Sexual Abuse in Nine North American Cultures. Treatment and Prevention

Article excerpt

Fontes, L. A. (Ed.). (1995). Sexual abuse in nine north American cultures. Treatment and prevention. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Jean Paul Sartre believed that making public what had been kept private would become one of the great advances of the last half of this century. Sartre was right. Twenty years ago, secrecy would have precluded writing a book about sexual abuse, especially a book situating (and to some extent exposing) sexual abuse in diverse cultural contexts. This book is the first to address connections between culture and sexual abuse and makes a significant contribution to the prevention and treatment of this distressing human behavior. It demonstrates that to have a single, burning topic of clinical concern, in this case sexual abuse, and then zoom in on it with a cross-cultural lens is a good way to learn more about both the culture and the specific behavior.

A beautiful Foreword by Eliana Gill and a helpful Preface and Introduction by the editor, Lisa Aronson Fontes, elucidate the many ways in which culture is relevant to sexual abuse. They set the personal tone and the fresh scholarly information that characterize all the chapters. The reader is treated to an impressive, state-of-the-art array of ideas on culture which opens new avenues for inquiry. The book also offers a new repertoire of rituals and healing practices, such as sitting shiva to deal with the losses resulting from sexual abuse for the Jewish family or a version of dusmic (a term coined by Nuyorican poets) strength to empower Puerto Rican clients.

We learn how ethnic cultures (Anglo-American, African-American, Puerto Rican, Cambodian, Jewish, Asian, Pacific Island, and Filipino American) contribute to family climates in which children are abused. But we also learn how cultural values protect children from sexual abuse and how culture plays a role in help seeking and healing practices. Enlightening inclusions are chapters that weave the timing of experiences of sexual abuse with the developmental stages of coming out in gay and lesbian groups, and another chapter that bravely discloses the reasons for the very high rate of sexual and ritual abuse among Seventh Day Adventists. All the authors go beyond ethnicity to include the effects of oppression due to social class, gender, race, or sexual orientation both in the occurrence of the abuse and in the attitude of the service providers.

The authors' very act of writing has taken courage, the courage to break the silence in the best interests of the child. Turning the pages of this book one experiences the uncomfortable yet necessary tension of prying open the closed doors that hide the shame but also maiFntain dignity and compassion. …