Framing Recovery from Child Sexual Abuse (Trigger Warning)

Aug 08 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

fds sent us a link to a set of “extreme” ads.  One of them was an Italian ad designed to draw attention to the seriousness of child sexual abuse.  I’ve placed it after the jump because it is VERY disconcerting.  My comments may be quite provocative as well.


Text:  “CERTAIN THINGS HANG ON FOREVER: Set the kids free from abuse and violence.”

With the comments below, I do not mean to trivialize the trauma that many people suffer from child sexual abuse.  That said, I want to problematize the message of this ad.  The message, I believe, is two-pronged.

On the one hand, it says “Don’t sexually abuse children/protect children from sexual abuse… because it is very serious and can affect a child for his or her whole life.”  This seems like a reasonable message.

On the other hand, it says “If you have been sexually abused, you will be broken for the rest of your life.”  This is the message that I find problematic.  I know sexual abuse survivors who resent this message.  I have students who, when I question this claim in class, thank me.  Sometimes they tell me that I am the first person who ever gave them permission to fully recover from their experience.  Or, they say, they’ve never felt particularly traumatized and, so, always felt like there was something terribly wrong with them… because there wasn’t something terribly wrong with them.

Of course reactions to sexual abuse are going to vary along many different dimensions and, in many cases, it causes quite severe trauma.  But I don’t like how these ads disallow the possibility that one can be sexually abused as a child and grow up to be an emotionally healthy adult.


I recently learned that a doctoral student in psychology, Tracie Hitter, is doing her dissertation on recovery from childhood sexual abuse.  She’s interested in women survivors with a positive sexual self-concept. If you’d like to be interviewed, contact Tracie at

3 responses so far

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    The same "irrecoverable trauma" message goes for rape victims, although it seems we're improving at least somewhat on that score (the victim is less often "damaged goods" for the rest of her life.)

    On the other hand, one wonders how much we-as-a-society are engaging in guilt transference by expecting victims to go about for the rest of their lives displaying their stigmata. Which, come to think of it, is another reason for underreporting. Who needs that burden on top of what's already happened?

    Anyway, it's another good topic to bring up with $DAUGHTER the social psychologist.

  • leigh says:

    indeed, as we all experience trauma differently, so will we all experience recovery differently. that goes up to and including a full recovery- it's part of the spectrum of normal human responses.

    this is likely yet another reason survivors do not jump to come forward and talk about this stuff. who wants a set of assumptions placed upon them (any more than the society-level default judgments)?

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