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

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

23
Family Members: What Role Do They Play?

Experts on child sexual abuse are unanimous in believing that the reactions of those who learn of a child's experience of such abuse are crucial to the child. Researchers such as the Kinsey team, who belittled the anguish caused by child sexual victimization, often argue that the hysterical responses of parents and other adults--and not the abuse itself--cause trauma. Others consider child sexual abuse to be a very serious and frequently devastating experience; such researchers and clinicians also believe that the responses of adults and peers can make a tremendous difference in the level of distress experienced at the time, as well as to the long-term effects on the abused child.

Every woman in our survey who reported an experience of child sexual abuse was asked whether or not she had reported the experience to the police, and if so, what the outcome was. (This information was discussed in chapter 6.) Although we did not ask who else, if anyone, was told and what his or her reaction was, ninety-five of the incest victims volunteered information about this. Of these ninety-five victims, 34 percent had told someone soon after the first incident; 19 percent had told someone later-- sometimes much later; and 47 percent said that they didn't tell anyone. In these latter cases, 37 percent mentioned that someone knew about it anyway.

In the sixty-five cases of incestuous abuse for which information about people's reactions to the knowledge of the abuse was available, 45 percent were described as mostly supportive or sympathetic; 22 percent, as mostly unsupportive or unsympathetic; and 34 percent of the reactions could be placed in neither of these categories. The people mentioned as reacting in

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