Ms Clancy “the trauma myth” interview in full

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What do you mean by the “trauma myth”?

The title refers to the fact that although sexual abuse is usually portrayed by professionals and the media as a traumatic experience for the victims when it happens — meaning frightening, overwhelming, painful — it rarely is. Most victims do not understand they are being victimized, because they are too young to understand sex, the perpetrators are almost always people they know and trust, and violence or penetration rarely occurs. “Confusion” is the most frequently reported word when victims are asked to describe what the experience was like. Confusion is a far cry from trauma.

At what point did you conclude that something was wrong with the way we think about child sexual abuse?

What was shocking to me when I started my research was the number of people who were victims of sexual abuse and hadn’t told anybody before. All day long I would interview people — my whole life was surrounded by victims — and I was hearing the same thing: This is the first time I’ve talked about it. I was thinking, How is this possible? We’ve been talking about sexual abuse and trauma on the news 24/7. You get all these people who are keeping it a secret because they’re ashamed — because what happened to them is not what is portrayed in the media or psychological and medical circles.

Why is this distinction important?

If you really want to help people, if you’re really trying to prevent and treat a social problem, you have to describe the problem truthfully. For 30 years we’ve been working on preventing sexual abuse. But we’ve skirted around what sexual abuse really is. The kids don’t know what’s going on, and they often enjoy it. They’re not going to resist.

If this is true, why hasn’t it been put forward before?

In the 1950s and 1960s, psychiatrists were very open and honest about sexual abuse, but there was also that tendency to think it was the child’s fault. Feminists were naturally infuriated, because it’s not the children’s fault! But the way they got attention to it was to portray the sexual abuse in a way that would shock people. They did that by comparing it to a rape. Before that, the reaction from the medical and psych communities was, “This is not something we really care about.” It wasn’t until feminists and child-protection advocates misportrayed it that we were able to arouse massive medical and scientific attention to the topic.

How does what you call the trauma myth hurt people who were actual victims of sexual assault?

Ninety-five percent of sexual abuse victims never seek treatment because of what they falsely assume and fear about sexual abuse. Many of them do not even think they were sexually abused. This is a huge problem. You have people who call me and say, “My uncle attempted sexual penetration when I was a child, but I’m not sure if I qualify as a sexual abuse victim.” I say, “How in God’s name do you not think you’re a sexual abuse victim?” It’s because in most cases of sexual abuse, it was not traumatic when it happened.

It’s a very fine line between what you’re saying and saying that children aren’t hurt by sexual abuse.

I will never say that. I could not be more clear. This is an atrocious, disgusting crime. People have a tendency to assume I’m saying it’s not a big deal or it’s the child’s fault. Most people don’t want to think too hard or thoroughly about these things.

One could argue that your claims could encourage child abusers — or convince them that what they’re doing isn’t wrong. How do you respond to that?

Forcefully! As I hope to have made clear in the book, sexual abuse is never OK. No matter what the circumstances are, or how it impacts the victims, sexual abuse is an atrocious, despicable crime. Just because it rarely physically or psychologically damages the child does not mean it is OK. Harmfulness is not the same thing as wrongfulness. And why is it wrong? Because children are incapable of consent.

Children do not understand the meaning or significance of sexual behavior. Adults know this, and thus they are taking advantage of innocent children — using their knowledge to manipulate children into providing sexual pleasure. Sick.

You spoke to 200 people as part of your research at Harvard. Isn’t that a small sample from which to draw these conclusions?

No, my sample is not small compared to most community samples used in social sciences research. Plus, my findings perfectly mirror the findings from national epidemiological studies that randomly sampled members of the U.S. population. This is significant. The main takeaway is that my findings were perfectly consistent with findings from the general population of sexual abuse victims.

Your previous book was a take-down of recovered memory. This book also takes a very negative view of recovered memory. Why are you so opposed to the idea of recovered memory?

Because it doesn’t exist. There is not one single research study showing that people exposed to horrifying, overwhelming, painful events “repress them” and recover them later on. Rather, people exposed to horrifying events report that they often remember them all too well. Ask any child exposed to the recent earthquake in Haiti if they “repressed it.” None will. True trauma will always be remembered. Richard J. McNally’s “Remembering Trauma” is a comprehensive critique of repression. Repression is a psychiatric myth.

What therapists in the sexual abuse field refer to as repression is actually simple forgetting. Most children who get abused don’t understand it at the time. Thus, it is not a significant experience when it happens — it’s weird, perhaps — and so they forget it, like we forget so many aspects of childhood. Later on in life they may be asked by a therapist, “Were you sexually abused as a child?” and this question will cue a memory. When this happens it is not an example of a recovered memory. It is an example of normal forgetting and remembering.

The idea of repression ultimately hurts victims. It reinforces the notion that sexual abuse is and should be a traumatic experience when it happens — something done against the will of the victims. Since for most victims this is not the case, they end up feeling “alone,” “isolated” and “ashamed.”

You write that you’ve experienced quite a backlash from your work on child abuse when you were at Harvard. Was it really that bad?

It’s bad enough I moved to Nicaragua. When I was at Harvard — the peak of my career, at the university you want to be, surrounded by all the people who were the titans in the field — there was just so much bullshit going on. People focused on a type of abuse that affects maybe 2 percent of the population, millions of dollars for funding that doesn’t apply to most victims, bestselling books written by therapists misportraying sexual abuse. I would try to tell the truth. I would be attacked. Grad students wouldn’t talk to me.

Professors would tell me to leave for other fields. I just felt disillusioned. I got this opportunity from the World Bank to do cross-cultural research on how sexual abuse is understood in Latin America. I came down to Central America, and I’ve stayed.

To what extent have movies and TV been responsible for perpetuating what you claim are false portrayals of child abuse?

I think it does a disservice to victims. There were a number of movies in the last few years where people were so traumatized by sexual abuse that they needed hypnosis to bring back the memory. In 5 percent of cases it isawful, and medical attention is required. For 95 percent of victims, that’s not what happens.

Look at “Mystic River.” In that movie child sex abuse involves a faceless priest. The child is destroyed for life. There’s a sadistic aspect to it that has nothing to do with what happens to most kids.

Do you think there’s any movie or TV show that’s done a good job of portraying sexual abuse?

There’s a moment on HBO’s “True Blood” in the first season, where Sookie Stackhouse is talking to Bill, her vampire lover, about what happened between her and her uncle, and I thought that was a very good depiction. She said it didn’t ruin her life, but it’s sad that something like that has to color her feelings about sex and intimacy as an adult. It wasn’t out of control. They didn’t make it sensational.

You argue that one of the reasons so many people misunderstand child sexual abuse is that it’s often compared to rape. How do you feel about the term “statutory rape”?

It’s outside my bailiwick to comment on legal terms, but in an ideal world I don’t think that’s the term we should use. I think there should be clear legal terms to differentiate sexual abuse that involves touching and no force, and sexual abuse that’s penetrative, and sexual abuse that involves force and violence. You have to make it clear that in all cases it is a crime, but clumping all of them under one title — when they range from genital stroking to anal penetration — is a bad thing.

Do you think that Roman Polanski should be put in jail?

The Roman Polanski case is a clear case for sexual abuse. It’s infuriating that people are losing the main point. He’s a guy who had sex with a child. If she had been beaten or if she had been rushed to the hospital, it would have been an entirely different situation, but because she wasn’t physically traumatized nobody cares. She was drugged, the poor thing. If he had slapped her around, if he had pushed her up against the wall, he would have been locked up. Ninety-five percent of children don’t fight it because they don’t understand what’s happening and because when they tell the truth nobody cares.

How do you think we should change the way sexual abuse victims are treated?

I think practically, sexual abuse victims need to hear loud and clear that what happened to you is what happens to most people. It was wrong and not your fault, and you should report the crime, and the perpetrator should be punished. I don’t think that sex abuse victims in most cases need years of therapy to get over the betrayal. What they need first and foremost is the straightforward truth: You are not alone, you have nothing to be ashamed of, it’s his fault, and this is a crime.

There’s something I would like to add. Despite all of this media and research attention on sexual abuse for the last 30 years, I still don’t hear the answer to one question: What the fuck is wrong with all of these men? Sexual abuse is not women; it’s men. Every once in a while a woman will sexually abuse, but in 95 percent of cases it’s a man that is known to the child — a teacher, a friend, a family member. These are high-functioning people in society who are choosing to molest children. All this focus on the psychology of the victim is a way to sidestep this central question: What is going on in society that so many men are choosing to get off on small children? I can find almost no studies on the subject. People will go into jails and interview a perpetrator, but most of these people don’t go to jail, and most of them aren’t caught.

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Another point of inaccuracy/misinformation from Ms Clancy

At the end of an interview Clancy makes a few interesting claimes/statments, the first one being;

I think practically, sexual abuse victims need to hear loud and clear that what happened to you is what happens to most people

“Happens to most people?” Nope, not even close. There’s nothing to indicate that “most” children are sexually abused. But, since this was an interview, I’ll accept that maybe she just misspoke. I’ll assume she meant “happens to most people who were sexually abused.” But what comes next isn’t misspeaking, it’s just wrong. Unbidden, Clancy says,

What the fuck is wrong with all of these men? Sexual abuse is not women; it’s men. Every once in a while a woman will sexually abuse, but in 95 percent of cases it’s a man that is known to the child — a teacher, a friend, a family member.

This woman is supposed to be some sort of highly-funcitioning academic in the field of child sexual abuse and she apparently doesn’t know some very basic facts about it. Either that or she’s intentionally misrepresenting what the science is.
It is certainly true that most child sexual abuse is committed by males. But to claim that women do none of it, or close to none, is just flat wrong. Various studies produce various figures, but 20-25% of child sexual abuse by women looks about accurate, or even an understatement. For example, researcher Frederick Matthews found that,

[I]n six studies reviewed by Russell and Finkelhor, female perpetrators accounted for 25% or more of abusers. Ramsay-Klawsnik (1990a) found that adult females were abusers of males 37% of the time, female adolescents 19% of the time. Both of these rates are higher than the same study reported for adult and teen male abusers.

In studies of adults who were sexually abused as children, Matthews found that,

In some of these types of studies, females represent as much as 50% of sexual abusers (Risin and Koss, 1987).

Childline last November released it’s report of callers seeking help from abuse. They revealed that almost 25% of children reporting sexual abuse said it was committed by a female. Police at the time said that finding was in line with their own figures.

And when it comes to self-reporting, it’s almost certain that female abuse is understated. That’s because children who are old enough to understand what’s happening to them also understand that if Mom gets busted, they may well end up in foster care. So they tend to refrain from reporting a female abuser for fear of losing a parent. It’s a Hobson’s choice, but it’s the one they have to make. Also, as there is the idea that men are the abusers many victims will not report a female abuser out of fear of not being believed or due to doubt of their own experiances being abuse.

The research of Ms Clancy (author of the trauma myth – part 1)

Prior to “the trauma myth” Ms Clancy wrote a book entitles” abducted” abot peole who believe they were abducted by aliens. She was interested in false memory syndrome and started to investigate this by interviewing victims of childhood sexual abuse, some of whom had ‘remembered’ the abuse only after they had been hypnotised. But this work provoked so much hostility that she switched to abduction memories, which she hoped would be less contentious. She spent 5 years studying this.

In the book she presents her findings with numerous verbatim statements by her interviewees. She has chapters asking how people came to believe they were abducted, why they have memories of something that didn’t happen, and why abduction stories are so consistent.
A main reason why abductees have these experiences, Clancy thinks, is that they provide them with a sense of meaning, and they function in many ways as a religion substitute. This emerged when she asked her interviewees if they would have preferred not to be abducted. Although the experiences were usually terrifying and traumatic, not one would have missed having them. Some of them described what had happened to them in openly religious and mystical terms. Being abducted had radically transfomred their attitudes to life and revealed depths of meaning to them that they would otherwise never have discovered. Unlike science, which always offers answers that are provisional and open to doubt, the abduction experience provides certainty, and this is what many people crave. I found this an interesting theory.

However, she goes on to state the more usual “reasons” for fake memories: sleep paralysis, memory distortion, fantasy-proneness, culturally available scripts, sleep hallucinations, and scientific illiteracy, aided and abetted by the suggestions and reinforcement of hypnotherapy. And it is this research which she then builds upon in her child abuse studies

EDIT:

I have just been through the referances of the book and looked inot a few and I’ve found something interesting… here is an example of inaccuracy. In the book “abducted” speaking of a meeting with a number of abductees she says, “Highlight of Saturday evening was a conversation with two brothers from Manchester, New Hampshire. These men were relatively well known abductees who had written a book about their experiences. One night in the late 1960s they had been canoeing on a lake in Maine and had seen some weird lights across the water. A few years later one had fallen down an elevator shaft at work; he’d suffered brain damage, developed epilepsy and became severely depressed.” The simple fact of the matter is that there were four people involved, not two; the event took place in August, 1976, not in the 1960s. The book The Allagash Abductions was written by an experienced investigator, engineer Raymond Fowler, not by the brothers. It was based on data obtained independently from each of the four. The book is, though is not referenced but she has 14 pages of noted references including 146 items. Her own “research” papers were each cited several times…

Documented effects of childhood abuse

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PTSD

* Nightmares
* Flashbacks
* Memory and concentration problems
* Hyperarousal
* Hypervigilance
* Intrusive memories
* Avoidance
* Abnormal startle reponses
* Feeling worse when reminded of trauma

Dissociative

* Out-of-body experiences
* Derealization
* Amnesia
* Fragmented sense of self and identity

Anxiety

* Panic attacks
* Claustrophobia

Substance Abuse

* Alcoholism
* Drug addiction

Many abuse victims report that they remember seemingly random or minor details of the abuse event, while forgetting central events. For instance, one woman who had been locked in a closet had an isolated memory of the smell of old clothes and the sound of a clock ticking. Later, she connected these details with feelings of intense fear; only then was she able to recall the whole picture of what had happened to her. PTSD also causes problems with non-declarative memory (subconscious or motor memory, such as remembering how to ride a bicycle). This can show up as abnormal conditioned responses and the reliving of traumatic experiences when something happens to remind the sufferer of past abuse. These types of memory disturbance may also be related to physical changes in the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex.

Headaches and dissociaite identity disorder

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The single most common neurological symptom reported in DID/MPD is headache. Suffering frequent headaches is so typical an experience for multiples that it is one of the major clues psychologists look for when diagnosing DID. Most multiples report that their headaches are extremely painful, often to the point of being literally blinding. Medication seldom works to relieve the pressure or pain. There are some different explanations for why multiples get more headaches than the general population.

STRESS: Life can be very stressful for multiples. In addition to normal daily problems, you have to deal with post-traumatic stress arising from your abuse history. Other stresses specific to multiples include lost time, waking up in the middle of situations and having to appear as if you know what is going on, and trying to find ways to continue functioning when all you want is to hide under your bed forever. All of this can leave your nerves ragged and muscles bunched up in tension. It can also drain you of emotional strength. Headaches are a natural result.
Considerable physical stress is also a consequence of having a dissociative disorder as you use your physical senses to contain and come to terms with your psychological disabilities and “strange” experiences. Take derealisation, for example, the effort to focus your vision all the time can cause eye strain and, subsequently, acute headache. On top of this, it can be incredibly distressing, frustrating, and frightening to experience episodes of derealisation. The emotional toll is enough in itself to cause headache. But it doesn’t end there because, in addition to the physical effects of trying to deal with dissociative misperceptions, and the emotional effects of it, most dissociators also fight hard to hold everything together and look “normal” to the outside world. This can be exhausting, especially when selves are struggling to get out. As the brain works furiously to manage all these layers of stress, the dissociator develops a worsening headache.
To ease stress headaches – find what works best for you to decrease swollen, tense muscles. This is different for everyone – some prefer ice whereas others need to stand in a warm shower. Massage can be helpful. Music is soothing but, for some people, the noise simply adds another layer of stimulus onto the load the brain is already having to deal with. Some find the only thing they can do to help the pain is sleep. This works by giving your body a chance to rest and revitalize. There are also a number of self-hypnotic techniques you can use to let the stress and pain go. As dissociators are highly hypnotizable, these techniques can be particularly effective. You can create any hypnotic scenario you want from your own imagination. For example, fill your mind with a gentle, soothing color that washes the pain away.

OVERSTIMULATION: Multiples are very prone to pressure-type headaches caused by too much incoming stimulus. This barrage of psychic “noise” includes things which impact on all our senses and overwhelm them. It may come from inside – for example, too many alter selves standing near the front of consciousness. The noise may also come from outside – too much sound, too many bright colors that blur in front of your eyes. There are two probable reasons why multiples are overly sensitive to external stimuli – because of their chronic abuse experiences, multiples have developed a hyper-alertness which means they are constantly aware of everything around them incase danger is lurking – and because they have so many different “eyes” perceiving the world around them, often simultaneously. As one survivor put it, “Sometimes things have too much meaning. It’s as if we’re all looking at something at the same time, and our different perceptions get jumbled-up and become too much to cope with, and then our head feels as if it’s going to explode. And of course we all have separate feelings and opinions for what we see. It can be unbearable. There are so many eyes/minds, but only one sensory system to process everything. Even just a walk down the city street can leave us with a crippling (but somehow painless) headache.”
To help ease headaches cause by over stimulation – ask inside for everyone to step back and give you some space and quiet. Explain that it is more effective for them to tell you about their experiences when you have time and energy to listen properly. Alternatively, they may like to write their thoughts/feelings in a journal if they can’t wait. Some multiples find it helpful to carry pen and paper around with them for this purpose. There are ways to achieve ventilation of some of the noise – deep breathing exercises are good for this, and again you can use a number of self-hypnotic techniques, such as picturing a steam-valve on the side of your neck. If you find it overwhelming to go out in public surrounded by “noise pollution”, you could try wearing a walkman that playing peaceful, soothing music which blocks out the other noise.

SWITCHING: Switching from one alter self to another causes headache mainly when there is some kind of conflict between the selves for control. The solution to this is better communication and cooperation within your system. When there is a disagreement about who should be “out”, many selves may be happy to accept a third party to take the out position as act as a mediator so both voices can be heard through her. Often this third party is an automaton self who has few sensitivities of her own, and so is not disturbed by being a channel through which others can communicate. Another suggestion is that, instead of coming completely out, the two selves stand in a place on the edge of inside, where they can be heard without a complete switch having to occur. Most people find that, as their co-consciousness increases, struggles for control (and the consequent headaches) cease to be a problem. There are some multiples who experience headache or other symptoms, such as nausea or dizziness, with even the most uncomplicated and unconflicted switches. This is usually the case for those who are early in their healing process, or whose dissociative barriers are profound. It is not surprising when you consider the physiological changes that happen when a multiple switches between alter selves. It has been proven that selves have their own unique pattern of brainwaves. Furthermore, everyone has at different ages a different biochemistry and mental capacity – thus the switch from adult to child is going to be more physiologically complex than between two adults.

SPILLAGE: When alters have disputes between themselves at a subconscious level, or when one is seething because of some anxiety they have, the tension often emerges in the form of headache. In this way, the person who is out may have a migraine without being aware that it is being caused by a stroppy teenager who is figuratively stomping around inside because she is angry about something. Alter selves are also notorious for sending headaches to the front person as a kind of message. This headache can be seen as a kind of acting out. In cases like these, pain-killing medication is of no use, because there is no actual physiological problem – the pain results from emotional disturbance. To help with these it is necessary to get the selves talking to you about what is going on for them. If they are willing to do this, there is a better chance they will get their needs met than if they simply radiate wordless feelings and pain.

Frustration – a bit of a vent

ye… needed to vent somewhere…

2 weeks ago I saw a psychologist who said she’s ring to organise another appointment within 4 days… today I got the phonecall, 2 bloody weeks… and the appointment is on the 8th :/ a bit of a gap between appoitments…

Not doing brilliantly right now… We have this scar on the abdamen, just above thstomach… Had semi-forgotten where it came from, but then remembered about it… I mean I knew why it was there and stuff, just didn’t think about it… but now it keeps playing through my mind over and over… I know my mum is messed up, I know that… and I know she did some awful things to me, but… well I guess this is way I tried to always stop myself from thinking about it… I mean if my own mum hated me enough to do that to me then… well… then maybe I really am that awful???
I mean first my mum, then my step-dad, then Steve, then Tristan, then Tristans drug dealer, then John, then a few people who’s names I don’t even know, then Tristan again… Either I attract bad people or I make people bad

I’ve been suicidal on and off for about a week… in that time have really damaged my arm and arms, taken 3 ODs, purged to the point of blood coming up and heaily restricted :/ it’s not good, I know it’s not good… but in a way I don’t care… I;’ve been waiting 6 years for help, 6 years!!! and I still have nothing… well I have a diagnosis

It seems stupid really… we’ve fought and hunted for help for 6 years and now it’s nearlly here can’t be bothered anymore

The “cycle” of child abuse

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What makes some people capable of acts to children that most of us regard as “unimaginable”? How can a mother be so insensitive to her own child’s suffering?

Psychologists talk much of attachment theory. This revolves around the fact that the “higher” parts of a baby’s brain (the parts, if you like, that make us human) are relatively unformed at birth. They develop in a child’s crucial early years, as they develop an idea of who they are, how other people feel, how what they do affects other people, and how they sometimes have to control their impulses. This occurs through them being stimulated by new challenges, overcoming them with help from parents, and from them getting a sense of “normal” behaviour by being exposed to it.
None of this happens if a child is battered, frightened or ignored. In fact, such a child is likely to detach itself from feeling any emotion at all. It’s a way of protecting itself from further hurt. The skills of dealing with emotion and other people’s feelings are never learnt. They find it hard to feel.
That’s why many adults who maltreat children are those who have been neglected or badly treated themselves as children, they never learnt to understand empathy. So they are alarmingly tolerant to suffering, even that of their own children.

Recent research has explored the science behind this. When a child is cared for, the pleasure it feels results in stimulating hormones being released into the pre-frontal cortex, the brain area crucial in social behaviour and awareness of feelings. Social interaction also stimulates nerve connections in this area.

Babies who are frightened or neglected, on the other hand, will have higher levels of stress hormones in the brain. This may adversely affect the development of the orbitofrontal cortex and hippocampus – brain parts involved with managing emotion. Brain-scanning work in Britain and America has revealed that the brains of deprived children look different from those of loved children. In some cases, they are actually smaller.

The cycle is not inevitable, though. Not all maltreated children become maltreating adults, and there’s evidence that with the right sort of psychological support, which provides self-awareness and helps to break down the barriers to emotion, abused children can grow into loving parents. In fact often an person abused as a child can make a better parent as they are more sentitive to the felings and vulnerbilities of their child, as well as being more aware of the signs of distress.

Also not all parents and caregivers who abuse their children, were abused theirselves. There are normally some personal or situational factors that drive them to abuse the children who are in their care, but this is not always abuse in their own past. Below are some of the common reasons why parents/caregivers abuse their children.

* They were abused or deprived as children
* Lack of parenting knowledge
* Expecting too much from children, and not understanding the developmental stages and needs of children
* Financial problems and unemployment, which create frustration and stress, which are then transmitted to the child
* Insecurity and immaturity, particularly among teenaged parents
* Alcohol or drug problems, or other forms of addiction, such as gambling
* Inability to manage children
* Their self-image is defective
* They see physical punishment as a means of disciplining child
* They are trapped in an “old fashioned” way of thinking that children (esspecially sons) must be taught to be “tough”

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