Surviving childhood sexual abuse
Feminists have an ethical as well as an intellectual responsibility to ask tough questions about the current narratives of illness [and] trauma.… We can lead the way in making distinctions between therapeutic narratives and destructive hystories.
(Showaiter 1997: 13)
In this chapter we will look at how a narrative style of analysis can be applied to contemporary issues of trauma such as childhood sexual abuse and the construction of subjectivity and identity. The focus will be on autobiographical accounts which, since awareness of childhood sexual abuse began to emerge during the late 1960s/1970s, have become increasingly prolific.The women who have written these accounts have used very different 'narratives' to make sense of their experiences, with radical implications for the construction of identity, memory, health, illness, blame and responsibility. These narratives are related to particular socio-historical climates and offer different, sometimes conflicting, 'moral visions' of the events under consideration. Consequently, they have important implications for the way in which both the victims and perpetrators of sexually abusive events are understood and 'treated'. These issues will be addressed in more detail by focusing on one particular case-study based on an autobiographical account of sexual abuse written by Sylvia Fraser entitled My Father's House: A Memoir of Incest and Healing (1989). A more detailed account of some of the issues raised in this chapter can be found in my earlier book, based on my PhD thesis, entitled Healing Sylvia: Childhood Sexual Abuse and the Construction of Identity (Davies 1995a).