Trigger Warning Extreme Sexual content
Last month, Lena Dunham published a memoir “Not That Kind of Girl”. In it she discusses numerous sexual trysts and her own neuroses about them. Last week Kevin Williamson at NRO wrote a very pointed article accusing Dunham of sexually abusing her sister Grace who is 6 years her junior. Williamson’s work was decried as conservative hit piece on a liberal feminist icon.
While Williamson’s work would certainly qualify as a hit piece, it’s important to understand that he used Dunham’s own words to frame his work. The issues that he brought up are not political. Sexual conduct with a child isn’t a right/left issue. It’s an issue that everyone should be disturbed by and Dunham’s accounts of what happened should give everyone pause no matter who they voted for.
When I saw the pull quotes from the book, I realized I needed to read it for myself to determine what may have been appropriate childhood curiosity and what was possible sexual abuse. I obtained a copy courtesy of Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia on Twitter) and read the memoir.
Aside from the astounding narcissism, there were several incidents between Dunham and her sister that were troubling at best and abusive at worst.
In the passage that Williamson references in his piece, Dunham describes and incident when she was 7 and her sister Grace was 1.
“Do we all have uteruses?” I asked my mother when I was seven.
“pYes,” she told me. “We’re born with them, and with all our eggs, but they start out very small. And they aren’t ready to make babies until we’re older.” I looked at my sister, now a slim, tough one-year-old, and at her tiny belly. I imagined her eggs inside her, like the sack of spider eggs in Charlotte’s Web, and her uterus, the size of a thimble.
“Does her vagina look like mine?"
One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist, and when I saw what was inside I shrieked.
My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things that I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been such a success.
There is a whole lot wrong with that passage.
First, Dunham does herself no favors by writing about it in such a lurid way. Grace offered no resistance because she was one! The fact that Dunham classifies Grace's behavior as a prank is incomprehensible. One year old's can't comprehend pranks beyond playing peek a boo.
Second, I have dealt with my own daughters when they were one, and countless other girls through investigations over the years. I have never heard of a child inserting 6 or 7 pebbles into their own vagina. I’m not saying it didn't happen, but the likelihood is very small.
One year olds may stick stuff up their nose or in their ear. They might even stick one pebble in their vagina, but multiple pebbles seem beyond the norm. One year olds simply don't have the manual dexterity to do it. It has been postulated that Dunham may have done it then called for her mother’s help, which is possible, but its only speculation at this point.
I have done numerous investigations in which a 7 or 8 year old has fondled or penetrated another child. Most of those cases have resulting in finding out that the perpetrating child was abused sexually and are displaying sexually reactive behaviors.
Dunham examining her sister’s vagina and moving her labia is on the line between normal childhood curiosity and molestation. The law regarding molestation is pretty specific that the touching has to be done for sexual arousal or gratification, which doesn’t appear to have happened. If this were a case in my jurisdiction it most likely be investigated as a "Risk of Harm" rather than a sexual assault.
Later, in the chapter detailing her relationship with her sister, Dunham writes:
As she grew, I took to bribing her for her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a “motorcycle chick.” Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just “relax on me.” Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.
What a cruel and callous thing to write. This shocking passage not only acknowledges a predatory bent in Dunham's affection for her sister, it essentially makes fun of people sexually abusing children. What a lark! I'm just like a sexual predator wooing a small suburban girl.
This passage is particularly offensive given the cases I've seen in which candy, money and fear have been used to groom a child. Dunham clearly has little or no understanding of how things work in the world, and clearly has no empathy for victims.
The passage of the book that is hardest to reconcile comes in section 1 chapter two, "Platonic Bed Sharing":
I shared a bed with my sister, Grace, until I was seventeen years old. She was afraid to sleep alone and would begin asking me around 5:00 P.M. every day whether she could sleep with me. I put on a big show of saying no, taking pleasure in watching her beg and sulk, but eventually I always relented. Her sticky, muscly little body thrashed beside me every night as I read Anne Sexton, watched reruns of SNL, sometimes even as I slipped my hand into my underwear to figure some stuff out. Grace had the comforting, sleep-inducing properties of a hot-water bottle or a cat.
Again with the lurid language "sticky, muscly" body. Dunham's admission that while her sister, 6 years her junior was laying next to her as she "slipped her hand into her underwear to figure some stuff out" means that she was masturbating possibly as old as age 17 while her sister (11 at the time) was in bed with her.
In Illinois, "self masturbation in presence of a child" is investigated as Sexual Exploitation. I researched New York law regarding child sexual abuse and it's a little less concrete. I was unable to find a "Sexual Exploitation" allegation, but numerous references of sexual conduct with a child.
If I were investigating Ms. Dunham, my questions would be: Did you masturbate next to your sister? Yes. You're indicated for sexual exploitation. (Please note, 'Indicated', means "a reasonable person would conclude abuse or neglect occurred, it is not a criminal indictment)
Having said all of this, given what Dunham has written, I think she would have been indicated for sexual abuse for the masturbation incident. I don't think, however, that she is a child sexual abuser in the classic sense, meaning that I don't think she'd go out and abuse a child today.
I think that she was horribly sexually inappropriate with her sister. I think that she walked right up to the line. She has no boundaries whatsoever as evidenced by her writing.
Dunham purports to be a feminist, an edgy provocateur and a voice of her generation. Sadly that voice makes light of horrible situations. That voice betrays a lack of understanding of the horrors of the real world.
Dunham's casual and flippant tone in discussing these experiences clearly show a lack of empathy for victims of sexual abuse. This isn't a game. This isn't 3 pieces of candy for a kiss. Children's lives are ruined every day, yet Dunham casually jokes about being a predator.
In the end, Dunham's behavior with her sister is disturbing. Even more disturbing is the fact that Dunham doesn't have a clue why people are rightly calling her out. Dunham is about Dunham. Narcissists are like that.