Working with Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

You’ve made it to Chapter 4 where we will be exploring some of the complexities, challenges and proposals when working with survivors of childhood sexual abuse or assault (‘CSA’).

Introducing Carla Galaz Souza: Carla is a feminist and narrative therapist from Abya Yala (South America) currently living on Kaurna Country (Adelaide, Australia). As a therapist, Carla has worked with women and children who have experienced violence and sexual abuse in central and southern Chile. She has also worked as an undergraduate teacher in psychology, social work and health careers, and in projects aimed at psychosocial and educational teams. As a feminist activist, she has participated in the Feminist Autonomous Movement of Abya Yala and in collective projects, including an abortion hotline and a feminist free community online radio. She is interested in bringing feminist ideas to therapy and in translating narrative practices to the Latin American context through culturally appropriate methods.

As described by Carla, there is a predominant trend in psychiatric and community service settings of pathologising the effects of and responses to CSA in ways that conveniently shift focus away from those who perpetrated the abuse. Amanda Kamsler proposes an alternative view that contextualises women’s experiences of CSA by a family member and relocates the responsibility on to those enacting abuse.

Her-story in the making: Therapy with women who were sexually abused in childhood by Amanda Kamsler (she/her) 

‘Is the reason I am a sex worker because of the abuse?’ ‘Am I lesbian/gay/queer because of the abuse?’ In this first of two papers by Sue Mann, she describes the principles underlying her work in South Australia with survivors of CSA, how she creates a listening space and how she attends to some of the more complicated questions that are sometimes posed to her by those she works with.

The questions posed by our work with women who have experienced sexual abuse by Sue Mann (she/her) 

Honouring the narrative traditions of metaphor and documentation, Lisa McPhie, Chris Chaffey and a group of young women in Tasmania, Australia, collectively embarked on migrations of identity to counteract the effects of stigma and the thin identity conclusions often experienced by young women who have survived sexual violence.

The journey of a lifetime: Group work with young women who have experienced sexual assault by Lisa McPhie (she/her) and Chris Chaffey (she/her) 

Now we fly across to Jerusalem, Israel, where Ellen Cornfeld collaborates intensively with a Hasidic Jewish family from the United States contending with the ongoing effects of historical CSA.

Quantum leaps from the safe space: A week long ‘intensive’ narrative family gathering in response to childhood sexual abuse by Ellen Cornfeld (she/her) [31:23]

Here again we are invited into the work of Sue Mann. What becomes more possible when we step out of totalising and binary narratives of relationships being ‘loving’ or ‘abusive’, and instead explore acts of love and acts of abuse? Let’s find out.

Deconstructing love in the context of sexual abuse by Sue Mann (she/her) 

Reflection questions

Let’s begin with a few questions adapted from those posed in Sue Mann’s article:

  • How do you get started in the work? What do you do in the first session?
  • How do you bring the political into conversations without giving a lecture?
  • What are the effects for therapists of hearing descriptions of abuse and having these images of abuse in our thinking and on our own sexual lives?

And now to explore those posed by Carla Galaz Souza:

  • What are the complexities and challenges that have arisen when you have worked with experiences of child sexual abuse?
  • What are the ideas or politics that inform you when creating a listening space?
  • How might your kind of listening change after reading the accounts of practice in this chapter?

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. crystalsoares90

    After reading ‘Deconstructing love in the context of sexual abuse by Sue Mann’ it made me reflect on just how difficult it might be to have complicated feelings about love and abuse, with an abuser. It made me also wonder, how do we differentiate abuse when it’s perpetrated by someone who also shows us love and kindness? The advice of separating what a client’s definition of a loving relationship is from an abusive relationship I thought was a very practical and effective strategy. I imagine as the client is going through all the qualities that they define a loving relationship as, and even drawing parallels between this list with their abuser, when they get to the category of what they consider to be characteristics of abuse, it might help them navigate these conflicting feelings. when we remove the pressure of having to label an entire relationship as abuse, and start to look at the individual acts, I think it does help give a clearer image overall of that relationship with the abuser.

  2. jiahuanhe.psy

    The idea of asking clients how they responded to their traumas instead of what the traumas did to them stood out to me. It has the potential to make people become active protagonists in their stories, turning stories of victims into stories of survival, and thus empowering them.

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