The destructive power of incest and sexual abuse has been ably captured by the the prophetic genius of its survivors:
"My father had forever deserted me, leaving me only with memories which set an eternal barrier between me and my fellow creatures…[His] unlawful and detestable passion had poured its poison into my ears, and changed all my blood, so that it was no longer the kindly stream that supports life but a cold fountain of bitterness corrupted in its very source. It must be the excess of madness that could make me imagine that I could ever be aught but one alone; struck off from humanity; bearing no affinity to man or woman; a wretch on whom Nature had set her ban." Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Mathilda, 1819.
Another chilling account of the sacred despoliation of innocence by sexual abuse is given by Virginia Woolf:
"There was a slab outside the dining room door for standing dishes upon. Once when I was very small Gerald Duchworth lifted me onto this, and as I sat there he began to explore my body… It proves that Virginia Stephen was not born on the 25th January 1882, but was born many thousands of years ago; and had from the very first to encounter instincts already acquired by thousands of ancestresses in the past."
The reality of childhood sexual abuse is presented in the writings of researchers as both anomalous and as a constant cultural experience for females. "It was this discovery that so horrified Freud that he put aside his work on hysteria after the publication of 'The Aetiology of Hysteria' and 'Studies on Hysteria' in 1897. In both works Freud announced that he had solved the mystery of female neurosis. Freud asserted that the origin of every case of hysteria was childhood sexual trauma. In his private conversations with colleagues Freud cited 'seduction' …as the essential point in hysteria.
'Father-Daughter Incest' by Judith Lewis Herman deals with this common phenomenon in a very through and scholarly manner. Herman's study is the definitive work on the history of the sociopolitical suppression of the phenomenon of childhood sexual abuse in western culture. She had found that the suppression is not localized merely to the psychoanalytic tradition, but that it is systematically endemic in…culture. Herman writes:
"In 1897, Freud wrote to his confidant, Wilhelm Fliess, explaining why he had finally rejected his seduction theory: "…the realization of the unexpected frequency of hysteria (sexual abuse), in every case of which the same thing applied, though it was hardly credible…that …acts against children were so general." For years after Freud disavowed the seduction theory, clinicians were silent about the subject of sexual abuse. Helen Deutsch's massive 'Psychology of Women,' that was published in 1944, does not mention the existence of childhood sexual abuse within the female milieu."
As recent as 1975, a basic American psychiatry textbook surmised that the frequency of all forms of incest and sexual abuse as one case per million. John Henry Wigmore's 'Treatise on Evidence' (1934), set forth a doctrine impeaching the credibility of any female, especially a child, who complained of a sex offense. To support his opinion, Wigmore drew upon the pronouncements of eminent psychiatric authorities. Wigmore's assertions, supposedly based upon medical expertise, remained unchallenged for decades in the…literature, and retains great prestige and influence in the courtroom.
I will cover more in part two of this blog.