The Search for Autonomous Intimacy: Sexual Abuse and Young Women's Identity Development

By M. Sue Crowley | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
LETITIA: "THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT ME"

Introduction

It is easy to get lost on the country roads that wind through western New England. Knowing that, Letitia had given me meticulous directions. It was early February and a fresh snow obscured some of the numbers on mailboxes along the way, but I had no trouble finding the duplex she described nestled in the pines. Dressed in casual, comfortable clothes, Letitia greeted me at the door, introducing herself and a big friendly dog named Fred. Inside, the modern duplex was warmed by candlelight and soft music. As we settled in around the dining room table, an aromatic candle burning at its center, Letitia asked if the smell would bother me. In assuring her that I liked it, we discovered shared pleasures in candlelight and incense. First impressions indicated that Letitia was reserved, yet considerate. She had obviously taken care to create a comfortable space in which to talk about the troubling issues that were bound to come up during our conversation. At the same time, she was clearly solicitous of my well-being. She seemed to be searching for a balance between needs, hers and mine.

When I met her, Letitia was a twenty-three-year-old African American woman who lived with her partner, Bill, in a small town near the Vermont border. She had come a long way from her midwestem birthplace in a poor urban neighborhood. Hoping to put both time and distance between herself and her family, she had moved to this area two years ago. She had heard about the research project from Bill's mother, a director of a rape crisis center in upstate New York. Letitia was eager to be interviewed. In the two hours that followed, it would become clear that learning how to share the story of her abuse represented a form of resistance, a way to "go against the negative things that happened to me."


Childhood: A Sickness Without and Within

Letitia was the oldest of five children born to an alcoholic, drug-addicted mother. She grew up in urban poverty, remembering weekends "when things got really, really out of hand." Her biological father, maternal grandmother,

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