned to do that, and to champion that behaviour, when it is part of a baseness that is not true to the loving respect they are soulfully capable of.
And women have been conditioned to expect that they will either be lusted after by men or shelved as too old or undesirable.
That a man could live and work with such respect for women that he sees their depth and beauty and celebrates them without sleaze or agenda, appears to be so new to our understandings of male behaviour that the majority will either be blind to it or deeply suspicious of it.
And here is where we have a choice.
If we are to be blinded by our past hurts with men we will believe the tabloid version of Serge Benhayon, the one in which the media paint him as a 2-D cult leader villain who ‘brainwashes women’ (because you know, women are stupid like that).
You will believe Esther Rockett, a woman who purports to be an ‘advocate’ for sexual abuse survivors only to abuse the men, women and children she pretends to ‘advocate’ for, while at the same time advancing damaging false sexual abuse claims that even she will have to concede are trumped up. While she doesn’t directly accuse Serge Benhayon of sexually abusing her, she does accuse him in the tabloid press and in frequent online posts of ‘grooming’ her during a healing session 7 years ago. The word ‘grooming’ employed for its obvious sexual abuse connotations and a convenient sideways way of making a false sexual abuse claim in the national media without actually having to say as much.
The tabloid media make their money out of this gutter level framing; suggestions without suggesting anything but forever linking the subject to the chosen words intended like mud to stick.
In her blogs Esther Rockett is more cavalier – she publicly claims that he is a ‘sexual predator’ and also makes the bizarre claim that by speaking out against teen sexual abuse and sexual violence he is attempting to ‘groom’ young people. For this and other false allegations she is rightly being sued for defamation.
And you will believe Lance Martin, a man whose wife left him on grounds of his controlling and demeaning treatment of her, who then went on to further control and demean her by telling the media that she was a victim of Serge Benhayon’s ‘mind control’ and not capable of rational thought. Lance Martin, a man who seems unable to mask his misogyny and whose obsession with teenage students of Universal Medicine is concerning, if not downright disturbing.
You will believe the gutter trolls who mysteriously emerged after Lance Martin started his widespread smear campaign who make the diabolical claim that Serge Benhayon abused his very self-possessed and intelligent wife, many years before she chose to marry him.
Meanwhile the people that know Serge Benhayon will know the truth. And anyone willing to look beyond the hysteria of hate bloggers will know it too.
But it will take a distinct lack of bigotry, because while Serge Benhayon’s approach to healing may not appear mainstream, it is deeply responsible and honouring of women and men. To construe it as anything else is a grave and deliberate wrong.
I know this to be true because I have experienced it. As a result of the very sensitive and respectful way that Serge Benhayon treated me in his session room and in fact in all my interactions with him, today I wake up without the post-traumatic stress of sexual abuse in my body. The terror and crushing weight on my chest is something I no longer have to relive. I am free of it.
Today I can say I truly and deeply love men and I can expect to be honoured by them. And I am.
But this is not the world for most women. And this is why as a community we need to call out the abuse of the Internet and of the Press at every level. Because if the truth can be buried so easily and so willfully as has been seen in the press coverage of Serge Benhayon, simply for the cheap and sensational story, then we are not only saying yes to a system that fosters and profits off our collective ignorance, we are also saying yes to a media culture that would deprive us of the courageous and sensitive conversations that are essential to our healing.
And more than this, we are handing ourselves over to a corrupted form of communication, one that denies us the reflections that have the power to set us free from the state of the ‘1 in 3*’ – from the endemic sexual abuse that has become a shameful societal norm.
“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.”
Lay, K. (2015). Ken Lay address on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women cited in http://www.ourwatch.org.au/News-media/Latest-news/Ken-Lay-address-on-International-Day-for-the-Elimi
Fergusson, D.M. and Mullen, P.E. (1999). ‘Childhood sexual abuse: An evidence based perspective’, Sage, London. Cited in the CASA Fact Sheet 2016: “Statistics about sexual assault *1 in 3 women will be sexually abused before the age of 16 http://www.casa.org.au/casa_pdf.php?document=statistics