Woodiwiss, Jo (2009) Constructing stories of childhood sexual abuse. International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 4 (5). pp. 91-100. ISSN 1833-1882

There are many ‘stories’ (Plummer 1995) which can be told of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and recovery but within the therapeutic culture of the 21st century it is the ‘harm story’ and the ‘healing discourse’ which have come to dominate the CSA recovery literature. This is a story that tells of inevitable psychological damage and the need for healing and can be told not only by women who have concrete memories of sexual abuse in childhood but also by those who have no such memories.

This paper is based on a research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (UK) which looked at women’s engagement with the self-help literature aimed at female victims of childhood sexual abuse. The majority of those who participated in this research did not have ‘concrete memories’ of sexual abuse but based their belief that they were sexually abused in childhood on a form of ‘recovered memories’ of sexual abuse that involves a correlation of perceived ‘symptoms’ with assumed past abuse. This paper does not seek to establish the ‘truth’ or ‘falsity’ of women’s accounts but starts from the belief that their accounts are true to them. Instead the paper looks at how women, often starting from a position where they have no knowledge or memories of having been abused, engage with discourses around sexual abuse, healing and recovery, in the ongoing process of re/ writing their life stories to not only make sense of the past and the present but also to plan for the future.

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