Survivors of incest speak: a qualitative research study

2017-02-08T04:52:49Z (GMT) by Pease, Lu
A review of the literature revealed that, in the 1980s, research into the effects of child sexual abuse was based on traditional social scientific research methodology which is rooted in the philosophy of logical positivism. This type of research has been charged with separating the effects of childhood sexual abuse from the context in which it occurred, conceptualising effects as discrete physiological or psychological changes that could be measured by objective psychological tests, and viewing victims of childhood sexual abuse as passive actors. There was a paucity of research aimed at conveying the victim's perspective. It is argued that this gap needs to be addressed so that knowledge is gained of how victims of incest perceive this event in their lives. This study, therefore, explores the impact of child sexual abuse from victims' perspectives in order to illuminate how the event of child sexual abuse has been perceived and understood by women who have survived incest, and how it has shaped their lives. Biographical narrative was obtained using in-depth interviews with six Australian women who identify themselves as survivors of incest and the data content analysed. The results of this research suggest that victims' perceptions of the event of incest, how to cope with and survive it, change over time. To begin with, the incest event was accepted as a part of everyday life but this interpretation changed with the realisation that feelings were ignored. After discovering overt attempts to rebuke perpetrators were futile, victims developed covert ways of retaliating, often involving dissociating themselves mentally from the experience, and/or suppressing any memories of it. Memories continued to be suppressed long after the sexual abuse had ended, and any react ions to it were no longer associated with the experience. The recovery process, however, seemed to be dependent on first recalling the facts of the abuse so that long suppressed feelings and emotions attached to it could be validated. Validation of feelings occurred when victims could speak to someone they considered trustworthy and accepting. Having the language to do so was important and words, like victim and survivor, were used to symbolise distinctly different modes of behaviour and self-perceptions which seemed to depend on the degree to which the women felt in control of their own lives. The implications of these results are discussed in relation to social work practice.