The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women

By Diana E. H. Russell | Go to book overview

Introduction to the 1999 Edition
The Great Incest War: Moving Beyond Polarization

The re-publication of The Secret Trauma could hardly be more timely. Although this book was published in 1986, the survey data on which it is based were gathered in 1978--well before incest was widely talked about and covered in the media. At that time, disclosures of incest were still frequently greeted with skepticism by clinicians, law enforcement officers, child protection workers and courts, and even by parents, teachers, and social workers. Nevertheless, an unprecedented 16 percent of the 930 randomly drawn women interviewed in my study reported having been sexually abused by a relative before the age of 18. The more general finding--that just over one in three (38 percent) of women in this study disclosed at least one experience of child sexual abuse--is now the most widely accepted estimate of the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the United States.

In the years following the publication of The Secret Trauma, however, the debate over incest escalated into a momentous and venomous controversy. As a result of such cases as the 1987 McMartin Preschool trial for the alleged satanic ritual abuse of more than 350 children by six perpetrators, and the 1994 recovered memory trial in which Holly Ramona charged her father with rape after her "memories" of these assaults emerged in therapy, many people's skepticism increased about the widespread claims of satanic ritual abuse and recovered memories of child sexual abuse (mostly incest). "The memory wars," or "the Great Incest War," as these battles have been called ( Armstrong 1994, Crews 1995, respectively), pitted the child sexual abuse incest recovery movement1 against the false memory movement. This movement was led by parents, many of whom had been charged with incestuous

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1
Because it gets too cumbersome to routinely mention both incestuous abuse and extrafamial child sexual abuse, the term incestuous abuse should be understood to often include extrafamilial child sexual abuse as well.

-xvii-

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