Data Type: Journal Article

Dis/locating blame: Survivors’ constructions of self and sexual abuse.

Reavey, P., & Gough, B. (2000). Dis/locating blame: Survivors’ constructions of self and sexual abuse.

By analyzing interviews with women who are childhood sexual abuse survivors, Reavey and Gough seek to examine how women who survived sexual abuse conceptualize their abuse. They examine both the social norms and individual-focused discourses present in these women’s interviews. In doing do, Reavey and Gough illuminate some patterns and use those patterns to offer suggestions for alternative therapy paradigms for such women.

Reavey and Gough explore the themes in sexual abuse narratives by conducting discourse analysis on five semi-structured interviews with women who are childhood sexual abuse survivors. In their article, the authors examine the ways in which the women “1. take on (at least some) responsibility for the original abuse, 2. self-pathologize in terms of (unconsciously) ‘choosing’ subsequent traumas; and 3. reject and implicate (their) gender within the ‘masculine’” (Reavey and Gough, 2000, p. 328-329) throughout the interviews. Generally, they find that the women tend to focus more on individual blame than on the perpetrators and social norms that may have led to their abuse. They suggest that this has further implications for therapy—if women consider the cause of their (initial, and often continued) abuse as a component of themselves—then traditional forms of therapy, which are structured around cognitive scripts and unconscious desires that separate ‘normal’ from ‘abused’ women, may be incomplete. The authors instead suggest that an alternative therapy, called ‘narrative therapy,’ may be more useful to women childhood abuse survivors, because it allows such women to better cope by repositioning (the cause of) their sexual abuse experiences as outside of themselves, as this form of therapy “refuses a gendered ontology (to describe the differences between ‘correct’ and ‘erroneous’ understandings); and stresses the situatedness of people’s accounts and treats subjectivity as/in knowledge and power defined according to cultural discourses and cultural textuality” (341).

While Reavey and Gough note that their piece is not unique in questioning “mainstream medical, sexological, psychological and therapeutic accounts of individuals” (339) their work adds to the knowledge on therapy and sexuality by revisiting standard methods of therapy and suggesting that sexual abuse may instead be best treated in a way that allows survivors to externalize their abuse. Moreover, the way that Reavey and Gough arrive at their recommendation for improved practices—through a detailed examination of the patterns in the narratives of their subjects themselves—may be relevant to other researchers looking to critique therapeutic approaches.

Categories: Qualitative Methods, Queer Theory/Sexuality Studies, Symbolic Interaction
Publication Date: 2000