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

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

11
Incestuous Abuse as a Contributing Cause of Revictimization

Given the state of our knowledge at this time, it is impossible to assess what the long-term effects of child sexual abuse will be on the basis of the short-term impact. Children may not appear upset or hurt at the time of sexual abuse; the effects may only reveal themselves years or even decades later. Hence short-term effects should never be seen as a satisfactory measure of the total picture.

The sexual abuse of children differs in this respect from the rape of adult women. An adult woman is more likely to have experienced trust in intimate relationships, to have a sense of who she is and what sex is before the traumatic attack. In contrast, children's capacity to trust can be shattered. Their sense of who they are and what sex is about is often totally or substantially shaped by the sexually abusive experience.

Chapter 10 showed that the victims' own subjective assessment of the trauma they experienced as a result of incestuous abuse was significantly related to a whole range of variables that both popular and clinical wisdom would expect: the frequency of the abuse, the duration over which it occurred, its severity in terms of the sex acts involved, the degree of force or violence employed, how closely related the victim was to the perpetrator, and the age disparity involved. This serves as a kind of validation of the usefulness of the two subjective questions on the degree of upset and the long-term effects that were used in our study to measure the degree of trauma.

However, a limitation of relying on subjective assessments of trauma is that people are often unaware of certain kinds of effects. No one mentioned that she had attempted suicide, or become a drug addict or a prosti

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