Right now I am reading a brand new book The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse by Nancy Whittier.
It’s the first study of the movement to end child sexual abuse in the United States. And unlike the other books I’ve reviewed here, it is not for teens or a popular audience. But it’s well worth reading for anyone concerned about child welfare and social justice movements.
Caveat: I am not finished reading it, but I am already nodding my head and making notes in the margins. Nancy Whittier looks at the movement from its feminist roots through the self help and mutual help era of the 1980’s and mid 1990’s, on through the backlash and into the present. She observes how the movement has changed public perceptions of incest survivors and perpetrators and how its success has also meant the loss of control over the language and meaning given to the survivor experience. She asks questions that are well worth examining, like why have the personal narratives of male survivors of clergy abuse received so much media attention, while those of female survivors have not?
For me, this book provides a larger context for my own story. Social denial in the 50’s and 60’s (I didn’t even have a word for it as a child). Struggling–as a childrens book writer in the 70’s–to explore and represent the heroism it takes for kids to face and report abuse. Publication in 1985 of Promise Not to Tell and a raft of public speaking engagements as the subject broke open. My own major healing in early ’90’s and involvement in the The Healing Woman and Run Riot. The mainstream publication acceptance of Strong at the Heart: How It Feels to Heal from Sexual Abuse a book for young adult readers just a few years ago which includes a wide range of abuse and healing experiences.
But for survivors not of my particular generation, there’s a lot here, too. The social roots that the author traces, the analysis of the roles of government and media–all this is our history and informs our identity as survivors. If you want to change the world, it’s well worth seeing what happened when we tried–and did. (And it didn’t all come out roses.)
This is a scholarly work, not an easy read. But the scrupulous research is rooted in lived experiences of survivors and activists. I know. I’m one of the hundreds of people Nancy interviewed over ten years of research and writing. Now, to get back to reading…