Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Wounds to the Soul: The Experiences of Aboriginal Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Wounds to the Soul: The Experiences of Aboriginal Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse

Article excerpt

Abstract

Much of the clinical and research literature on the consequences and treatment of sexual abuse assumes relative homogeneity in the abuse experience. Little differentiation is acknowledged on the basis of race, ethnicity, or class, despite the known salience of these variables in the construction and interpretation of human experience. A phenomenological examination of the experiences of six adult aboriginal women who were sexually abused as children identified six themes common to their experiences. These findings led to specific recommendations for working with aboriginal survivors of sexual abuse.

The last ten years have witnessed an explosion of interest and research into the issues of incest and child sexual abuse. This research has led to estimates of the incidence of child sexual abuse ranging from 16% to 22% for girls (Briere, 1989; Browne & Finkelhor, 1986; Russell, 1986) and from 3% to 8% for boys (Finkelhor, Hotaling, Lewis, & Smith, 1990), to theories on the dynamics that mediate the impact of abuse (e.g., Courtois, 1988; Finkelhorn, 1984; Herman, 1992), and to a host of negative short-term and long-term consequences associated with the aftermath of childhood sexual victimization (e.g., Bass & Davis, 1988; Briere & Runtz, 1990; Browne & Finkelhorn, 1986; Butler, 1978; Cole & Putnam, 1992; Lundberg-Love, Marmion, Ford, Geffner & Peacock, 1992; Ratican, 1992; Westerlund, 1992; Wyatt, Guthrie, & Notgrass, 1992). Among adult survivors of sexual abuse, common responses include profound feelings of shame and guilt, somatic disturbances, repressed affect, low self-esteem, depression, isolation, inability to trust, problems in developing and maintaining intimate relationships, the employment of maladaptive coping strategies, and self abusive behavior (e.g., Bass & Davis, 1988; Briere & Runtz, 1990; Browne & Finkelhor, 1986; Butler, 1978; Cole & Putnam, 1992; Courtois, 1988; Lundberg-Love et al., 1992; Ratican, 1992; Wyatt et al., 1992). Survivors of sexual abuse frequently blame themselves for the onset of the abuse, mistakenly believing that it must have been some character flaw in them or some action of their part that caused the abuse to occur (Courtois, 1988; Herman, 1992; Meiselman, 1990). Similarly, many survivors report confusion and difficulty in separating concepts of love and sex, believing that they are unworthy of love and are profoundly defective (Bass & Davis, 1988; Maltz & Holtzman, 1987; Westerlund, 1992).

Among clinical populations, 30% to 33% of clients present with a history of sexual victimization (Cole & Putnam, 1992). Since Butler's provocative assertions in 1978, a considerable amount of treatment literature has been published to assist mental health practitioners in working more effectively with sexual abuse survivors (e.g., Bass & Davis, 1988; Blume, 1990; Courtois, 1988; Herman, 1992; Maltz & Holman, 1987; McCann & Pearlman, 1990; Meiselman, 1990; Russell, 1986; Westerlund, 1992). However, most of this literature assumes relative homogeneity in the abuse experience; it is based on research with women and men from mainstream North American society, and specifically on research with white people. These intervention strategies are not sensitive to race, ethnicity, or class, despite the known salience of these variables in the construction and interpretation of human experience (Wyatt, 1985). We contend that cultural, historical, and economic factors are important in constructing the experiences of aboriginal women survivors of sexual abuse, and that these factors may limit the application of existing treatment approaches when working with aboriginal survivors of child sexual abuse.

THE CANADIAN ABORIGINAL EXPERIENCE

Formal studies that examine the prevalence of child sexual abuse among native communities do not exist. However, clinical and anecdotal evidence suggests that the incidence of sexual abuse among Canada's native peoples are as high as 80% (The Nechi Institute, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1988). …

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