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The Trauma Myth by Susan Clancy
February 5, 2010 1:56 PM   Subscribe

What do you mean by the "trauma myth"?
The title refers to the fact that although sexual abuse is usually portrayed by professionals and the media as a traumatic experience for the victims when it happens — meaning frightening, overwhelming, painful — it rarely is. Most victims do not understand they are being victimized, because they are too young to understand sex, the perpetrators are almost always people they know and trust, and violence or penetration rarely occurs. "Confusion" is the most frequently reported word when victims are asked to describe what the experience was like. Confusion is a far cry from trauma.

NYTimes: "Abusing Not Only Children, but Also Science"
posted by andoatnp (140 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, this should have been obvious for a long time to anyone who's been around a child who doesn't react to a fall or tumble until they have an audience. Not just sexual abuse, but the current trend of providing trauma counseling to children every time a situation comes up that only distresses their parents.

Also, oh great Fox is gonna be all NYT ♥ pedophiles.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:04 PM on February 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


Whoah...controversial! Shouldn't be, but it is. For people likely to skim the article and think she's cheering on child abuse, she makes it clear that child abuse "is an atrocious, disgusting crime."
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:05 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is the Rind controversy all over again.

The fairly reasonable point Dr. Clancy and the Rind paper attempt to make is that sexual abuse of children is Bad, but it isn't as Bad as was feared.

Some people take this as an endorsement of pedophilia. These people are morons.
posted by logicpunk at 2:09 PM on February 5, 2010 [16 favorites]


If it's a traumatic event later in life when it's recalled, rather than earlier when it originates, that to me still sounds like a traumatic event, only one that's shifted in time.
posted by tybeet at 2:10 PM on February 5, 2010 [34 favorites]


I heard theories many years back that much of the trauma of child sexual abuse is actually created by the reaction of adults to its revelation and their tendency to encourage the child into the role of trauma victim. I don't know that there's any validity to it (and I think we can too easily fall for the elegance of the counterintuitive), but it's unfortunate that it cannot be legitimately studied without accusations that doing so is offering some cover or encouragement for abusers.
posted by troybob at 2:12 PM on February 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


If it's a traumatic event later in life when it's recalled, rather than earlier when it originates, that to me still sounds like a traumatic event, only one that's shifted in time.

I think part of what she's saying is that it isn't so much the event itself that causes the later trauma so much as reaction from society, therapists, etc.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:12 PM on February 5, 2010


I think what she is talking about is the response of adults to sexual trauma. We've thrown our fear and confusion about sex into every aspect of our lives and expect our children to follow suit. I'm glad someone is saying "back off."
posted by Xurando at 2:13 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


The fairly reasonable point Dr. Clancy and the Rind paper attempt to make is that sexual abuse of children is Bad, but it isn't as Bad as was feared.

I... don't think that's the point Clancy is making. I don't know about Rind, but Clancy seems, in these interviews, to be saying that Sexual abuse of Children is Bad, but that current methods of treating it have the unintended side effect of discouraging victims from disclosing their abuse because their experience is different than what professionals tell them it should have been. Resultantly, they're not sure they were captial A abused when they clearly were. Where the abuse precisely falls on some scale of Bad to Horrible seems entirely outside her point.
posted by shmegegge at 2:14 PM on February 5, 2010 [27 favorites]


Wow, very interesting. Thanks for posting.
posted by clockzero at 2:16 PM on February 5, 2010


Fear the counselling industrial complex! Second rate universities across America are printing MSWs and MAs in counselling psychology by the thousands and turning these people loose in the heads of our children and other vulnerable populations.
posted by Crotalus at 2:18 PM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I agree with tybeet. At the time it is happening, it might not be traumatic to the child because the perpetrator attempts to make it seem natural, like nothing is wrong. Sometimes the child will experience (perfectly understandable) pleasure from the physical stimulation, and the child should not be made to feel guilty or ashamed from that. The abuser is trying to create a bond that will allow the abuse to continue and keep the child from telling anyone.

But later in life, realizing how this has warped their own view on sexuality, intimacy and trust issues, it can still be traumatic. For example, this, from the article, "The man kept the abuse a secret from his wife and family for more than 30 years and was struggling with feelings of shame and problems at work." For me, if something is bothering me for more than 30 years? Yeah, that's traumatic.

Susan Clancy suggests that people don't tell because they are ashamed because it was no big deal, which makes no sense to me. She then contradicts herself to say that people do tell and others act like it is no big deal. Then she maintains that the real problem is that "everyone" acts like it is a traumatic event. Those contradictions don't work for me.

And frankly, I dispute her numbers because *every single allegation* she makes in the post, she uses, "95%". 95% don't report it, 95% of the offenders are men, 95% are not traumatized, etc.
posted by misha at 2:19 PM on February 5, 2010 [20 favorites]


I'll have to read the actual book, because it's hard to tell from the article what Clancy's actual argument. It seems from the first paragraph that she's arguing that if we stop treating sexual abuse of children as such a big deal, adults who later remember incidents of abuse will not feel traumatized? But I don't think that's what she's arguing, so it must be shoddy journalism.

And paragraphs like this one seem over-simplified:
Feminists were naturally infuriated, because it's not the children's fault! But the way they got attention to it was to portray the sexual abuse in a way that would shock people. They did that by comparing it to a rape.
This seems to support a very narrow definition of "rape" and ignores the fact that adult victims of rape do not have a unified response to the violation, either. It also seems like she's setting up a very strict dichotomy between 'feminists' and 'herself', when many of the things she's saying dovetail very closely with many feminists who have been raped or abused report.
posted by muddgirl at 2:20 PM on February 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


shmegegge: "I... don't think that's the point Clancy is making..."

Just so. The OP could have used a less apt-to-be-misread pullquote, as the interview she's very clear that child sexual abuse is more than Bad, it's a horror and part of that horror is the sheer amount of it that goes on and is never reported. Her point's that the current accepted way of framing the entire topic is immensely counterproductive to actually helping victims to come forward and getting the criminals responsible prosecuted for their abuse.
posted by Drastic at 2:21 PM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Second rate universities across America are printing MSWs and MAs in counselling psychology by the thousands and turning these people loose in the heads of our children and other vulnerable populations."

I guess I'm an idiot today (again), 'cuz I can't tell if this is, like, a joke, or you're serious....???
posted by HuronBob at 2:23 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


On preview, I do agree that how adults react to the initial reporting of the child is important. Hard not to go overboard and be all, "OMFG, WHAT Did he do to you?!!" But better that than ignoring the problem completely. Of COURSE, what we want is a middle ground, but I don't think that notion is controversial in the least.
posted by misha at 2:23 PM on February 5, 2010


And again, at the very end:
These are high-functioning people in society who are choosing to molest children. All this focus on the psychology of the victim is a way to sidestep this central question: What is going on in society that so many men are choosing to get off on small children? I can find almost no studies on the subject. People will go into jails and interview a perpetrator, but most of these people don't go to jail, and most of them aren't caught.
Well, there's the oft-linked Dr. David Lisak who seems to be doing the exact research she's asking for. I think she's also making the common mistake of equating sexual violations with a need for "getting off". It's almost like she thinks that sexual abuse (which seems to be limited in her dictionary to penetrative assault) is in one category, while just feeling up a kid is something different?
posted by muddgirl at 2:24 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


From the Salon interview:
How do you think we should change the way sexual abuse victims are treated?

I think practically, sexual abuse victims need to hear loud and clear that what happened to you is what happens to most people.
Most people are sexually abused as children?
posted by psyche7 at 2:32 PM on February 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


muddgirl: "It's almost like she thinks that sexual abuse (which seems to be limited in her dictionary to penetrative assault) is in one category, while just feeling up a kid is something different?"

From the Salon interview:
I think there should be clear legal terms to differentiate sexual abuse that involves touching and no force, and sexual abuse that's penetrative, and sexual abuse that involves force and violence. You have to make it clear that in all cases it is a crime, but clumping all of them under one title — when they range from genital stroking to anal penetration — is a bad thing.
There's debate to be had on whether and to what extent clumping all of these forms of abuse together (and to what extent in actual practice they actually are clumped all together, for that matter) is a bad thing, but her words are very clear that she doesn't define sexual abuse as penetrative assault only.
posted by Drastic at 2:34 PM on February 5, 2010


My take on it (not having read the book):

1: "Trauma" implies some very specific reactions to child abuse, usually along the lines of PTSD.
2: Many survivors of child abuse have reactions and coping mechanisms that don't follow the very limited view of trauma.
3: Most survivors are still harmed by abuse in various ways even if they are not traumatized by it.
4: Child abuse is still a major crime even if the child shows no obvious symptoms of trauma.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:38 PM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Susan Clancy suggests that people don't tell because they are ashamed because it was no big deal, which makes no sense to me.

I think what she's saying is that since child abuse has been painted as a horrifying, traumatic experience, when someone actually gets abused and finds it "merely" confusing or weird, they start second guessing themselves ("Wait, was I actually abused? It wasn't traumatic.") and then don't report it.
posted by katerschluck at 2:38 PM on February 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


If it's a traumatic event later in life when it's recalled, rather than earlier when it originates, that to me still sounds like a traumatic event, only one that's shifted in time.

Yes, but it may not be as traumatic to you as it is to me. Maybe I was raised to think every sexual act is bad and by participating as a child I am bad. Or maybe my religious dogma condones that behavior.

Also, it may not even be the act of sexual abuse itself that is so traumatic. It could be the trauma of the memory of how it was handled by the victims parents, or lack there of. In some cultures, its the "kids fault".

I didn't remember it happening to me for 22 years. And to be honest, I was more confused by not having memories of how my parents reacted to the situation, if they even knew at all. But I clearly remember how my older brother reacted. He beat that kid to within an inch of his life.
posted by brando_calrissian at 2:40 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Drastic - you're right, I mis-read that paragraph, but I still disagree with her. There ARE different legal definitions and punishments for those different levels of abuse. On top of this, her desire to separate the last category (violent sexual abuse) from the first two is what worries me, because it is a very mainstream dissection between "real rape" and "not-as-bad" rape that a lot of rape victims struggle against.
posted by muddgirl at 2:44 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guess what I'm trying to argue and what most feminists or social progressives argue is that we can expand our understanding of rape and the rape survivor's experience without trying to rank those experiences on a scale of badness.
posted by muddgirl at 2:46 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think it is ridiculous to say 'not traumatic.' If you want to re-define 'traumatic' to discuss how a child perceives and deals with sexual trauma/abuse, that's one thing. But to say 'not' really muddies the waters. She deserves the tomaotes being thrown her way.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:47 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think practically, sexual abuse victims need to hear loud and clear that what happened to you is what happens to most people.

Most people are sexually abused as children?


The jouralist probably should have clarified it as: "...what happened to you is what happens to most [sexually abused] people."

I'm 95% sure that's what she meant.
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:52 PM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


There is a clear difference between how a therapist should approach a patient who has suffered sexual abuse, especially children who are by definition innocent and pre-sexual, and how society as a whole should consider those who sexual abuse others.

Why this is news baffles me.

Clearly therapists should act in a way so as to minimize trauma to the victim. Part of that therapy is to understand that pre-socialized and pre-sexual children aren't necessarily going to understand what happened to them in the same terms that the rest of society will perceive as an appropriate reaction.

We somehow expect an innocent child to react to sexual abuse the way we, as adults would react.

What is crucial to remember is that although a sexually abused child is not reacting to the sexual abuse in the way we as adults would expect, that in no way reduces, mollifies, nor exculpates sexual abusers. No, quite the opposite, at least in my opinion, it makes such acts all the more monstrous.

On Preview: yeah, calling it "not trauma" is problematic. I might get irradiated now, feel fine for months, but develop cancer a year later. The irradiation still was traumatic no matter how delayed it might be.
posted by Freen at 2:52 PM on February 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Er... maybe the term "minimize the trauma" is a poor choice of words. What I intended to say is perhaps closer to "provide maximum therapeutic effect".
posted by Freen at 2:56 PM on February 5, 2010


I know someone (guy) who was raped repeatedly by the family next door (Dad, Mom, and he was made to have sex with their young daughter during the "games.")

He's a wreck of a human being 50+ years later. It effected his entire life, every aspect. I saw him go through stages where, "it really wasn't so bad," and, "I think kids should learn about sexuality from adults/their parents. It's natural!"

He also freely admits that he knew the abuse was "wrong" and he kept it a secret. In fact, he's made this pattern of secret-keeping a way of life. Like I said, He's Fucked Up. He's hurt people, trashed relationships, and hurt himself. A beautiful talent lost.

He's never had children because he doesn't trust himself around the young ones.

Ummmm - what was the question here?

Does this Susan Clancy admit to being sexually abused herself as a child? Because she sounds just like that I guy I knew when he was in various life stages trying to minimize the truth of the abuse he experienced as a child.

Thanks for reading this.
posted by jbenben at 2:59 PM on February 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


muddgirl: "Drastic - you're right, I mis-read that paragraph, but I still disagree with her. There ARE different legal definitions and punishments for those different levels of abuse.

Indeed, which supports that there's probably a bit too much glossing-over and simplifying going on in her writings. I'm just spitballing from the articles here, I've never even heard of her before today.

On top of this, her desire to separate the last category (violent sexual abuse) from the first two is what worries me, because it is a very mainstream dissection between "real rape" and "not-as-bad" rape that a lot of rape victims struggle against."

Yeah, that's definitely a good point. Perfectly valid to treat that as a misguided notion that'd lead to counterproductive outcomes--cases of "just fondling" or whatnot getting swept away and piling on just more secondary trauma time-bombs for the victims from it.
posted by Drastic at 3:00 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank god we have MetaFilter so we can debate whether or not sexual abuse is traumatic to children.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:02 PM on February 5, 2010 [11 favorites]


There is a clear difference between how a therapist should approach a patient who has suffered sexual abuse, especially children who are by definition innocent and pre-sexual, and how society as a whole should consider those who sexual abuse others.

Why this is news baffles me.


Hmm... it seems like her last book was about repressed memory recovery. I'm not a psychologist but I believe this sort of treatment is very out-dated and deprecated by pretty much every respected therapist? It seems like this book is sort of in the same vein - taking a pretty well-accepted approach and revising it to seem more controversial?
posted by muddgirl at 3:02 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


calling it "not trauma" is problematic. I might get irradiated now, feel fine for months, but develop cancer a year later. The irradiation still was traumatic no matter how delayed it might be.

The word "trauma" has a specific medical meaning. What you've just described would not be called "traumatic" by a doctor or medical scientist.

Similarly, there's a psychological meaning to the word "trauma". It's a type of psychological damage that occurs as a consequence of an event (called a traumatic event). Clancy is making an argument about trauma as technically defined in the field of psychology. This might be confusing to us, but we should realize that trying to interpret her words using our lay definitions of the word "trauma", as many in this thread are doing, will only lead to further confusion.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:03 PM on February 5, 2010 [16 favorites]


I think the essence of what many people are looking for in the attempt to discuss how, say, genital stroking is different from anal penetration, is "Is it worse, generally speaking, to overreact to child sexual abuse or to underreact to it?" Because unless you can guarantee that your reactions are right on the money every time, and nobody can, you're always going to be choosing to err on one side or another. I think that's a valid question to explore, and it might be possible to at least frame that question ethically. As opposed to actually doing research, though? I have no idea how you'd even begin to touch that.
posted by KathrynT at 3:09 PM on February 5, 2010


The idea that children never repress and recover memories of traumatic events -- which is something her previous book was about, and which she says in so many words in this interview -- is so head-on-the-wall-thumpingly, obviously false that it's hard to believe her work is done in good faith, no matter what protestations she makes in interviews.

Do a little research on people like the False Memory Syndrome Foundation sometime. They invented a "syndrome" themselves and act as if it's a recognized psychiatric phenomenon, and make a mint testifying in the defense of well-heeled parents of abused (OR SO THEY CLAIM!) children. That is some sketchy shit. And this smells the same.

The interview makes it seem like this is noble, high-minded science by disinterested people whose only ultimate concern is The Children, who are ironically, in a roundabout way, being harmed by those hysterical folks who think that sexual abuse is actually traumatizing to children.

But it doesn't pass the smell test.

If it wasn't for the ridiculous statements about recovered memory presented as if they were incontrovertible scientific fact, and her previous work in this area, I might be prepared to believe that she was a disinterested researcher with no agenda who just happened to stumble on a striking and counterintuitive fact about child sexual abuse, and had run into trouble publicizing it because of people's preconceptions. But she's walking like a duck *and* quacking like a duck here, despite her insistence in the interview that she is no such animal, and I'm not buying it.

Some or all of what she is saying may in fact be true, but I am not believing it coming from her, based on the very little she reveals about herself in this interview.
posted by edheil at 3:15 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


The man kept the abuse a secret from his wife and family for more than 30 years and was struggling with feelings of shame and problems at work. But this wasn't nearly as surprising as what he revealed next: When the sexual abuse was happening, the man said, he wasn't even upset.

I'm not sure what she is saying here. Because the subjective experience was not interpreted as "traumatic" by the children at the time (who, it seems to me, don't have enough life experience yet to even identify their mental states accurately), it wasn't? Yet somehow that "non-traumatic" experience leads to enough shame to disturb the grown victim to the extent they have difficulty functioning at work? Huh?

If the point is to educate child psychologist, police, social workers and parents that molested children don't always appear to be freaked out, well and good. But to say the experience doesn't induce after effects associated with such trauma seems to be extremely misleading, perhaps solely for the purpose of sensationally promoting a book to the public.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:16 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Disclaimer: My research addresses the mental health outcomes of sexual violence, including child sexual abuse. I also have done paraprofessional counseling with victims of child sexual abuse and medical advocacy for both child and adult victims of sexual assault. However, I have not read this book.

The point that I believe she is trying to make here, which would be supported by my experience and the literature, is that there are a number of immediate reactions to sexual abuse (and sexual assault, for that matter). A lot of these seem to go against what we would typically expect from someone who had just experienced an assault- they might go to the grocery store, laugh with their friends, or just shut down completely. Often, there is not that crying, sobbing, horrified reaction that you see on TV. Sometimes it is easier to shut things out and pretend that they never happened than to have to process the feelings of isolation, violation, and horror. The reactions of children may be even less what you would expect, since they don't have the decades of socialization about sex and consent. But this does not mean that the assault was any less wrong. Regardless of how much people who assault children argue that they aren't harmed by it, children inherently cannot consent to sex, since they do not understand the costs and benefits of such a decision, and if the person who is assaulting them is an adult, there is an inherent power differential in that relationship. Decades later, even if they have never told anyone about the assault, even if they don't recognize or acknowledge that they have been assaulted, as a group they tend to exhibit a number of mental (and physical) health outcomes. There is little debate about this in the field.

If this the point she was trying to make, greater care could have been taken with the way she presented it, as it is easy to take soundbytes out (as in the FPP) that seem to present a claim that "immediate reactions to assault may differ" as "sexual assault does not harm children," which is false.
posted by emilyd22222 at 3:21 PM on February 5, 2010 [32 favorites]


I think she is onto something by attempting to expand people's ideas about sexual abuse, but I think the problem is that she's trying to say that as a general rule, the response is X as opposed to Y, which is the currently held, blanket-statement belief. Instead of teasing out a coherent system where, factors a,b,c are more likely to lead to X and factors b,d,e are more likely to lead Y. She's spouting out some statistics to tell us we should instead think of childhood sexual abuse THIS way now. But that's ridiculous. There are a lot of different situations, and I think her ideas would help a lot more people if they were offered as complementary to the current dominant model. Sort of the AbuseLite reaction. Classic definitions of trauma are left for those in extreme or violent situations, while those with more "pleasant" forms of abuse need a different response.

The other problem I'm having is that she's not focusing on what these victims would need instead of being treated as trauma victims. In most cases, there will be feelings of shame, or problems in their sexuality that last years after the initial abuse. These things can be totally invisible to the people closest to the victim, and while I do see the line of telling people that things are ok, it's normal for you to be confused as being extremely valuable, there still needs to be a follow up of: this is how healthy people have sex and here are some resources to help you get there.

That said. The last paragraph of the salon article where she calls out the perpetrators is spot on.
posted by ohisee at 3:23 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was young, I (a male) was sexually abused repeatedly by a male teacher at my school. I'd say "confusing" was right as to my reaction. Also, it just seemed like a price worth paying to do the cool stuff on weekends he would take us out to do. It made me uncomfortable, but he was otherwise a really nice guy.

Now that I'm much older, I'm not sure he was such a nice guy, but really I'm not sure.

It doesn't bother me all that much and I don't think I'm traumatized. I hardly ever think about it and I have all sorts of healthy relationships and not a whole lot of dysfunction in my life.

Now, other people experience similar, but different and more serious things and I'm not at all saying they shouldn't be traumatized. I'm just saying I'm a data point for "confused ... but totally over it a long time ago and no big deal".

Also, I don't talk about it, ever (except here and now if I decide to post this), because I know if I did people would think its SUCH a bigger deal than it is in my life. Speaking only for myself and respecting the needs of others who have different experiences/emotional makeups, I really don't want the OMG SEX ABUSE YOU ARE DAMAGED FOR LIFE machine infecting my life.
posted by pelham at 3:26 PM on February 5, 2010 [45 favorites]


And frankly, I dispute her numbers because *every single allegation* she makes in the post, she uses, "95%". 95% don't report it, 95% of the offenders are men, 95% are not traumatized, etc.

She could just be overly tied to using an expression of the 95% confidence interval - stats geek speak for 'pretty f'n confident'.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:27 PM on February 5, 2010


emilyd22222, rereading the interview and reading between the lines of what you and she are saying, is there sometimes an element of willing participation that runs counter to the usual media characterization of child molestation and that disconnection may confuse the child or even the grown-up version of the child into believing abuse has not occurred? This may persist, in spite of the damage that is felt later? I feel like both of you are talking a little bit to the side of the real issue, and perhaps out of delicacy. Or perhaps I am overinterpreting.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:33 PM on February 5, 2010


My father, thirty years ago, told me that he didn't think that adults having sex with children was as traumatizing as was generally believed. He was a child psychiatrist. Needless to say, he was not talking to the media about what he had concluded through several decades of anecdotal data.

There are many kinds of adult/child sex, and, in the long run, to paint them all as equally heinous is deleterious to the cause of those who have been truly damaged. However, Americans are not grown-up enough to have this conversation.
posted by kozad at 3:39 PM on February 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


SLC Mom and Freen: I disagree. I don't feel that I was traumatized for reasons that are really personal and complex. I mean, yeah, it happened, but it doesn't stand out in that period of my life as something that was uniquely horrible. I've met some other survivors who feel the same way, and we share some of the same frustrations that it's hard to talk about our experiences on our own terms without seeming to trivialize the experiences of others who came out much worse.

Kathryn T: Oh, I think there is a therapeutic model that works here: listening to and trusting the client.

Mental Wimp: But to say the experience doesn't induce after effects associated with such trauma seems to be extremely misleading, perhaps solely for the purpose of sensationally promoting a book to the public.

I don't believe that's what's being said here at all, rather that therapists and law enforcement need to be open to the way that the harms of sexual abuse might be radically different for different people. Now here is where I get angry and bunt. The therapeutic model for dealing with abuse should be to shut the fuck up and listen to survivors deal with it on our own terms.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:41 PM on February 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


The NYT thing is even worse than the Salon interview. Using "politically correct" with no trace of irony to describe people who have the audacity to imagine that it's harmful to sexually abuse children? Insinuating that there are a gaggle of evil therapists and researchers building their careers on perpetuating the crazy, wacky myth that it's bad for children to use them as sexual playthings?

It's amazing how much victimhood the NYT article *removes* from children who are sexually abused and *bestows* upon Clancy herself, the martyred hero of scientific truth.

If Fox News, as an early poster said, starts freaking out and saying that the NYT is pro-pedophile, it'll be ironic, because the article, like Clancy's work, is deeply conservative. Everything about it smacks of the kind of "noble contrarianism" that free-marketeers like to engage in when they tell you that it's really harmful, in the long run, to have a social support network, and it's only a bunch of self-serving pointy-headed Commie academics who think that one should exist. Or global warming deniers who talk about how it's really bad for all of us in the long run to reduce carbon emissions, bad for everything except the sneering academics and Al Gore who are somehow getting rich off of all of us!

Sometimes the majority is wrong, and things which seem counterintuitive are true. But sometimes people who want to deny what is obvious in order to gain attention or remuneration from powerful and malevolent interests like to take on a contrarian pose and come up with ways in which counterintuitive and false ideas seem true.

And that is what this stinks to high heaven of.

I think that to the degree she is saying anything true, she's saying it not in contradiction to mainstream thought, but to a strawman caricature thereof. An that in *itself* is a big lie -- where she says true things, she is in the process telling the lie that the mainstream does not believe those things.

This is such a complete load.
posted by edheil at 3:47 PM on February 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


emilyd22222, rereading the interview and reading between the lines of what you and she are saying, is there sometimes an element of willing participation that runs counter to the usual media characterization of child molestation and that disconnection may confuse the child or even the grown-up version of the child into believing abuse has not occurred? This may persist, in spite of the damage that is felt later? I feel like both of you are talking a little bit to the side of the real issue, and perhaps out of delicacy. Or perhaps I am overinterpreting.

I think you are overinterpreting. I do not believe that a child can ever consent to sex. They may be coerced into the abuse by offers of gifts or love, or may be coerced away from telling others about what happens by threats to things that the child cares about. I've also seen cases in which the abuser portrays the abuse as some kind of game that they're playing. Either way, the child is being misled and betrayed by someone she should be able to trust. That in and of itself can be harmful. Calling that child a "willing participant" is inherently incorrect. The child may feel like she should have resisted, she should have known, or she should have told someone, and there may be feelings of guilt resulting from that that may be hard to deal with, but at the end of the day you can't expect a child to know to resist, know what abuse is, or know to tell, especially when they're getting information from a trusted adult (i.e., the abuser) that what's happening is OK.
posted by emilyd22222 at 3:47 PM on February 5, 2010


I don't like the way the Salon article presented the work of this woman one bit. It's my understanding that not very many people get repeatedly raped by a grandfather and a cousin. And certainly not most people. And of those people, when a child tells what's going on, I'm not at all aware of how common it is to hear, "that's not a very nice thing to say about somebody."

So she (or journalists who often can't reliably report on science or social science, in my experience from reading actual research) can fuck off with telling anyone that what happened to me happens to "most people."

I think that book might be a little too triggery for me to read, but maybe I ought to try it before I get my panties in too much of a wad over here.

Wow. I am pissed.

"than to have to process the feelings of isolation, violation, and horror." Also, this. Having the feelings of isolation and violation but being unable to express them, is not the same as not having the feelings.

(And in sociology, there is an impressive body of work on stigma, though I haven't read anything about sexual abuse stigma, I can see much of the cancer and HIV stuff relating to sexual abuse. Responsibility and all. Which definitely connects to this work, because when I reveal to acquaintances that I have a history of being sexually abused, I am treated differently than I was before they had that information. But each reaction is different. This surely has something to do with the context of the revelation, my relationship to the person I'm telling, their past history with violence, etc.)

Man. That was all over the place. And I'm still so angry. I'm glad this got posted, cause it gave me a new perspective on how other people view my experience.
posted by bilabial at 3:50 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Muddgirl: Hmm... it seems like her last book was about repressed memory recovery. I'm not a psychologist but I believe this sort of treatment is very out-dated and deprecated by pretty much every respected therapist? It seems like this book is sort of in the same vein - taking a pretty well-accepted approach and revising it to seem more controversial?"

There was a small cottage industry of "therapists" and D.A.s in the '80's who were later found to have essentially implanted false memories in children. See Martha Coakley and Gerald Amirault, which then caused a backlash called False Memory Syndrome (see edheil's comment). There was really nothing there to "deprecate" except malpractice. Less Is Sometimes More in Therapy: Avoiding the False Memory Syndrome.

Clancy's last book was about people being Abducted by Aliens and had its own problems.

Glenn Sacks picks up on "just like everyone else:" Susan Clancy: Child 'Sexual Abuse Not Women; It's Men'

Clancy: "repression is a psychiatric myth."

For other views, see Recovered Memory Project | 101 Corroborated Cases of Recovered Memory for a criticism of the Frederick Crews approach to repressed memory, and

Memory, Abuse, and Science - Questioning Claims about the False Memory Syndrome Epidemic
IPT Journal - "Taking Recovered Memories Seriously"
Recovered Memories of Sexual Abuse: Scientific Research & Scholarly Resources
Some Recovered Memories More Reliable Than Others | Smart Journalism. Real Solutions.| Miller-McCune Online Magazine
The Neuroarcheology of Childhood Maltreatment
posted by psyche7 at 3:52 PM on February 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


And frankly, I dispute her numbers because *every single allegation* she makes in the post, she uses, "95%". 95% don't report it, 95% of the offenders are men, 95% are not traumatized, etc.

Heh - nice catch.

I'm gonna dub this the "Law of 95s", because - now that you point it out - I realise that people do this quite often.

Paraphrased, it means "I have no actual hard figures, but my hunch tells me that I'm completely right, but I'll allow for a tiny outside chance that occasional cases might fall outside of my otherwise perfect model..."
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:07 PM on February 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


“Her point's that the current accepted way of framing the entire topic is immensely counterproductive to actually helping victims to come forward and getting the criminals responsible prosecuted for their abuse.”

And she’s right: “Most people don't want to think too hard or thoroughly about these things.”
Look at the ‘man in the bushes’ hysteria. The focus and onus is on kids who, as she says, don’t know what’s happening. Despite looking like it’s focused on the abuser.

(And indeed “People focused on a type of abuse that affects maybe 2 percent of the population, millions of dollars for funding that doesn't apply to most victims, bestselling books written by therapists misportraying sexual abuse.”)

The lack of capacity for kids to consent is critical. It should be a non-factor in dealing with the practical realities of protecting them. Instead people manufacture and sensationalize boogeymen and demand behavior changes from the victims.
(Although that seems alloy with a hunk of the American psyche, considering the last 8 years’ counterterrorism and foreign policy.)

So it can project shame and perhaps feelings of impotence especially reiterating “you are a victim, you are a victim, you are a victim.”
Hell, people have a hard enough time understanding how grief works in other people. Had a family member die when I was a kid. So on and off crying, all that. One bright day a few weeks later I was out playing and someone asked me how could I ever play again when this terrible thing had happened to me?

Well, y’know, fuck you. My role in life shouldn’t be defined in perpetuity by this event I had no control over. And you don't have the right to demand that from me however 'sympathetic' you think you are.
Same deal.

“What is going on in society that so many men are choosing to get off on small children?”

It was codified in some places. Look at ancient Greece. I’d suspect it’s a sort of a departure from the expectation of responsible behavior.
The Miltonian “better to rule in Hell” sort of thing.
But I don’t really know.

I do know though there are quite a few people in society given power they have no idea how to deal with responsibly and no internal support to check themselves.
So like many untempered materials under pressure, they warp. Not all of them molest kids. But they're still out of kilter.

So a better question might be – recognizing that, why do they disregard the glaring flaws in their character and continue the path they’re on until they’re such despicable human beings as to be untrustworthy around the most important responsibility one can have?

All I can think of is the prideful “Naaa, I can handle it” thing from Satan. (Really? You know you’re going to fuck up yourself and everyone else? ‘So? I’m still the greatest being in creation!’ Well, yeah, but you’re in hell. ‘Pfft. I can take it. I, uh, didn’t want any peace in myself anyway. Yeah. I'm not wrong, it's that you're all suckers.’)
posted by Smedleyman at 4:09 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


It seems to me that there's a clear distinction to be made between sexual abuse that involves, for lack of a better word "pleasurable" stimulation for the child and sexual abuse that involves force, assault, pain.

If you are going to argue that sexual abuse isn't traumatic, you can only make the case that if an adult does something sexually stimulating to a child, that child may experience it as pleasant, not bad and that only later when the child grows up will he or she be aware that something was "wrong" and *then* trauma might come into the experience.

You can't conflate this with what happens when a child is raped. A child being raped is as traumatic as a child being assaulted in any other fashion: being overpowered and hurt is traumatic, whether there's sexual elements or not.

Note that just because such a "traumatic" event happens doesn't mean that everyone will be traumatized-- most people *don't* get PTSD even after major horrors like the Haitian earthquake, which no one would argue is *not* a traumatic event. But that's true of all trauma-- not just rape.

Being "seduced" OTOH, is more complicated. Still wrong, bad, boundary-violating, problematic, etc. But differently bad. If that's the point she's trying to make, it's fine. If she's trying to say that penetrative sexual assault isn't as traumatic as say, being beaten, she's just plain wrong.
posted by Maias at 4:20 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


It is wrong to state that child abuse is not traumatic. It is. The research proves this.

The myth is that there is no trauma. Clancy claims the child is "confused" and not traumatized. Yet, almost all of the research in the field contradicts this. Child abuse trauma: theory and treatment of the lasting effects By John Briere http://books.google.com/books?id=2iY-9WEwk1kC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false
ACE study http://www.cbwhit.com/ACEstudy.htm


She also claims that recovered memory doesn't exist. Yet, many studies show that not only does it exist, but that it is often accurate. There are legal cases that back this up, including the recent Paul Shanley case decided in Massachusetts.
http://ritualabuse.us/research/memory-fms/shanley-recovered-memory-case/

Websites citing journal articles proving the veracity of recovered memory include :

http://dynamic.uoregon.edu/~jjf/suggestedrefs.html

http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Taubman_Center/Recovmem/index.html

http://www.jimhopper.com/memory/

http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/tm/tm.html

http://childabusewiki.org/index.php?title=Recovered_Memories
posted by stopchildabuse at 4:30 PM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


So many emotions about this, but one thought comes to mind before bed: why is it at all surprising that the dominant emotion of victims is "confusion" while it's happening?

I was abused as a young adult, well after I should have known what was happening to me, and my dominant reaction was still confusion, with the "oh shit" resurfacing only two years later when I started wondering why I hated having sex so much. Most people I know with similar stories have, well, similar stories, and I can only imagine that it's the same with victims of child abuse.

For her to be presenting the insight that "victims are confused" as if it's a BIG FUCKING DEAL just makes it seem like a BIGGER FUCKING DEAL than it really is, and feeds into the hysteria around these issues that she's supposedly campaigning against.
posted by besonders at 4:31 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


KirkJobSluder: But some children are traumatized. Me for one. Confused, of course. But also crying and shamed, and scared to the point that I didn't tell anyone about it for 10 years. I don't think that saying 'kids are not tramautized by sexual abuse' is a constructive way to talk about the many different types of abuse and many different experiences of children.

And also: It is now a trivial part of my life and has no effect on my day to day joy in living.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:32 PM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Susan Clancy suggests that people don't tell because they are ashamed because it was no big deal, which makes no sense to me.

As an abuse survivor, I also say this is bullshit.
posted by ShawnStruck at 4:35 PM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm going to retract my earlier comment. I was going to add qualifying language about type of abuse, etc... but then I realized that I'm not articulate enough to navigate the minefield without trivializing someone's pain. Why yes I do like the taste of my foot, why do you ask?

I will say that I've been greatly saddened at the number of stories of childhood abuse that have also included adult family members refusing to believe the victim or act on their allegations. Including one where a friend of mine remains mute after his sister told him their uncle had molested her as a child. Unfortunately I was told this by a third party so I can't discuss it with my friend without some breach of confidentiality and trust (the minute he brings it up I'm gonna hit him wtih a clue by four).
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:42 PM on February 5, 2010


However, Americans are not grown-up enough to have this conversation.

Well, it's mostly Americans conversing here (I'm assuming) and so far, so good.

Hard not to go overboard and be all, "OMFG, WHAT Did he do to you?!!" But better that than ignoring the problem completely. Of COURSE, what we want is a middle ground,

I remember reading of a study about the long term effects of NON-violent sexual abuse of children that concluded that one of the key factors was how the adults around the child responded. Did they freak out? Did they get all vigilante with the perpetrator? Did they start treating the child as "different" (ie: sullied somehow)? And so on.

To clarify: if a child's principle immediate response to an assault is confusion, that instantly puts them into fragile territory. But, to carry the metaphor through, if they're handled gently while in this fragile territory, they are likely to do okay on the long term.
posted by philip-random at 4:43 PM on February 5, 2010


Susan Clancy suggests that people don't tell because they are ashamed because it was no big deal, which makes no sense to me.

If they feel insufficiently upset, they may feel guilty, as if they share some of the badness by not being horrified. Or, worse, that this makes them complicit with the abuser.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:50 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the linkage, psyche7!

I would be *very very curious* to find out of Clancy has been making any money in the Expert Witnessing For Accused Abusers racket, like the FMSF gang do...

If that were true, and if that had been going on for a while, the alien abduction book could be a brilliant PR/courtroom move -- "Science shows that people can be made to believe they were abducted by aliens! How can we believe these silly 'I started remembering my dad raping me' claims? If the mem

Maybe I'm being overly cynical, but has this woman published *anything* that wouldn't be glommed onto hungrily by a defense lawyer in a sexual abuse case?
posted by edheil at 5:07 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this should have been obvious for a long time to anyone who's been around a child who doesn't react to a fall or tumble until they have an audience.
How is that even logically possible?
I think you are overinterpreting. I do not believe that a child can ever consent to sex. They may be coerced into the abuse by offers of gifts or love
I think the problem with that statement is that the child will feel like they consented, and if they get bombarded with messages that society considers child abuse is so horrific and disgusting, then, if they feel like they consented, they are going to feel a ton of guilt and shame.

I actually heard a caller to love line once say that she was sexually abused at 9 and said it was 'consensual' Dr. Drew, of course, told her that she couldn't actually consent but do you really think she believed it?

She also claims that recovered memory doesn't exist. Yet, many studies show that not only does it exist, but that it is often accurate. There are legal cases that back this up, including the recent Paul Shanley case decided in Massachusetts.
http://ritualabuse.us/research/memory-fms/shanley-recovered-memory-case/
Let's look at ritualabuse.us here:
Stop Ritual Abuse and Mind Control Today
The purpose of S.M.A.R.T. is to help stop ritual abuse and to help those who have been ritually abused. We work toward this goal by disseminating information on the possible connections between secretive organizations, ritual abuse, and mind control, by encouraging healing from the damage done by ritual abuse and mind control, and by encouraging survivors to network.

...

Ritualabuse.us has been blacklisted from wikipedia with three other sites with evidence of child abuse and ritual abuse crimes against children. http://ritualabuse.us/ritualabuse/articles/ritualabuse-us-blacklisted-by-wikipedia/ We are recommending that people do not use wikipedia as a resource until all four sites are removed from the blacklist.
Okaaaaay...
posted by delmoi at 5:09 PM on February 5, 2010


Discovering here that Martin Gardner is heavily involved in the FMSF breaks my heart. I've looked up to him for decades.
posted by edheil at 5:17 PM on February 5, 2010


Holy crap, psyche7. That article by K. S. Pope is a *masterpiece* of rhetorical annihilation by understatement.
posted by edheil at 5:24 PM on February 5, 2010


If you are going to argue that sexual abuse isn't traumatic, you can only make the case that if an adult does something sexually stimulating to a child, that child may experience it as pleasant, not bad and that only later when the child grows up will he or she be aware that something was "wrong" and *then* trauma might come into the experience.

You can't conflate this with what happens when a child is raped. A child being raped is as traumatic as a child being assaulted in any other fashion: being overpowered and hurt is traumatic, whether there's sexual elements or not.


You seem to be making a false dichotomy between seduction, which you say is pleasurable, and rape, which you define as forceful, violent penetration. It is important to know that all of these things can (and often do) happen in the same assault- the child could be seduced (although I would use the word "coerced"), overpowered, attacked, assaulted, penetrated, AND touched in a way that feels good. Sometimes, regardless of the situation, being touched in places that are built to respond positively to touch feels good. This can be immensely troubling to survivors and cause a lot of cognitive dissonance- they were raped but remember parts of it as feeling good.
posted by emilyd22222 at 5:59 PM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Maias: If you are going to argue that sexual abuse isn't traumatic....

Well, this is something of a straw man. The argument is that sexual abuse isn't always traumatic, but is always bad. Some people are traumatized, some are not. Both deserve therapeutic and legal action that empowers them as individuals.

SLC Mom: Yes. The fact that some children are traumatized is something everyone in this discussion agrees on. Expanding the domain of therapy and law enforcement to survivors who don't experience it as trauma in no way diminishes the experience of those who do.

fullofragerie: Yes, that's mighty empowering of you. Not only are we not telling the truth about our experiences, but we obviously have no idea what the truth really is. Here again, shut the fuck up and listen. Survivors have a right to their own recovery using their own terms, their own language, their own ways of understanding, and their own ways of dealing with it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:05 PM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hmmmm.....okay, here's a thing: Let's say I got mugged. I was alone, it was really scary, the guy hit me with the gun and fractured my cheekbone and knocked me down before he took off.

That's something that might mess with me, fuck with my head for months, make me scared of certain public places. I might seek counseling to help deal with those fears. It is possible, but rather rare, that I might develop lifelong phobias as a result of the incident, that it would significantly change my personality.

Let's say that I was mugged. The guy said he had a knife, I didn't really see the knife, I just handed him my wallet and he took off, it was scary, and for a few weeks after I'm disturbed by it. Perhaps I am forever more cautious as a result, when walking home at night. But after a few weeks I am able to resume my normal life, and I'm about as happy a person as I ever was.

We accept that two such different circumstances would produce different reactions. We accept that it is possible that for some people, even the latter experience might be cause them to be more anxious or afraid in certain circumstances, but that for many others, the incident, while frightening at the time, would be something they would pass through without feeling themselves, or seeming to others, permanently damaged.

Even the 1st scenario, the more violent scenario --- if, years later, I were still frequently troubled by thoughts of the mugging and made anxious by them, I think most people would consider that unusual, a situation worthy of seeking help for. Not unheard of, certainly a potential damaging consequence of a violent attack, but certainly not the reaction which is universally expected of all people who suffer a violent attack.

Of course, if I were in a situation where, for whatever reason, violent attacks were a frequent occurrence in my life for many months or years, people would be much more likely to expect me to affected by that long term.

I don't think we, as a society, seem to regard sexual violence in this way. I think because for so long sexual violence was not discussed at all, there is a strong impulse to regard any suggestion that there can be gradations in the damage it causes as an attempt to silence, to push back, to retreat into the past and refuse to recognize that it exists and that we need to confront it more, as a society.

But I, personally, have begun to wonder if there are not other risks we have taken on board in our current approach. Because sex is so taboo in our society we seem to treat sexual violence as if it should be inherently worse, and I am not quite sure why that should be so except for that we treat its victims with greater stigma. It seems to me possible that we could be doing thereby a disservice to its victims --- by creating the impression that having experienced any type of sexual violence is always and everywhere a terrible event which permanently scars the victims and warps the way they think and feel, something which can never truly be healed. What if it can? What if it often is? Isn't that the message that we should be telling people? Wouldn't that do more to encourage people who need help to overcome trauma to seek help? The idea that what they experienced was an injury, but that it need not be a disfigurement?
posted by Diablevert at 6:36 PM on February 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


Nobody in this thread seems to be able to read. I don't see anyone who actually disagrees with Susan Clancy so far. If somebody can actually disagree with her, I will buy them a beer.
posted by koeselitz at 6:38 PM on February 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


I know enough people who were sexually abused as children (to include two, possibly three that suffered from ritual abuse) to be very very very angry about this researcher.

That's all I want to say lest I choke on my own bile here.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:39 PM on February 5, 2010


philip-random: I remember reading of a study about the long term effects of NON-violent sexual abuse of children that concluded that one of the key factors was how the adults around the child responded. Did they freak out? Did they get all vigilante with the perpetrator? Did they start treating the child as "different" (ie: sullied somehow)? And so on.

Do you recall any identifying info about this study?
posted by FrauMaschine at 6:39 PM on February 5, 2010


fullofragerie, I know you mean well but stop telling me about my brain or my emotions. You may be speaking about data that fairly represents a majority-- I don't know. But whatever your studies say there are jillions of people like me who are cool and ok with ourselves in with world. And not mentally or physically damaged, and not in denial, thank you very much.

And this is why we don't talk about it.
posted by pelham at 6:41 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't see anyone who actually disagrees with Susan Clancy so far. If somebody can actually disagree with her, I will buy them a beer.

If her point is actually that sexual abuse is not traumatizing and is instead just confusing, and that's all the nuance there is to it, then I (and most of the field, I'd wager) wholeheartedly disagree.

I'll be downtown in an hour. See you there.
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:44 PM on February 5, 2010


ShawnStruck: “As an abuse survivor, I also say this is bullshit.”

It's wonderful that, as an abuse survivor, you apparently were surrounded by caring adults who wanted to hear what you had to say and didn't make sexual abuse sound so terrifying and awful that you were afraid to talk about it; but I think it's odd to assume that no children are in that situation. Do you really think children can't tell get from adults the vibe that sexual abuse is supposed to be horrific and terrible and very, very bad? And do you really think that encourages children to open up about what's been done to them?

I don't say it's an easy problem to solve. But I do know that a whole lot of parents tend to talk about sexual abuse in hushed, awe-struck tones, as if it were never, ever to be mentioned because it is so very, very bad.

It's hard to know what the solution is.
posted by koeselitz at 6:46 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


emilyd22222: “If her point is actually that sexual abuse is not traumatizing and is instead just confusing, and that's all the nuance there is to it, then I (and most of the field, I'd wager) wholeheartedly disagree.”

Nope. That's not her point.

In her words, the crux of her argument is "not traumatic when it happens." And the fact that children aren't traumatized at the moment that they're sexually abused is the only explanation for plenty of typical ways that children tend to react to sexual abuse: sticking by their abusers, not displaying pain or hurt, being disoriented or confused but showing no emotion about it whatsoever. Sexual abuse is even worse than a momentary injury, because it damages their development and their ability to grow into healthy adults. I have a hard time seeing how that can be disputed, but if somebody can dispute it convincingly, my ears are open.

And that beer will still be here.
posted by koeselitz at 6:53 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


It can be difficult to predict how a given child-- let alone children as a class-- will react to any unusual event, particularly when there's not extreme physical pain or physical pleasure involved; things that seem to adults trivial can lead to many hours on the analyst's couch, or lifelong feelings of "[Mom/dad/my parents/people around me/the whole world] [never/always] _________'ed me!", and, on the other hand, things that seem to adults momentous or presumably devastating can sometimes just bounce right off.

Children's brains vacuum in information, and busily build narratives-- but the selection of narratives built, and the experiences remembered or dwelt on, often seems more or less random.
posted by darth_tedious at 6:55 PM on February 5, 2010


emilyd22222: I think the problem is that its not her point. Her point to me is:
1: Some people are traumatized.
2: Many are not.
3: All survivors deserve help regardless of how they've been harmed.
4: All perps should be put behind bars regardless of the degree or type of harm they caused.

Part of my anger comes from having just done the exact same discussion in the last month. Having been accused of trivializing the experiences of people who were traumatized, of being blinded by false consciousness, of making excuses for my attacker, I should probably just call bingo and bail.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:56 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


koeselitz and KirkJobSluder: Yeah, I know. See my earlier point. I was being glib, since that was the way it was presented in the FPP.

In addition, I think there should be a recognition that just because something is not a "trauma" as it is defined by the greater psychological community does not mean it is not an incredibly painful, harmful experience.
posted by emilyd22222 at 7:05 PM on February 5, 2010


I'm going to quote the best bit of that Salon interview:

“I think practically, sexual abuse victims need to hear loud and clear that what happened to you is what happens to most people. It was wrong and not your fault, and you should report the crime, and the perpetrator should be punished. I don't think that sex abuse victims in most cases need years of therapy to get over the betrayal. What they need first and foremost is the straightforward truth: You are not alone, you have nothing to be ashamed of, it's his fault, and this is a crime.

There's something I would like to add. Despite all of this media and research attention on sexual abuse for the last 30 years, I still don't hear the answer to one question: What the fuck is wrong with all of these men? Sexual abuse is not women; it's men. Every once in a while a woman will sexually abuse, but in 95 percent of cases it's a man that is known to the child — a teacher, a friend, a family member. These are high-functioning people in society who are choosing to molest children. All this focus on the psychology of the victim is a way to sidestep this central question: What is going on in society that so many men are choosing to get off on small children? I can find almost no studies on the subject. People will go into jails and interview a perpetrator, but most of these people don't go to jail, and most of them aren't caught.”


Most people don't seem to be looking at Clancy's book or what she's saying at all. The point she's making is a fantastically important one. Sexual abuse doesn't take away who you are as a person, it doesn't make you less as a human being, it doesn't diminish your worth or your value, and it shouldn't mean that you can't talk about it. I don't think people realize what it's like for children - adults speak in hushed tones, whispering darkly about this terrible thing that is sexual abuse as though it were the most frightful evil, and as though ever even mentioning it would be a sin. They think that children don't absorb these furtive murmurings, but kids are remarkably perceptive; they know that adults fear more than anything that their kids will mention sexual abuse. So kids don't say anything, even when they're being abused quite brazenly; being kids, they haven't yet internalized the horrific pain and tragedy of the abuse (that is, they haven't experienced it as trauma yet) and therefore they do what kids almost always do: they say "oh, I don't want to bother the adults or scare them, so I won't say anything." This environment prevents children from talking about abuse.

Children need to know this, and they need to be told it - this is something that happens to many people, if not most people; that they haven't been nullified as people; that speaking up about abuse won't bring about terrible consequences for them, and won't change the fact that they're loved. Yes, I know that this seems obvious; but it seems to me that it often doesn't seem obvious to children who live amid adults who fear deeply even the discussion of sexual abuse.
posted by koeselitz at 7:12 PM on February 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


emilyd22222: “In addition, I think there should be a recognition that just because something is not a "trauma" as it is defined by the greater psychological community does not mean it is not an incredibly painful, harmful experience.”

I know. But, one point: agents want to sell books, reporters want to sell newspapers, magazine editors want to sell subscriptions. All of them will court controversy.

I think you should read Clancy's book. It's not long, but it's very densely and precisely argued. I think you'd find that, in print, she's much less vague and much more direct than she seems in the interview. And I think you'd find that you agree with her. You already seem open to the possibility; and I can tell that this is a subject you're professionally familiar with. I guess I just want to encourage you to remember that what we're seeing here is just public prattle, and isn't really representative of her actual work, which is better than these articles make it seem.

Seriously, check it out; I think you'd find that it's quite different from the public perception of it. It's clearly a subject she's devoted her career and much research to, and she's very good at being concise and clear in the book.
posted by koeselitz at 7:21 PM on February 5, 2010


I heard theories many years back that much of the trauma of child sexual abuse is actually created by the reaction of adults to its revelation and their tendency to encourage the child into the role of trauma victim.

Exactly. It's such a no-brainer.

But it's certainly nothing I'd say out loud at a dinner party. I have to hide behind internet anonymity when I say I agree. Fantastic to see it in writing and being discussed, however, and not just some possibly-batshit-insane personal theory of mine.

Not just child abuse, either. There's dozens of things we're coached to get upset about.

The Butthole Surfers’ song, Pepper is about the trauma myth, if I recall an interview correctly.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:43 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Nobody in this thread seems to be able to read. I don't see anyone who actually disagrees with Susan Clancy so far. If somebody can actually disagree with her, I will buy them a beer."
True trauma will always be remembered. Richard J. McNally's "Remembering Trauma" is a comprehensive critique of repression. Repression is a psychiatric myth.
I think I can read that. I disagree with the first and third sentences and am dubious of the value of the second. How bout a Rolling Rock?
posted by edheil at 7:53 PM on February 5, 2010


"Not just child abuse, either. There's dozens of things we're coached to get upset about."

Yeah, like racism. Or economic inequality. Or sexism. Or rape. Or colonialism. Any form of suffering or pain or injustice or exploitation is really no big deal, it's just that people are coached to act the part of victims by the namby pamby bleeding heart liberals. The only way we can truly help these people is by *denying* their victimhood.

In fact, the only *real* victims out there are Susan Clancy, all the accused child molesters who aren't the real causes of suffering -- parents and therapists getting bent out of shape about it are! -- and of course, rich straight white men, the biggest victims of all.
posted by edheil at 8:00 PM on February 5, 2010


edheil, I'm from PA and although not from Latrobe would gladly raise a Rolling Rock. I once had a girlfriend who loved RR and I could never understand why. She also thought Cheez-Whiz was the appropriate Cheese-steak condiment (as opposed to American, which is the choice of most of the Philly area). So maybe it's just because she was a transplant/long-term-tourist who didn't really know what was up, but eh, who cares.

All I'm trying to say here is Cheez-Whiz is for a tiny corner south of Catherine on Phillly ... else the cheese is American. Don't believe what you see on TV. Also, Cheez-Whiz is terrible.
posted by pelham at 8:04 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


edheil: “I think I can read that. I disagree with the first and third sentences and am dubious of the value of the second. How bout a Rolling Rock?”

You've said over and over again that you disagree with her. You haven't once been cogent about your reasons; in fact, you've hardly presented a single coherent argument here. You're a big fan of the idea of "repressed memory," apparently; I guess next you're going to tell me that we should be worried about the satanic ritual abuse that's threatening our children. Do you simply not remember that a generation ago there were dozens of major moral panics set off by irresponsible psychiatrists who "recovered" memories of ridiculous and horrific abuse that turned out to be wholly false?

When Clancy says that "Repression is a psychiatric myth," it's clear that what she means is that the idea that fantastic and complicated memories of vast events which are 'recovered,' to the shock and awe-struck moralistic disapprobation of an indignant community, is really a way certain people have come up with to sell books, not a legitimate psychiatric method. She is in no way suggesting that the abused do not sometimes forget their abuse, or that memories of such abuse don't sometimes return to the victims as they're going through treatment. On the contrary, her thesis that children often haven't yet directly experienced the trauma of their abuse provides a very good explanation for the fact that they often confuse the abuse with the normal jumble of childhood memories, file it away, and forget about it.

In fact, Clancy states this explicitly in the very next paragraph after the one you've quoted, stating emphatically that victims indeed sometimes forget about the abuse they've suffered. So there's another bit of evidence that you either can't read or don't seem to want to read what she's saying.

Also, Rolling Rock? Dirty water.
posted by koeselitz at 8:28 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


edheil: “In fact, the only *real* victims out there are Susan Clancy, all the accused child molesters who aren't the real causes of suffering -- parents and therapists getting bent out of shape about it are! -- and of course, rich straight white men, the biggest victims of all.”

And they aren't even the worst off. In this terrible world of woe, we see tragedy upon tragedy heaped in piles on top of a particularly downtrodden group; these poor souls lead singularly unhappy lives, beset on all sides by abuse and repression. Who are these unhappy folk? The poor, poor straw men, of course.
posted by koeselitz at 8:31 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


edheil: “In fact, the only *real* victims out there are Susan Clancy, all the accused child molesters who aren't the real causes of suffering -- parents and therapists getting bent out of shape about it are! -- and of course, rich straight white men, the biggest victims of all.”

I shouldn't let this slide with nothing but a bit of snark. It's insulting and unintelligent when you imply that Clancy is belittling or minimizing the suffering of the victims of abuse. On the contrary, Clancy is highlighting the pain and suffering caused by abuse even more than most. You'd know that if you'd read either article. If anything, she's accusing parents and teachers, and society in general, of so blackening the very idea of abuse that children are afraid to talk about it at all. It's very, very hard to deny that that's happened; I don't see why you would. But apparently you believe that parents, teachers, and society at large are perfect, and deal with sexual abuse in exactly the right way every time, encouraging children to come forward and report their abuses.

Your characterization of Clancy is absolutely not fair. Read it before you accuse it of belittling victims or rehabilitating the image of abusers. It does the opposite: it points out that the fearful black cloud of taboo which hangs over abuse keeps children, who often haven't yet internalized and directly experienced their trauma, from ever coming forward. They need to be told that (a) though it's a terribly wrong thing for someone to do to them, this is something that often happens and (b) in every single case, they should be open and communicative with their parents and teachers, because they will be loved and cared for no matter what.
posted by koeselitz at 8:42 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


philip-random: I remember reading of a study about the long term effects of NON-violent sexual abuse of children that concluded that one of the key factors was how the adults around the child responded. Did they freak out? Did they get all vigilante with the perpetrator? Did they start treating the child as "different" (ie: sullied somehow)? And so on.

Do you recall any identifying info about this study?


Wish I did. I'm pretty sure I saw it in the Globe + Mail, maybe fifteen years ago. Reminds me of another tidbit I don't have a source for, which is that there's a direct negative correlation between how much sex education a child has received and the likelihood that they'll be sexually abused. That is, it's the kids that are sexually ignorant that are most at risk, simply because they have no idea of what's going on when the coercion starts. The savvier kids identify the "weirdness" and quickly distance themselves from the perpetrator.
posted by philip-random at 8:49 PM on February 5, 2010


I don't see anyone who actually disagrees with Susan Clancy so far. If somebody can actually disagree with her, I will buy them a beer.

I disagree with Susan Clancy.

and will do anything for sweet sweet beer
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:51 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow. A lot to chew on here. I can sum up my abuse pretty easily. When it happened, I didn't perceive it as "bad" or improper. As I grew older and went through therapy, it was only as an adult that the brunt of it hit me. My rage was the result of realizing that I was not protected when I should have been (as a child) and that my family was in no position to do that. After awhile, that rage forced me to look inward at "what was wrong with me" and why wasn't I worth protecting? From there, it just spiraled downward until I worked this out in therapy.

So essentially the abuse was something that had no real meaning to me until I grew older. Only then did I bring meaning to it. None of my therapists ever overreacted or gave me a sense of how I should feel about it (to my recollection). They were there to hear me and help me put back the pieces.

To be honest, I'm not sure of the author's angle but this paragraph seems to fit what I think she trying to say:

Dr. Clancy’s model also makes some sense of the whole sticky question of repressed memory. Most traumatic events are likely to be vividly remembered. But if instances of sexual abuse are simply among the many confusions that characterize childhood, they are perfectly forgettable: “Why should a child remember them if, at the time they happened, they were not particularly traumatic?” Only when reprocessed and fully understood do the memories leap into focus.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:58 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I came here to say a few things and emilyd2222 said all of them better than I can. Cheers to you.

I work part-time, as a student clinician, with juvenile sex offenders. They are both not as bad as you may think, and much worse than you can possibly believe if you're not familiar with the various types of teenage boys who sexually offend.

Just ... go back and read all of emilyd2222's posts. That's pretty much how it is.
posted by PsychoTherapist at 9:03 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. A lot to chew on here.

Oo-er!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:04 PM on February 5, 2010


Unless you have been raped by a family member as a ten year old, you don't truly know fear and pain.

And you (I) DID understand it was unwanted, unsolicited, and damaging to my person and psyche.

Yeas, trauma is perceived and understood differently by EVERY SINGLE person who undergoes it, but to blithely dismiss the suffering of MILLIONS of people because of this is beyond wrong!
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 9:13 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jinx of the 2nd Law: “Yeas, trauma is perceived and understood differently by EVERY SINGLE person who undergoes it, but to blithely dismiss the suffering of MILLIONS of people because of this is beyond wrong!”

Indeed. I was also scandalized about the bit where she stated emphatically that she believes that public health care won't work, that the Yankees will win the pennant next year, and that imported beer is a waste of money.

Really, she said all those things - I forget where, though. I guess you'll just have to read the articles.
posted by koeselitz at 9:23 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


One of my strengths as a teacher is my ability to be direct and honest with students and parents. A colleague has said that I can give the worst news in a way that is not upsetting. That's because I believe children deserve both respect and help, but they don't need excessive drama and fear from the people who care for them, because that's the adult adding pressure and stress to the situation in a way that is simply inappropriate and unkind. And it seems to me, as far as I can go without reading the book, that this is what makes Clancy's point useful.

I've known a number of people who were abused as children, including a close relative, and most of them have had different reactions to the experience. The close relative says that he appreciated the abuse in a lot of ways because he got a lot more attention and affection from the abuser than he got from his chilly, remote parents. I don't get to oversimplify, dramatize, contradict, re-explain, or otherwise get off on that experience. It's his experience, not mine.

I've certainly had my own share of bizarre experiences in my background, at least one of which I've been told was rape, but I never regarded it that way and I don't much care for people telling me what a victim I was and how traumatized I must be. It gives me the creeps when they do that. It's my experience, not theirs.
posted by Peach at 9:42 PM on February 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


The close relative says that he appreciated the abuse in a lot of ways because he got a lot more attention and affection from the abuser than he got from his chilly, remote parents.

This absolutely rings true with something a friend revealed to me many years ago. He was repeatedly abused (never violently) by an uncle from age 8 until puberty and reflected that, in spite of being thoroughly messed up by it, he still felt more warmth toward the man than any other adult member of his family. Because, heinous as some of the guy's actions were, he was the ONLY adult in his life who gave a shit about him when he was a kid; a caring and concern that continued until well after the sex ended.
posted by philip-random at 10:06 PM on February 5, 2010


Probably about the 5th time I've quoted this on Metafilter, but as usual, The Bard had it already sussed out hundreds of years ago.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:17 PM on February 5, 2010


Her point seems to be that there is generalisation in the response of children to being sexually abused, with an assumption that all are equally traumatised leading to more harm than if it were accepted as fact that some are not traumatised by it (in the clinical sense, of course).

In her efforts to make this point, she generalises to the degree that those who have had a different experience may feel re-marginalised. It could also further confuse appropriate treatment for cases that do not fit the generalisation she's trying to make.

I don't think this was responsible of her nor of the journalist who helped her to vent her hurt over not being considered the genius she thinks she is, which comes across very clearly in her presentation and the defensiveness she has towards her ideas (many of which are common sense and not as "omg! lightbulb!" as she feels they are).

Of course there are people who went through sexual abuse (and even assault) as children but were able to be cushioned by the "kids bounce" effect. If the rest of the psychological health world needed help understanding that, there were surely a million other ways she could have built that bridge, instead of choosing the neon "I'm an iconoclast!" structure she's going with so far.

It's very interesting to compare her clear and desperate need to be taken seriously paired with her assertions. Almost like she can't see the funny little break in her mirror as easily as she should be able to.
posted by batmonkey at 10:25 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


My daughter, 17 years old at the time, was sexually assaulted by our 20 year old neighbour boy. He gave her a ride home from a typical young people party, stopped along the way, and forced himself on her. She was drunk. He was drunk. There is no way to justify it. I remember hearing her come into the house that night at 3:30 am. I listened as she made a phone call to tell the people at the party that she'd made it home safe, pour herself a glass of water, drink it and go to bed. I rolled over and smiled, glad she was home safe, and fell asleep. In two days we were standing out in the yard weeping with her as she told us what had happened. She had two friends with her at the time. They supported her as she came forward. One other "friend" told her to "just be quiet about it."

Needless to say things were hell for a while. We took her to our doctor, he relayed the results of the exam to the police, and the boy was apprehended and charged. A year later (thank you for your quick action Mr. Justice System - this is Canada we're talking about) at the pre-trial (a hearing to determine if there's enough evidence to proceed with the case) she testified bravely and forcefully, with her attacker sitting ten feet in front of her. She was then cross-examined by his attorney. He never had to say a thing - not a single fucking goddam thing - to account for his actions. It was determined that there was indeed enough evidence to proceed to trial. We waited for the date to be set.

Nearly a year passed before the date was set. Then a couple of weeks before the trial, the Crown Attorney called. We met with her and she said that they were going to "stay the charges". Suddenly they did not feel that there was enough certainty to proceed. It was going to be her word versus his, and they couldn't be sure that that would be enough. They also suggested that the trauma of the trial would not be worth it. We really had no choice in the matter. We were stunned. It was over. The boy was still our neighbour, and we were left with nothing but anger and frustration to show for it.

So what's my point in connection with this post? I agree with Clancy, even though my daughter was traumatized fairly immediately following the event. What I think this emphasis on the actual trauma of sexual abuse/assault tends to do is make it publicly "unprosecutable" unless it has an obviously horrific physical element. If the boy had beat my daughter up, bit her, cut her, left her on the side of the road nearly dead, then I'm guessing that the system would have "worked" in a more marked way. But because we put a premium on obvious trauma, because we're not convinced that someone was assaulted if we think there's a possibility that they might have been seduced, or might have even enjoyed it and then, in some way, regretted it later. This, I believe, was the essence of the doubt that the Crown Attorney expressed. No one could dispute that the event took place. What was in dispute was motivation and intention, and the evidence that usually corroborates this is trauma. Some kind of visible, knowable, trauma. And in our experience our courts are pretty damn hard of hearing on what people say. They need to see it.

So maybe there's a practical necessity for people who've been assaulted sexually to exhibit deep hurt of all kind. It makes you more likely to find justice in a court of law. But this is just horribly dysfunctional. For us there was more trauma in trying to get the system to help us, than in managing the assault itself. At this point we've just had to move on. My kid's doing all right, but she's deeply cynical about any well-meaning assurances that one can get help from the professionals (justice or psychological).

For all society's our insistence on being committed to facts, what really gets our attention is blood and screams of pain. This "need" for trauma is just another symptom of a society in which sensationalism rules.
posted by kneecapped at 10:28 PM on February 5, 2010 [13 favorites]


This is a difficult subject, and for the very same reasons that her point is important. It is possible, without minimizing or delegitimizing any person's experience, to accept that abuse comes in many forms and that there is a wide spectrum of perfectly valid responses. By making the assumption that the response must be one of profound trauma, victims who have a different response can very easily come to feel that there must be something wrong with them for not feeling like everyone thinks they should. And while I would hope no one would ever say such a thing to a child in so many words, children will pick up on the attitudes of the adults around them. This absolutely does not mean that profound trauma does not happen, or that it is less valid, or even that it is uncommon. Every situation is different.

Acting as though there is only one possible response makes it harder for children to come forward early (or at all), as they may not feel that what is happening to them is really abuse. It can also make it harder for children who are not initially traumatized, hindering instead of helping their recovery. The emphasis needs to be on respecting and listening to the child, whatever their experience was.

None of this has anything to do with how bad and wrong the abuser is. That is independent of whether the child experiences their abuse as traumatic.
posted by Nothing at 10:50 PM on February 5, 2010


I have so much I'd like to say about all of this, having been a victim/survivor of not only violent and non-violent but also ritual childhood sexual abuse, but the amount I'd like to write would take up more space than is polite. So instead, I will respond to the post itself.

Since this is not the first FPP having to do with sexual abuse and assault, I'd like very much to see posts on subject matter of this nature come with a trigger warning. Even though I know that not all people are famiiar with this protocol, this one could have said something along the lines of 'the following post may be sensitive for some readers' or at least been marked NSFW for content.
posted by empatterson at 10:54 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I also meant to add: it is also not really a new or novel idea, and I think most approaches to counseling people who have been through abuse address, or attempt to address, these issues. But in the wider world the expectation seems to only get stronger.
posted by Nothing at 10:58 PM on February 5, 2010


uncanny hengeman: “Probably about the 5th time I've quoted this on Metafilter, but as usual, The Bard had it already sussed out hundreds of years ago... ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’”

What an odd thing to bring up. And moreover don't the rest of his plays demonstrate over and over again that Shakespeare didn't believe that good and bad are merely in thinking? In this situation, do you really believe that Shakespeare would call sexual abuse of children "nothing either good or bad" intrinsically? Shakespeare and Hamlet are certainly not one and the same; else we wouldn't have Love's Labours Lost or The Tempest.
posted by koeselitz at 12:02 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


(By NSFW for content, I didn't mean that the article isn't obviously G rated, I meant that someone could trigger or react inappropriately).
posted by empatterson at 12:16 AM on February 6, 2010


koeselitz, I calls 'em like I sees 'em, and that's how I see this one, and even after reading your response I don't think that a single word of what I've said so far is wrong or unjustified. But if I am wrong, well, luckily we have you here to provide another perspective, and that's a good thing. It would have been an even better thing if you could have done so without being quite so contemptuous and insulting to me, but it *is* the internet, so I guess I can't ask for too much.

But yeah -- I calls 'em like I sees 'em, and if you don't see it that way, that's your right.
posted by edheil at 12:29 AM on February 6, 2010


A friend of mine is in thrall to a network of "recovered memory" therapists. They have persuaded him that he is the victim of a sexual assault that he doesn't remember, and that he is a danger to his own child because of this. His original therapist handed him off to another, because, she said, his situation was too horrible for her to deal with.

He believes them completely. He has "recovered" a memory that his parents had adopted a child older than him, but "sent him away" for some reason. His younger brother has said he sort of remembers having another brother, and that's all the confirmation my friend needs for this whole structure of conjecture that his parents were serial child abusers.

His parents were a bit strange (both dead now), but the idea that they did something he can't even remember, and it is going to make him into a child abuser without the ministrations of his therapist is absolutely insane, and he cannot see how he's being both robbed and mentally abused on a weekly basis.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:54 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


When a child reports sexual abuse, their world changes. There are police, counselors, relatives all asking questions. Often there is a big conflict in their family about it. Whoever it was that they trusted, can no longer see them.

I really don't see how it could not be traumatic. If I found myself in that situation, I would have a hard time not trying to take some of the blame, and I am an adult who knows better.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:39 AM on February 6, 2010


Since this is not the first FPP having to do with sexual abuse and assault, I'd like very much to see posts on subject matter of this nature come with a trigger warning.

There was a trigger warning in the FPP. It was the phrase 'sexual abuse' that appeared in its first sentence.

Not to make light of anyone's traumatic experiences (I've had my share), but I see the increasing call for 'trigger warnings' online as part of encouraging the whole culture and language of victimhood. If one is so disturbed by encountering the subject in an online discussion forum, it is not the insensitivity of the one making the post that is the issue. It seems to me a digital form of the garb one puts on in self-identifying and self-defining as a victim and insisting that the world accommodate and thus reinforce the label. I suspect this kind of thing is part of what Clancy is addressing--the way society defines certain characteristics and behaviors as markers of victimhood, and how victims take them on because they think it comes with the territory.
posted by troybob at 1:39 AM on February 6, 2010 [13 favorites]


edheil: “It would have been an even better thing if you could have done so without being quite so contemptuous and insulting to me, but it *is* the internet, so I guess I can't ask for too much.”

Look, edheil, let's make this simple. I never said I disagreed with you. I really only want to hear you defend your position - but I haven't seen you do that yet. You don't seem to want to present arguments of any kind.

I appreciate the fact that you think the False Memory Syndrome Foundation is sketchy. That is true. I agree. But you seem to think it's black and white. The "recovered memory" people have, as I said before, been responsible for a generation of inane and ridiculous scares concerning ritualized satanic sexual abuse. They've "recovered" a whole slew of memories that just weren't there. There's plenty of money in that, too - and plenty of psychologists aren't above "recovering" a memory or two just to make a buck. That's a sad fact. There have been lawsuits, witch trials, legal battles, and much more over this stuff, and people have gone to jail for crimes which they clearly did not commit - weird, imaginatively invented satanic blood sacrifices which they supposedly were coerced by heavy-metal music to enact.

You seem hung up on this because you hate the FMSF. This has nothing to do with them. Clancy is not saying that abuse never happens, or that people who remember abuse weren't abused - heck, she's not even saying that people who don't remember abuse weren't abused! She clearly says that sometimes people forget or even repress the memory of abuse. Her only point on "recovered memory" is a statement against the industry which has sprung up around the idea that "memory repression" is a common malady, and that you have to pay somebody a whole lot of money to "recover" your memories for you. Is that such a painful thing to agree with?

Seriously, all I'm after is hearing you describe your position. You routinely refuse to do so. Why? It seems like Susan Clancy actually provides a great point of support for what I think is your position - she argues that trauma often doesn't happen at the time the injury or abuse occurs, which is a very important explanation for why childhood victims of abuse can sometimes forget that they were abused in the first place. If she argues that, what is there left in her thesis that you actually disagree with? Or are you just airing grievances against the FMSF here? If so, that has nothing to do with Susan Clancy at all.
posted by koeselitz at 1:50 AM on February 6, 2010


Troybob, I sort of both agree and disagree with you there about the 'trigger warning'. I think the text of the OP makes it completely obvious that the topic is sexual abuse, and that in this case people really shouldn't be surprised if there's distressing content.

But the trigger warning can be useful when linking to something where it's not immediately obvious that it contains details of abuse, etc that some people are trying to avoid. It's like the NSFW tag - if you're not at work, or you work for a porn site or whatever, you can ignore the warning and go ahead. But if you are at work, you've got enough info to decide that you'll look at it some other time.
posted by harriet vane at 4:02 AM on February 6, 2010


I had a relationship with one woman who was sexually abused as a child by a high school boy who was a friend of her older brother.

She had years of therapy relating to this, to the point that she was comfortable talking about it with me fully. What was clear was that she enjoyed it, both sexually and attention-wise. It was their secret. She was sad when it stopped. And she blocked it out starting around her early teens, because the adults around her made it clear how bad and shameful that kind of thing was. This led to her becoming profoundly asexual during her teens, unwittingly preferring the company of other teens who turned out to be gay, because they were the least threatening. (i.e. She wouldn't have to deal with that side of things, and be forced to relive the associated shame involved.)

Interestingly enough, her biggest sexual fantasy -- one she doesn't act upon -- was playing with young, innocent men. Barely legal.

OTOH, I have also known a woman who was pretty violently raped by older students when she was around 11. She has PTSD as a result. How does she deal with it? In large part, her escape is BDSM, especially when she has a particularly aggressive dominant topping her.

This is not to say that sexual abuse when young will lead you to want more abuse, or to be an abuser yourself... but statistically, I suspect it is more likely.
posted by markkraft at 6:09 AM on February 6, 2010


Children tend to accept the circumstances that prevail around them. Sexual abuse may evolve slowly where the abuser gains the trust, brainwashes or otherwise grooms the child for such abuse to happen with as little resistance as possible (as well, they may be made to feel implicity responsible for what is happening). The child probably trusts the abuser, has no point of reference and, possibly, feels guilty about the abuse. There are many reasons that a sexually abused child might think/behave as though everything were normal.

The trauma is not only in the discovery that everything is not "normal" (when this occurs being immaterial) but in the fact that even if the child is seemingly "unnaffected" that is merely a symptom of the surpression and denial that is occurring to protect the child's mind from what is happening to them (as they can't protect themselves).
posted by marimeko at 6:47 AM on February 6, 2010


But the trigger warning can be useful when linking to something where it's not immediately obvious that it contains details of abuse, etc that some people are trying to avoid.

I get that, and I'm trying to be sensitive about it; mine is not just a quick and thoughtless reaction. I don't know how long this trigger-warning thing has been around; it seems recent to me, but I'm not all-Internet-knowing or anything. It just seems that (1) the Internet (and victims thereon) seemed to get by just fine before people started insisting on pre-warnings like this; (2) how much does it actually help to insulate people from content in a way that is not fully accurate (there's always going to be somebody who doesn't know) and on subjects that people can expect to encounter as often offline; and (3) how many other people have what would be considered legitimate triggers that it's only fair we start to recognize--people with sex/alcohol/drug/gambling/shopping addictions, people who have lost family in violent or other traumatic ways, recovering pedophiles.

But also, there's already a set of online drama queens that do this kind of thing just to have something to bitch about--those whose minds are assaulted by double posts and grammatical errors, those who have epileptic seizures when something is not FPP-worthy, etc--people who are prime candidates to become (sorry) trigger-happy.

Of course, I could be completely wrong about it; it's not like I want people to relive trauma just looking around online or anything. Maybe the issue will encourage some kind of per-page MPAA-style ratings system for content filtering.
posted by troybob at 8:33 AM on February 6, 2010


While I would never grant the slightest daylight of doubt to the claim that actual child abuse of any sort is inherently traumatic, whatever course that trauma takes, I am also convinced that there is an opposite effect to the drama of unconscious repression and projection. And that is that the status of victim has become so ennobled in our society that a certain number of people will exhibit behavior similar to that characteristic of Munchausen Syndrome (including by proxy) and claim that they themselves (or a child in their care) was abused when in fact nothing ever happened (and fully believe their own claim on some level). As evidenced in this thread, the assertion of victimhood seems to entail the right to have one's perspective be exempt from critical examination except at the cost of the critic becoming complicit in the victim's traumatization.

Asserting that your experience is so beyond the boundaries of representation as to be also beyond question as a truthful and extensible general model of all comparable experiences appears to give you carte blanche to tell other people their experiences or perspectives are invalid and that they should "shut the fuck up" for daring to reason about your emotions.

It's a subtle point. I admire the bravery of the victim testimonial as a genre. I don't much like it as a rhetorical device that trumps all other discourse for truth value.

You own your own experience. But if you represent it as a primary claim to truth, you can't then claim it is off limits for discussion. Among other things, we have no one's word but yours, here at least, that your experience is real. On no other subject would we grant such claims the absolute benefit of the doubt. If we were discussing religion and you claimed you had seen the face of God personally and it looked like *this*, and someone came along and said they weren't sure that was a universally generalizable conclusion to the question "what does the face of God look like", you wouldn't be in your place telling that person to "shut the fuck up," now, would you?
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:57 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I want to amend the thought thusly, as my example of "the face of God" was inaccurate in the sense that there is a legitimate position that there is no such thing as the face of God. Of course one could not say the same thing about childhood trauma and abuse. So a better example would be an alternative medicine debate in which someone claimed their cancer had been cured by a remedy whose efficacy was unknown and had never been studied. I'd be perfectly within my rights in normal debate to ask questions about how you knew you had cancer in the first place, which form of the remedy you took, what else you were doing at the same time, and how you confirmed the remission, and whether you experienced any negative effects, and to doubt your veracity if you responded to these questions with "shut the fuck up, I was cured and I know that and that's all there is to this discussion, remedy X works."

Remedy X might well have worked for you. Or it might not have worked for you. Or it might have worked for you but not for reasons it would work for someone else.

Or you might be making the whole thing up, right down to the part about having cancer. Such things have been known to happen on the internet.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:10 AM on February 6, 2010


Anyone with any sensitivity to child sexual abuse issues would not title their book "The Trauma Myth".
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 9:19 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I want to amend the thought thusly, as my example of "the face of God" was inaccurate in the sense that there is a legitimate position that there is no such thing as the face of God. Of course one could not say the same thing about childhood trauma and abuse.

Upthread, somebody claims in this thread that Susan Clancy's work was problematic because she once wrote a book examining the ways in which people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens constructed their psychic world view.

Apparently, her reasoning is problematic because she fails to give any credence to the possibility that they really have been abducted by aliens.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:42 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


fourcheesemac: Well, how nice of you to pull the first half of the statement out of context. The whole thing is "shut the fuck up and listen." If you're not listening, you are not engaged in a discussion at all, you're just venting.

Of course, you are shifting the grounds of the discussion somewhat. Am I suggesting that we should go out with torches and pitchforks based on a survivor's word alone? Of course not. I am suggesting that people are generally authorities on their own subjective feelings and personal relationships. Without a telepathy ray or substantial evidence to the contrary, I can't contradict your claims that you love your parents, your romantic partner(s), or god(s). It's generally considered impolite to doubt people who come out of the closet as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, because we just don't know what a person's internal sex life might entail. As psychological therapy involves a lot of mind-work in fairly intimate and private settings, we need to trust that people who do it have a fairly good sense of what works and doesn't work for them.

In regards to the "faces of god" you have the analogy entirely turned around. Too often, discussion of religion becomes entirely centered on monotheism. Sometimes, people engaged in a discussion about religion need to be told to shut up and listen to issues and concerns of religious beliefs that fall outside of the scope the well-trodden arguments about Christian monotheism.

Trying to shoehorn and rationalize data points that don't fit your theory is generally a bad way to promote a theory. Our folk theory that childhood sexual abuse is always traumatic isn't broad enough to include all abuse survivors, and because of that, many abuse survivors do not get the therapeutic or legal aid they need.

And finally, asserting a priori stipulations on an abuse survivor's experiences isn't in the best interest of anybody. It's one step away from assuming that abuse involves dirty old men offering candy from a van.

I want to amend the thought thusly, as my example of "the face of God" was inaccurate in the sense that there is a legitimate position that there is no such thing as the face of God. Of course one could not say the same thing about childhood trauma and abuse.

Of course no one is saying that there is no such thing as childhood trauma or abuse. No one is saying that childhood sexual abuse does not sometimes or usually cause trauma. What people are saying is that abuse survivors who don't exhibit the classic symptoms of childhood or delayed trauma deserve respect and consideration from both the legal system and theraputic community.

So a better example would be an alternative medicine debate in which someone claimed their cancer had been cured by a remedy whose efficacy was unknown and had never been studied.

Except that the concept that individual reactions to critical events, trauma, and mental illness may differ is fairly mainstream within clinical psychology. We know that soldiers don't experience shell shock the same way, that people with substance abuse problems and clinical depression may have coping mechanisms that make them invisible. We accept that the rape of adults is always wrong and bad regardless of the degree of psychological effects of the victim. In every other area of psychology, we we know that individual humans are fairly unpredictable because we can't account for the dozens of innate and environmental factors that shape the response to an event.

It is, in fact, the other way around. The claim that childhood sexual abuse always causes certain types of trauma smells of psychological snake oil to me, because I have rarely seen studies of real-world human behavior that didn't have huge variance.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:47 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Since when did individualized treatment become "alternative" in the mental health community? Hamburger.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:53 AM on February 6, 2010


"shut the fuck up and listen."

Oh, well excuse me then.

Anyone who tells me to "shut the fuck up" doesn't get the benefit of my "listening." So I didn't read the rest of your post, kirk.

I don't give a damn if you were abused. It doesn't give you the right to be abusive.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:29 PM on February 6, 2010


There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:17 AM on February 6 [+] [!]

This is the kind of thing that makes me bonkers. Am I reading correctly that you believe childhood sexual abuse is neither good nor bad?

Then, pray tell, what is it?
posted by morganannie at 1:33 PM on February 6, 2010


Well OK, I couldn't resist, KJS, and you're missing my primary point entirely. All I am doing in my opening statement is *granting the premise* of the main debate (whether I actually agree or not, it's irrelevant to my point about victimhood as nobility).

My analogies to "the face of god" and "but I was cured by it" were not addressing the question of trauma, but the question of whether someone's *claim* to have been a *victim* of child abuse places them not only beyond criticism or reproach or even critical inquiry into the nature of their experience (or the general experience they are claiming to have had), but in a position to tell anyone who would entertain such critical thoughts to "shut the fuck up" (no matter what they are supposed to do afterwards) and still be favorited and cheered because after all, they are a *victim,* and nothing could be more irreproachably noble than that.

If we wish to get into flawed analogies, how about the idea that "shutting the fuck up" in a written, online discussion is somehow conducive (or tantamount) to "listening." That's laughable metaphorics on its face, since we are not discussing this orally and no one's expression of opinion is silencing anyone else's.

I was politely calling you out for saying "shut the fuck up" because you used the word "our" to describe the experience of sexual abuse. If I were less polite, I would have said it the way you said it -- twice, once addressed personally to fullofragerie. "Survivors" can of course have their experience on their own terms. The rest of us don't have to shut up while you do. There's plenty of free space for your words on this page.

In other words, being a victim isn't an excuse for being a douchebag.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:39 PM on February 6, 2010


fourcheesemac: Well, to me it seems that you are objecting to a particular salty term of phrase that was made in anger without looking at the context of that phrase. As a result, your primary point is nonsense.

For one thing, I was very direct and explicit in regards to "shut the fuck up and listen." In the first case, I was quite explicitly talking about the therapeutic counselor-client relationship where cross examination and interrogation is probably not in the client's best interest. In the second case, I was responding to a very insulting implication that we can't tell the truth because we can't know it.

You can't engage in criticism or critical inquiry regarding something that you don't understand. And as understanding sexual abuse and its effects requires listening to the survivor first, I'll make no apologies for advocating that.

I will apologize for not using the most constructive language to suggest that we need to be open to a wider range of effects on survivors, but my harsh language was inspired by what I see as rhetoric that dismissies the experiences of people who don't fit nicely into the folk psychology of childhood sexual abuse. Survivors can't own their experiences if they are accused of apologia for abusers or false consciousness if those experiences are not presented as terrible as possible.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:06 PM on February 6, 2010


PeterMcDermott: Apparently, her reasoning is problematic because she fails to give any credence to the possibility that they really have been abducted by aliens."

No, because she fudged facts, cited herself and got a blurb from Elisabeth Loftus (FMS). This is not about aliens, it's about memories: Harvard Gazette: Alien abduction claims explained Sleep paralysis, false memories involved. See, it's an easy move from aliens to false memories of child abuse to if you were abused you would have remembered it to everyone has had a "confusing" experience like being molested by a relative or neighbor to it wasn't that big a deal to why don't you get over it?
posted by psyche7 at 3:06 PM on February 6, 2010


psyche7: Seems like the slippery slope there. Especially since the claim isn't that people should just "get over it" if their experience wasn't classically traumatic, it's that people should get legal and psychological support no matter what the effects abuse had on them.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:10 PM on February 6, 2010


This is really disappointing. The articles are about a professional who released a book presenting a reasonable theory which states that the moral-panic-based way sexual abuse is treated and presented in popular culture is completely fucked up and counterproductive, since it causes victims to assume what happened to them wasn't abuse and leads to the crimes never being reported until much later if at all, and how she's being accused by the dimmer bulbs of the world of supporting pedophilia and claiming that child abuse isn't abuse. And here we have a thread mostly accusing her of supporting pedophilia and claiming that child abuse isn't abuse. I thought we were better critical thinkers than that. This is like a goddamn YouTube comment thread only more erudite.
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:19 PM on February 6, 2010 [10 favorites]


fourcheesemac: You can't really claim to be a defender of critical inquiry that just isn't happening. No one is asking questions like, "What do you mean by that? Why do you think of it in those terms? Why don't you think that terms like 'trauma" apply?"

I'd certainly welcome those questions rather than being told I'm in denial or worse.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:47 PM on February 6, 2010


This is the kind of thing that makes me bonkers. Am I reading correctly that you believe childhood sexual abuse is neither good nor bad?

Yep, that's what Shakespeare meant, nothing is bad. NOTHING. That's why he ate babies all the time.

Sheesh, come on. You are a better thinker than this.
posted by hermitosis at 4:11 PM on February 6, 2010


Shakespeare ate babies all the time? Citation, please.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:15 PM on February 6, 2010


You told someone to shut the fuck up. That's what I saw. For no good reason that wouldn't have been served by making your point in a civil way. But you took the license of a claim of victimhood as a shield for your incivility.

And you may not see the critical inquiry advanced by the few commenters willing to challenge the holy status of Victimhood (so claimed). But I do.

It's not "salty" to tell someone to "shut the fuck up." It's a direct and abusive personal insult that isn't at all ameliorated by "and listen" being appended to it, especially when no one was being silenced by someone else's expression of their views. So in your zeal to assert the singular privilege of the purportedly abused, you turn abusive.

So I'll just say what I think, at the risk of inviting the "you can't say that" (er, "shut the fuck up") brigade's response.

The status of the "victim" (of child abuse or anything else) has become so ennobled and beyond question in Oprah's America that I think a whole lot of people lie, exaggerate, imagine, and fantasize about victimization that never actually happened. I think the relative anonymity and lack of confirmation possible on the internet further incentivizes such lying and exaggerating. And I think the term "trauma" has been so deprecated by its casual use to mean every little bad thing we experience, and its essentialized connection to "sexual" abuse, that there is every reason to consider the mythologies that surround the term and the subject. And in fact, over time, this is a disservice to actual victims of serious abuse, whose experiences are lumped together in a single essentialized category that does not recognize their agency or individuality and thus compounds the trauma, as is well elaborated in the discussion above.

When you create a social status that is above any criticism or reproach, people will seek out that status whether they are entitled to it or not. "Victim of abuse" has become that status. The courts are full of people who are lying about sexual abuse -- ask any divorce or adoption judge. It's a very common defense for criminal defendants too. It's one of the big lies of our time -- you merely need to mention it and all hell breaks loose and there can be no further rational discussion of whether the charge (or the claim of "trauma") has merit. This doesn't make the actual act of abuse any less heinous, or people who are actually traumatized any less worthy of concern or care.

But it doesn't mean that those of us who think the issue is vastly exaggerated and dangerously essentialized in American popular (and legal, and medical) culture have to shut the fuck up.

My point is that you couldn't have said that with impunity to another MeFite without the shield of the claim that you are a victim of abuse and hence your opinion is the only one we should "listen" to. That's how I read it.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:17 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


You owe an apology to fullofragerie and one other poster, not me.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:17 PM on February 6, 2010


The problem here is that memory and abuse are intensely complicated, intensely personal, not thoroughly understood and emotionally and culturally charged.

Can therapists or other interrogators create false memories of child abuse? There's no doubt about this: just look at the preschool sexual abuse panics (in none of the notorious cases were children actually abused at preschools but people went to prison for years nonetheless)

Now consider the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" thing. Here, although there was no great Satanic abuse conspiracy, some of the children caught up in these cases had actually been horribly abused in ways that might make you believe in a devil [I wrote about one of these panics, which occurred in Gilmer, Texas and involved both real and false accounts of abuse and abuse both by parents and by "rescuers" who believed in Satanic abuse with Dr. Bruce Perry in our book, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog].

Now consider the "repressed memory" business. Are there people who were hideously abused or traumatized who "can't remember" what occurred? Well, there are many, many trauma survivors who use lots of active coping mechanisms to deliberately avoid recalling these memories. They typically don't totally "forget" (in fact, they may have flashbacks triggered by things that remind them of the trauma) but they don't usually bring the experiences to mind voluntarily and without triggers may not really recall them and may not discuss it when asked, particularly if it happened at a young age.

It's certainly true that trauma tends to create weirdnessess in memory and avoidance: both overly vivid and fractured nightmare types of memory.

Add sex into this and natural human variability (the same horrifying event may cause PTSD in 20% of those exposed, but leave the rest of people-- especially those with good social support-- relatively unaffected) and you're going to get complexity. You're going to get people who were sexually abused in horrifying ways that anyone would call traumatic who go on to thrive even though they never speak of it and those who are abused in slightly less extreme ways who are completely traumatized and benefit from talking.

You're going to get people whose abusers are, as people have posted above, the kindest, most nurturing people in their lives. That certainly doesn't justify the abuse-- but it makes the reactions to it very complicated and one size fits all approaches to dealing with it are not good.

Some people cope best by simply ignoring it; some cope best through therapy that involves talking it out; some cope best in completely different ways. It's not good to poke around for traumatic reactions that may not have occurred or you do risk creating them-- similarly, forcing people to talk can retraumatize them and not allowing people who need to talk to do so can also be bad.

It's intensely complex and pretending otherwise by oversimplifying doesn't help anyone.
posted by Maias at 4:42 PM on February 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


fourcheesemac: You told someone to shut the fuck up. That's what I saw. For no good reason that wouldn't have been served by making your point in a civil way. But you took the license of a claim of victimhood as a shield for your incivility.

No, I'm routinely uncivil to opinions I find to be misguided and offensive, and claim no shield for it. Now could you bark at a different straw man?

But it doesn't mean that those of us who think the issue is vastly exaggerated and dangerously essentialized in American popular (and legal, and medical) culture have to shut the fuck up.

That's nice, because I didn't tell them to shut the fuck up. Or you either, although you really should until you can learn to read a complete sentence without getting pissed off. I said "shut the fuck up and listen" in response to two, very specific points of view:
1: childhood sexual abuse is always traumatic.
2: those who don't see their abuse as traumatic are not telling the truth because they don't know the truth.

I will certainly apologize for the specific wording, but I won't apologize for the view that those holding those specific opinions should open their minds to a diversity of possibilities. If you want to argue that the issue is "vastly exaggerated and dangerously essentialized," well, I somewhat agree and don't really care to argue that point.

For that matter, I think there are a variety of other groups that would be better served by speaking less and listening more to what others have to say: atheists, operating system pundits, and anti-S&M feminists come immediately to mind as groups that are prone to making criticism that's ignorant of all the relevant perspectives.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:25 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


And moreover don't the rest of his plays demonstrate over and over again that Shakespeare didn't believe that good and bad are merely in thinking? In this situation, do you really believe that Shakespeare would call sexual abuse of children "nothing either good or bad" intrinsically? Shakespeare and Hamlet are certainly not one and the same; else we wouldn't have Love's Labours Lost or The Tempest.

I haven't got a clue what you're talking about. Mainly because you are clearly more well-read than me.

It's a good quote. The drama queens of this world should take note.

You seem to be saying that a fiction author's characters and works have to be morally and philosophically consistent throughout the author's entire career. You are also-maybe saying that quote shouldn't be used in some circumstances, because you believe Shakespeare would not have approved. [???]

//I'll nip this one in the bud: I'm not saying finding child abuse traumatic = drama queen. It read like it, but I was referring to that quote in general.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:02 PM on February 6, 2010


I was only saying that I think Shakespeare thought Hamlet was full of it. Characters don't have to be consistent through a fiction writer's career - they don't even have to voice the author's own beliefs. And I think Shakespeare thought Hamlet was dead wrong when he said that. That's all.
posted by koeselitz at 6:25 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


of course, it's not necessary for an author to have any particular opinion one way or another regarding his or her characters' attitudes or opinions. maybe shakesepeare was just telling a story, and the story involved hamlet voicing that belief at that point in the drama.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:29 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Village Voice article from a couple of years ago, RE: victims of childhood sexual abuse are more traumatized by parents/family/social services than the abuse itself (gross paraphrase, read the article).
posted by yesster at 7:04 PM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


The trauma is not only in the discovery that everything is not "normal" (when this occurs being immaterial) but in the fact that even if the child is seemingly "unnaffected" that is merely a symptom of the surpression and denial that is occurring to protect the child's mind from what is happening to them (as they can't protect themselves).

I do not think we know that this is true. I think this is widely assumed to be true by lay people, but I do not think we know that this is in fact how people's brains work, esp. not all people all the time.

Maybe a child who seems unaffected isn't affected. Maybe they have to be taught by the culture that our culture considers what happened to them to be the most horrible thing that can happen to a person, and then knowing that, to begin to regard their experiences in that light. Maybe; we don't know that that's true either. But it's hard to believe we would not be better served by recognizing our ignorance...
posted by Diablevert at 7:14 PM on February 6, 2010


I do not think we know that this is true. I think this is widely assumed to be true by lay people, but I do not think we know that this is in fact how people's brains work, esp. not all people all the time.

Maybe a child who seems unaffected isn't affected. Maybe they have to be taught by the culture that our culture considers what happened to them to be the most horrible thing that can happen to a person, and then knowing that, to begin to regard their experiences in that light. Maybe; we don't know that that's true either. But it's hard to believe we would not be better served by recognizing our ignorance...
posted by Diablevert at 9:14 PM on February 6 [+] [!]

I do know this is true. Is one (person) enough?

posted by marimeko at 7:45 PM on February 6, 2010


(1) the Internet (and victims thereon) seemed to get by just fine before people started insisting on pre-warnings like this;

Well, not really, no. People with PTSD (like me) need to avoid things that trigger reactions, which is somewhat easier in real life than it is online when there's a lot of mystery meat links. For me, all I have to do offline is avoid watching SVU or movies/books with rape scenes. The internet may have been getting along fine, but I sure wasn't until I learned how to avoid stuff that I'm better off not having in my head. And I'm not the only one.

Of course, if people gave better link text then trigger warnings wouldn't be needed. Which is one of the many reasons I love MeFi, and don't think we need a trigger convention here. If I'm not sure what a link is about, I can read the comments for a bit more info. But most people here are really good at giving context along with their interesting internet finds. I think trigger warnings are more useful for groups who are less internet-literate.
posted by harriet vane at 9:13 PM on February 6, 2010


In her words, the crux of her argument is "not traumatic when it happens." And the fact that children aren't traumatized at the moment that they're sexually abused is the only explanation for plenty of typical ways that children tend to react to sexual abuse: sticking by their abusers, not displaying pain or hurt, being disoriented or confused but showing no emotion about it whatsoever.

Noo ... just because someone doesn't show (a stereotypical cookie cutter) emotional response after being abused doesn't mean they weren't traumatized by the experience, for all we know some of those children have flat affect. That they stick by their abusers because they have bonded with their abuser as a survival mechanism or, they think that they're the ones who will be met with great vengeance and, furious anger if they do tell. And, kids who've grown up in abusive homes know that showing pain and hurt opens them up to the potential for more abuse so, it's best to hide it. Really, there are a myriad of reasons why they might behave the way they do and, how they express those feelings shouldn't diminish their experience just because it fails to meet your expectations of what an appropriate response should be. I realize I've set up a slippery slope, but as I sip that beer I find it irksome that I might not be believed because there's no wailing, rending of cloth and, gnashing of teeth ;)

I'm only an anecdote of one, but I disagree with Susan Clancy too.
posted by squeak at 8:22 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


And the fact that children aren't traumatized at the moment that they're sexually abused is the only explanation for plenty of typical ways that children tend to react to sexual abuse: sticking by their abusers, not displaying pain or hurt, being disoriented or confused but showing no emotion about it whatsoever.

If this really is what she's saying, she knows nothing about trauma. Many people who are exposed to traumatic events-- earthquakes, rape, kidnappings, wars, whatever-- respond in exactly this way, whether they are adults or children.

Trauma *itself* can cause intense numbness so that no pain-- emotional or physical-- is felt, for example-- this has been known for centuries. Classic case is soldiers in battle who don't feel any pain from injuries as bad as losing limbs until they are off the battlefield. This is even understood physiologically: it's the massive release of endogenous opioids that occurs in such events.

And "the Stockholm syndrome" is the general designation for the common reaction of victims to "fall in love with" or otherwise support their victimizers.

We wouldn't have terms for this stuff and zillions of pages of trauma books about it if these weren't extremely common post-traumatic responses.

I'm guessing this is not what she was arguing.
posted by Maias at 2:01 PM on February 7, 2010


Thank God (in the metaphoric sense) for Susan Clancy's interview.

I was very recently sexually assaulted. I had spent years up to this working with women's organisations, with queer groups, talking about rape and abuse and assault. How to help others through assault, what to do if you were abused, what assaulted people go through. I have had close friends who were assaulted.

But after it happened to me...I was confused. I seemed to have "gotten over it" quickly. I didn't feel an extended outpouring of grief or major loss. I did feel anger, agitation, fear, sadness, horror, but they came in small waves, imperceptible until I dwell on them.

I felt like I wasn't being enough of a victim. I wasn't breaking down - I had to go overseas for an intense family function soon after and I was so worried I would break down there, I was counting down the days till I returned here to therapy. I went for counselling, I called up helplines, I went to see the doctor, I went for help. It was like my brain went on autopilot getting me to do all these things for myself before I supposedly lose it all.

I haven't quite lost it all yet. Not like other breakdowns I've had - but in past breakdowns, I didn't get the help till it was long past. I'm desperately seeking preventative help, help to support me before I fall into a heap...but it gets hard to talk to my counselor who keeps asking about how I feel about the abuse and all I have to say is "uh, I'm not sure, to be honest I've been more stressed out about not finding a job."

Like Malas says, my supposed detachment is likely just another manifestation of trauma - perhaps my "breaking down" is subtle and only noticeable by others (my boyfriend noted that I was less open to being intimate). But I can't seem to find anything or anyone else that can relate to my experience. Everyone talks about feeling like a corpse or a shell, of losing all they had...hell I was still doing burlesque a week or two after my assault.

So the thoughts some people noted above - some of them came to me. Was I really a victim? Was I really a survivor? Does my case count as abuse? Why am I not feeling the way an abused person should? Have I moved on *that* quickly? Why am I not more upset? I was crying non-spot for a week when one of my favourite TV shows ended! I was depressed for MONTHS when my best friend lost contact! How the hell am I not feeling worse now?

It also doesn't help that so many resources deal with men attacking women, but my perpetrator was female, and all the stuff about gender politics doesn't quite fit. Susan's interview was timely, because she nailed the predominant feeling still unaddressed - confusion. A large part of me knows I was assaulted, attacked, abused, but another part still goes "well then why don't you feel so bad? Needles make you faint and this didn't?"

The other overwhelming feeling I have asides from confusion is the deep need to share my story. I don't know why - to get revenge against the perp and the venue? To get sympathy and support? To be able to talk it out, purge it from my system through words? I've debated making an anonymous zine to pour my heart out. I'm posting my story onto places like these. I've talked to friends and am trying to get more to listen to me. But the skeptic within pops up again - "shouldn't you be more ashamed? Are you only out for attention? Why should you burden others anyway?".

I don't feel like I'm playing the part well. I feel like I'm disappointing my counselor by not being more distraught. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for all of this to suddenly hit me like a brick and knock me down and leave me dishevelled and broken in a puddle of despair. Maybe then I can really be a victim. Maybe then I am a proper survivor. Until then I'm just pretending, because I still can live, at least superficially.
posted by divabat at 10:52 PM on February 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't feel like I'm playing the part well. I feel like I'm disappointing my counselor by not being more distraught.

Exactly. You're being given a model that claims you should be horribly traumatized, and when you don't feel the way they tell you you are supposed to, you feel guilty, and come up with explanations about how it's hidden.

How about using a model that says that the way you feel is the way you feel? If you don't feel traumatized, then you weren't. If someone persuades you that you should be traumatized, and you then feel traumatized, that's real...but was it the attack, or was it the subsequently imposed model that actually traumatized you?

Therapists who advance this model of universal trauma are most likely well-intentioned, but misguided good intentions can be just as harmful as bad intentions.

That's not to say that there aren't people who are traumatized by sexual violence, just that there are people (probably most people) who are robust enough that they don't break.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:33 AM on February 8, 2010


FYI:

These issues of the locus and force of the trauma are ones that Freud already wrestled with a century ago, with great insight and honesty. In his “Project for a Scientific Psychology” [in The Origins of Psychoanalysis], he postulated the 'nachträglichkeit' or deferred action of the traumatic event in discussing the case of Emma. Emma goes to see Freud about an feeling of anxiety at entering clothes stores, which seemed to have to do with some young men laughing at her (Event 1) when she was in puberty. What struck Freud was the disproportionate character of her reaction - her agoraphobia did not seem warranted by the memory of the event she described.

Upon further analysis, Emma produced another memory (event 2), from an earlier and less sexually mature period of her life, of being abused on two occasions by a candy shopkeeper, yet to which she could not attribute much importance, with respect to the first event that she had recalled for Freud. Freud finds in this second recall (event 2) the crucial reason for why Emma remains affected the way she is, even after so many years, by the experience of the first event she recalled. The relation between these two events for Emma seemed crucial to Freud; in the one, he could attribute no sexual sensibility to her, yet therein occurred the most deplorable violation of her person, while in the other, he could discern no clear sexual violation of Emma, yet she continued to respond to it with dramatic sensibility.

Freud was sort of split between thinking of the trauma as a relation between the two events [the one (event 2) which is implicitly lacking in meaning, and the other which is overtly unintelligible (event 1)] and thinking that the trauma is to be properly located in time at the occurrence of event 1, since it is the event to which Emma attributes a “false priority” in constituting her affliction. In the second way of thinking, the trauma occurs when a 'repressed' memory resurfaces in a sexual anxiety by way of deferred action.

While this was a very intriguing model of trauma (which inspired Lacan's notion of trauma as Prägung or 'imprinting'], Freud was still dissatisfied with its ambiguities. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he went on to propose another [more straightforward] model of trauma, in which the psyche is modeled as a 'bladder' which get pierced by terribly overwhelming experiences (like bombs falling on WWI soldiers). This model brought with it its own set of problems, not the least of which is the sexual character of some traumas. In the meantime, other people writing on psychoanalysis and philosophy have proposed other models of the trauma (cf. Laplanche or Levinas), yet the question of the source of the trauma (its trace) has remained a consistently vexing one.

/pedantfilter

On a broader level, i'd just like to remark that the notion of trauma brings out, in a way that very few other examples can, just how physicalistic and deterministic our notions of the psyche/mind can become, to the detriment of our self-understanding.

/freudignorancesnark
posted by rudster at 1:05 AM on February 8, 2010


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