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If you suffer from an eating disorder now or have in the past, please email Joanna for a free telephone consultation.



Eating Disorder Recovery
Joanna Poppink, MFT
Eating Disorder Recovery Psychotherapist
serving Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon and Utah.
All appointments are virtual.


Sexual Exploitation of Adult Women with Eating Disorders

Sexual Exploitation and Vulnerable Women's Fantasies

Often in my practice, a new patient comes in with a distorted perception of the sexual exploitation in her life. She may have a stalker. She may have a boyfriend or husband who manipulates and uses her sexually. Sometimes, she knows it and is afraid. Sometimes, she knows it and feels ashamed she can't live up to his expectations.

Sometimes, she is proud that she is so special, strong, or stoic that she can give the exploiter the experiences they want. Sometimes, she feels and believes that their joy in her uninhibited cries of pain creates a special and wondrous bond between them that no other woman could possibly fulfill.

 After many years of working with adult women who have eating disorders, I am, sadly, accustomed to working through this painful and bewildering way of living with the client before me. Most of the time, she believes any problem that might exist is due to a fault in her. She may not even know that she is often raped. It may not occur to her that she sets herself up, unknowingly, innocently, for sexual exploitation.

Comparing Women with Eating Disorders To Sexually Vulnerable Children

A blog post that sheds light on this sexual exploitation experience was written by Dr. Paula Prince, a clinical and forensic psychologist in Beverly Hills, CA. She wrote, "Recognizing Child Sexual Predators, Protecting Your Children."

Dr. Prince describes how parents can recognize the signals of a sexual predator with sexual exploitation designs on their children. She also describes how the predator grooms the young victim, what makes a child vulnerable to sexual exploitation and why the child may not disclose the activity.

I was struck by how similar her description is to what I see in many of my adult woman patients who have an eating disorder. Dr. Prince has written, in my opinion, a most accurate description of what can happen to sexually molested children.

I am particularly taken with the section on parental safety precautions. Many adult women who have not yet worked their way to eating disorder recovery are just as vulnerable to sexual exploitation as the children she describes.

Innocence that Leaves a Woman Vulnerable to Sexual Exploitation

These women do not perceive the difference between relationship building and "being groomed" for sexual exploitation. They, like the children, feel guilt, shame and fear and are reluctant to tell a trustworthy person in their lives what is happening to them.

They do not have the capability to recognize a trustworthy person. Their first experience in trusting someone who actually earned their trust is often their therapist. This is why I am so very angry when a psychotherapist betrays that trust with sexual exploitation, behavior or seduction of any kind with a patient.

These adult women look like adults. They are old enough to be adults. They are expected to have adult resources and be able to protect themselves.

But they have some solid healing and recovery in them, they are as vulnerable as children to sexual exploitation as Dr. Prince describes. What's more, these women have an additional burden to carry.

They hold the shame, fear and guilt as does the child. They carry the secret of the experience, as does the child. But the adult woman also carries the knowledge that she is pretending to be an adult.

She is wearing a façade of strength and maturity that people believe. She presents a picture of a woman who knows how to take care of herself, is fun and free and is not available for sexual exploitation. She looks far more mature and competent than she is, and she knows it.

And, of course, she has no adult parent caring for her and protecting her the way a fortunate child may have because the woman is well over 21. In fact, the adults closest to her may themselves be carrying on the sexual exploitation.

When such a woman enters my practice, we work through her emotional, historical and developmental issues. How to recognize and protect herself from sexual exploitation is a part of the recovery work we do together.

Also see: Dangerous Sexual Liaisons and Women with Eating Disorders

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Written by Joanna Poppink, MFT. Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD, and adult development.

She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, and UT. Author of the Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder

Appointments are virtual.

For a free telephone consultation, e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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