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

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

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

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

Synopsis

At the center of this book are the stories of three very different young women who share their experiences of sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence. Drawing on research from both clinical and developmental psychology, it explores the formation of a separate, yet social self, as well as the ways in which sexual abuse may disrupt that process. The young women's narratives become a lens through which to examine how their identities are linked to self and social constructions of gender, power, sex, and abuse.

Excerpt

I tell stories to prove I was meant to survive, knowing it is not true (p. 51). What is the story I will not tell? The story I do not tell is the only one that is a lie. It is the story of the life I do not lead, without complication, mystery, courage, or the transfiguration of the flesh. ...I tell my stories louder all the time: mean and ugly stories, almost bitter stories; passionate desperate storie--all of them have to be told in order not to tell the one the world wants, the story of us broken, the story of us never laughing out loud, never learning to enjoy sex, never being able to love or trust again, the story in which all that survives is the flesh. That is not my story (Dorothy Allison, 1995, pp. 71-72).

One morning in early spring, 1995, I was on my way to pilot the interview format for the larger study from which the three narratives that form the centerpiece of the book were drawn. The volunteer narrator lived not far from the village where I grew up in the Allegheny Mountains. The highway ran west out of town, following the ridge of a hill through a hemlock forest. Mesmerized by the road, a childhood memory returned to remind me of a time many years ago when I first traveled this way. Let me tell you that story.

It was a cold day. Our parents were taking the three of us, my brother, sister, and I, on a Sunday drive through the Native American villages that dotted the river valley below. They wanted us to see them before they disappeared into history the following spring. That is when the valley would be flooded by the Army Corps of Engineers. As with most such projects, the new dam was designed for flood control to benefit the big cities downriver. It was late winter. Ice had formed along the river's edge. We meandered along back country roads, making our way down into the valley and then along bends in the ice-slivered river. But this was not a bucolic scene. All around us there were massive machines, driving the earth and ice before them, leaving debris from bulldozed houses and fallen trees in their wake. Near some mostly abandoned village, I remember a field where long black . . .

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