Ithaca, N.Y. — A Cornell professor has come to the defense of HBO star Lena Dunham after a writer accused the actress of admitting to “sexual abuse” in her new book.
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Dunham writes that, as a child, she looked at her younger sister’s vagina and masturbated next to her. That admission prompted Kevin Williamson, a conservative writer for the National Review, to say Dunham had subjected her sister to “sexual abuse.”
Lena Dunham’s sexual abuse, specifically, of her younger sister, Grace, the sort of thing that gets children taken away from non-millionaire families without Andover pedigrees and Manhattanite social connections. Dunham writes of casually masturbating while in bed next to her younger sister, of bribing her with “three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds . . . anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.” At one point, when her sister is a toddler, Lena Dunham pries open her vagina — “my curiosity got the best of me,” she offers, as though that were an explanation. “This was within the spectrum of things I did.”
However, an article published in the online magazine Slate on Tuesday said Williamson was wrong to call Dunham’s admission “sexual abuse.”
The reporter cited Ritch Savin-Williams, a Cornell professor and director of the Sex and Gender Lab at Cornell University.
“Children have been doing this stuff forever and ever and ever and ever, and they will do it forever and ever and ever.” …
“It sounds, from what Dunham is writing, that it’s just playful activity. One would seriously have to question that harm was done,” Savin-Williams says. And again, this kind of play is extremely common…
As ridiculous as Williamson’s claims are, they are important to address for two reasons: Williamson is not just being unfair to Dunham by characterizing her actions as “abusive”—he’s also accusing and humiliating millions of other individuals who did similar things as kids.
“Our prisons would be filled with ‘child abusers,’ I’m sure, if we started imprisoning all the children who sexually played around with each other,” Savin-Williams says. Perhaps more importantly, Williamson’s accusations trivialize the trauma of real sexual abuse, which, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, afflicts an estimated 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys in the United States today.