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…

“The trauma myth”

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In an interview on Salon.com, the author of the highly criticized “The Trauma Myth,” Susan Clancy was asked, “What do you mean by the “trauma myth”?”

The interview can be seen here

Clancy’s reply: “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.”

If this so-called mental health ‘professional’ feels that violence and penetration rarely occurs, she ought to update herself to the 20th and 21st centuries. She sounds like the people from the first half of the 20th century, who claimed that incest is rare.

Clancy says, “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.”

To say that violence or penetration rarely occurs is professionally negligent and outrageous, and I have news for Clancy; an adult with bad intentions placing their body or their hands up against, onto, into, or on top of a child is traumatizing emotionally, mentally, and physically. When it is a parent or trusted loved one –it is also a betrayal, and can betrayal not often be traumatic?

I know someone who as an infant had a kitchen knife thrust up her vigina when her mother tried to kill her by cutting her in half. Is this woman seriously say that would NOT be traumatic?

A child does not have to understand sex to KNIW when something is wrong. I didn’t not understand what was going on, but I KNEW something was not right. Being held down against your will and having items and boody parts thrust against and inside you IS TRAUMATIC!

“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…. 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,…”

This woman keeps getting more ignorant with every comment she makes. “Every once in a while?” Did it ever occur to this so-called mental health “professional” that because there is so much denial within society, and by the victims themselves, and so much deep-seated shame –that most victims of female sexual offenders will never speak about it? Does Clancy not realize that mother/daughter, sister/sister, grandmother/granddaughter incest is not rare but is rarely spoken of by society and by the victims?
Juat because something is not spoken about does NOT meant that it does not happen.

There are over 60 million survivors of child sexual abuse in America alone. Millions of them have been raped and sodomized, terrorized with objects inserted in their bodies, and forced into oral sex. In addition, 95% of victims never tell anyone, so how the hell can she claim that rape, oral rape, sodomy, violent penetration by men, and sexual abuse by a woman is rare?

“….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. “

There are HUGE differences between what happened in Haiti, and victims of incest who repress their experience: If any child exposed to the earthquake were to be told by their family members that nothing happened to them, and if everyone in their family denied that any earthquake ever took place and acted as if nothing had ever happened while the earthquake was occurring,……and if all records and documentation of the earthquake were sealed, and if no one ever spoke of the earthquake again, I can guarantee you that the child would repress all of the trauma that they experienced, and even that the quake ever happened.
Haiti was an awful thing, and still is a tragic traumatic event. But unlike abuse people are not going to just pretend it did not happen, making people (esspecially children) question their own memories.

“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.”

I don’t even know what to say to this… so Ms Clancy; pedophiles and sex offenders have done NOTHING WRONG??? So children don’t resist or fight back? So child abuse survivors do not suffer from PTSD? So child abuse does not cause dissociative identity disorder? So the psyche fragmenting is perfectly natural and healthy?
Ms Clancy what you are doing is helping to perpetuate an atmosphere where those who want to abuse children, will molest them and say, ‘this won’t hurt you’ or `she won’t resist, because she likes it.’ Those who will rape children can say, `no one will believe you”. YOU are HELPING the abusers

No child wants to be raped or penetrated with objects. Their body might respond favorably to on-going molestation, but this is a mere biologicval responce and NOT a sign that the actions were wanted. Most children are subtly groomed, so their so-called “free will” to be abused is not their will at all, but a mental conditioning to be abused.

Part 2 can be seen here

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