The Search for Autonomous Intimacy: Sexual Abuse and Young Women's Identity Development

By M. Sue Crowley | Go to book overview

Chapter Six
EMERGING FROM THE DEPTHS: THE SEARCH FOR AUTONOMOUS INTIMACY

Introduction

Along the way to adulthood, Ada, Chloe, and Letitia encountered many obstacles. The desecration of their small bodies had been hidden behind walls of denial, minimization, or outright threats. Uncertain memories, seen dimly through the opaque surface of a convenient reality, wavered in and out of mind. When they tried to speak, their voices were suffocated by denial and rejection. Across childhood and adolescence, while nightmares and illnesses testified to the ugly truths still lurking beneath the surface, pressure from many different sources kept hidden the secret betrayals to be found in submerged memories and suffocated voices. Their truths were silenced. Lacking either a voice or a respectful audience, they struggled against the people and social stigmas that would limit their self-understanding and deny them an honorable place in the world. Their struggles to speak, to simply grow up, and "have a life now" (Ada) contribute to our knowledge about girls' adolescent identity development in at least four ways.

First, in each narrative there was a clear theme, highlighting the extent to which girls who have been sexually abused are effectively silenced. Because identities are framed in relationship with others, being silenced necessarily interferes with a girl's ability to form a clear understanding of herself, her abilities, and relationships. The process of exploring options for the future, experimenting with new roles, establishing intimate friendships or setting realistic goals becomes more complicated. Yet, being made invisible, being silenced, confronting limited options--these are fairly common experiences for many, if not most, women. Rather than setting them apart from other young women, however, the sexual abuse Ada, Chloe, and Letitia experienced served to heighten the impact of factors that are commonplace among women in general. Overcoming the pervasive denial of voice, they managed to shape a sense of who they were in relation to others and where they belonged in the larger world.

Second, their compelling accounts of sexual abuse and others'

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