The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women

By Diana E. H. Russell | Go to book overview

10
Trauma Through the Eyes of the Victims

The question of how traumatic incestuous abuse is remains a controversial one. Others before me--such as Florence Rush ( 1980) and Judith Herman ( 1981)--hoped to settle this question. Perhaps the findings from our probability sample survey--presented in this and the chapters that follow-- will provide the best opportunity yet to implement this hope.

David Finkelhor ( 1984) points out that both scholars and ideologues tend to focus on the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse rather than the initial effects. Does it or does it not cause later psychopathology, marital instability, sexual problems, homosexuality, criminal behavior, and so on? (Homosexuality is invariably included as if it were a serious illness.) Finkelhor describes this preoccupation as betraying an adultocentric bias. He points out that "the impact of an event on childhood itself is treated as less important. It is only 'childhood,' a stage which, after all, everyone outgrows" (p. 198). Finkelhor argues that traumatic experiences in adulthood are not responded to in this manner. Does the seriousness of rape depend on whether it has a disruptive effect on old age?" he asks. He answers his own question in this way:

No. In fact, rape is treated as a serious life event whether or not it causes long-term effects. Research demonstrating that the negative effects of rape attenuate after a year or two . . . is greeted with relief by everybody, rape activists included. Few people would try to conclude from such research that rape is really a less traumatic experience than was previously thought. . . . Rape is traumatic because adults consider it so. Adults can speak eloquently about their experience and communicate its pain. Child sexual abuse should be similarly viewed . . . especially because children cannot speak for themselves. It is a noxious event of

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