Regulating Sex: The Politics of Intimacy and Identity

By Elizabeth Bernstein; Laurie Schaffner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9

Sexual Abuse Victims and the Wholesome Family:

Feminist, Psychological, and State Discourses

KERWIN KAYE 1

The first U.S. federal acknowledgement that sexual abuse occurred within the family came in 1974 with the passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA 1974). Official recognition for victims marked a major break with earlier psychological discourses that emphasized the culpability of sexually abused children. Notably, this legislative change occurred only after feminist activism had drawn significant public attention to the topic. Indeed, the initial version of CAPTA focused entirely upon the physical abuse of children and did not include sexual abuse within its purview; lawmakers added sexual abuse to the bill as something of an afterthought (Nelson 1984). A dramatic rise in reports of sexual abuse soon followed the passage of CAPTA, surprising both lawmakers and the child protection agencies who were required by the legislation to investigate each claim. 2 The adoption of CAPTA and the resulting rise in reported cases of sexual abuse gave feminists a degree of state legitimation as they struggled to reveal the pervasive and painful nature of sexual victimization within the family. In some cases, feminist ties with the state were direct, as many of the early feminist writers and activists held positions within the rapidly expanding child protection agencies. These positions placed them in contact with many sexual abuse cases and also conferred something of an expert status upon them. Although feminist activists certainly did not receive

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