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Susan A. Clancy


The Truth About The Sexual Abuse Of Children—And Its Aftermath

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Susan Clancy is the author of one of the best books on the abduction phenomenon, Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Abducted by Aliens. In her new book she tackles another contentious topic, child sexual abuse.

Her treatment of this difficult subject is based, not on abstract theorising, but on her own extensive research in the form of interviews with adults who had been abused as children. The prevalent view among psychologists, she tells us, is that children find such experiences to be deeply traumatic and that this causes them to repress or suppress the memory. But what Clancy found, initially to her surprise, is that this was not usually how the children experienced the abuse at the time.

Except in the fairly rare cases where there was violent assault, the children mostly failed to realise fully what was going on, because they were too young to have an understanding of sexuality. And the abuser was usually someone the child respected or loved, which made the situation still more confusing. The current revelations about the extent of abuse by Catholic priests is a vivid, if depressing, illustration of this.

This is not to say that there were no adverse psychological consequences from such episodes. On the contrary, as adults the individuals concerned were usually deeply scarred emotionally, but this was not because their experiences were traumatic at the time. Only when they reached an age where they could understand the enormity of what had happened to them did it affect them adversely.

What helped most to mitigate the psychological damage caused by abuse was support and sympathy from a family member, usually a parent. But this was not always forthcoming, and in such cases the child often felt that the abuse was somehow at least partly their fault. The trauma myth, Clancy finds, contributes to this effect: the less traumatic the abuse was at the time, the more guilty the victim feels later for not having resisted it.

Writing this book was a courageous step for Clancy to take. A number of people, including psychologists, who had perhaps read only the title, interpreted it as somehow condoning child abuse, and some even concluded that she herself was an abuser. But her book is an important source of information about a subject which most of us would prefer not to think about too closely.

21 March 2010

%T The Trauma Myth
%S The Truth About the Sexual Abuse of Children—And its Aftermath
%A Clancy, Susan A.
%I Basic Books
%C New York
%D 2009
%G 978-0-465-01688-4 ISBN
%P viii + 236pp
%K psychology

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