Beyond a single story: The importance of separating 'harm' from 'wrongfulness' and 'sexual innocence' from 'childhood' in contemporary narratives of childhood sexual abuse

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Abstract

This article draws on research exploring adult women's engagement with narratives of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and identifies implications for both child and adult victims. As this research showed, any single story cannot accommodate all experiences. When that single story becomes dominant those whose experiences are not acknowledged are at risk of being silenced and left without a narrative framework to make sense of their experiences, which in turn risk being unrecognised as abuse by others. The article looks at contemporary understandings of CSA and argues for the need to move beyond a single damage narrative in which victims are constructed as sexually innocent, weak and passive and seen to be inevitably damaged by their experiences. The article argues for the need to separate wrongfulness from harm and (sexual) innocence from childhood. This would enable us to recognise sexual abuse in all sexually abused children, including those who do not conform to sexual innocence, and to recognise that CSA is wrong irrespective of psychological damage. In doing so, it is argued, we would all be better equipped to recognise sexual abuse and victims would be better able to tell their own stories which may, but may not, include psychological damage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-158
Number of pages20
JournalSexualities
Volume17
Issue number1-2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014

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