‘Alternative memories’ and the construction of a sexual abuse narrative

Jo Woodiwiss

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


A central belief within the sexual abuse recovery literature is that childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a devastating experience that inevitably has devastating long-term effects, allowing for the idea that ‘knowledge’ or ‘memories’ can be recovered from the minds and bodies of victims. For many women who enter adulthood with no memory of CSA, coming to ‘know’ they were abused relies on a redefinition of memory to include not only ‘recall memory’ but also ‘alternative memories’ such as imagistic memory, body memory, feeling memory and acting-out memory (Fredrickson, 1992; Herman, 1992; Whitfield, 1995). These memories, often shown as lists of symptoms, can take the form of dreams and flashbacks, physical or bodily experiences, feelings such as sadness or anxiety and other events or difficulties experienced in adulthood. They are often said to be held by an inner child, or children, who may be stuck at the time of the abuse and influence the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of adult victims. Alternative memories occupy a central position in the sexual abuse recovery literature but there are many other interpretations for such symptoms. It is only because they are defined as such within this literature that these ‘symptoms’ can be identified as ‘memories’ of sexual abuse.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMemory Matters
Subtitle of host publicationContexts for Understanding Sexual Abuse Recollections
EditorsJanice Haaken, Paula Reavey
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)0203873637, 9780203873632
ISBN (Print)0203873637, 9780415650076, 9780415444910
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2009


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