From Victim to Victor: Overcoming a Sudden and Unexpected Loss of Children


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There are nevertheless traces of what can be retrospectively identified as child sexual abuse in occasional personal memoirs. He had experienced abuse by a female nurse, and described his memories of the lavatory where it had occurred:. It was a dark corner, sickeningly and insistently redolent of strong, coarse soap and rancid hair-oil. But darker in my memory than its shaded visual aspect, and ranker than its revolting odor, the evil shadow of Kate and the taint of her iniquities rest eternally upon it. The systematic ill-usage of helpless, depressed, and under-fed children enacted within the four walls of that unsavoury little lavatory, the volume of juvenile misery and fear that went daily in and out at that dingy little portal, render it sinister in my recollection to the last degree, and fix it for ever in my thoughts in the abhorrent category of torture-chamber and dungeon-cell.

He was more open about the psychological aftermath of abuse than the events themselves. A similar strategy was adopted by Edward Balne b. The shock of the realisation that I was considered to be a member of the lowest form of human creation was an experience from which I have never fully recovered. It affected my nerves and my whole outlook upon life. It affected my confidence and personality and it left a feeling of a deep and profound inferiority complex which generally has overshadowed everything I have tried to accomplish over the years.

Both authors allowed the lifelong impact to give their readers a sense of the seriousness of abusive experiences. Their gender may also help explain some of their reticence. Archival traces of male experiences of child sexual abuse are relatively few and tend to be allusive or opaque.

Long-established cultural traditions made disclosing sexual trauma by boys and men particularly hard. In contrast to Balne and Steel, a remarkably frank autobiography, A Cornish Waif's Story , published pseudonymously by a working-class woman in , offers a polished, composed account of child sexual abuse and its subsequent aftermath. She was an illegitimate child, born in and raised in Cornwall by her grandparents and in the workhouse, after being rejected by her mother. She lived with a traveling organ grinder named Pratt for some years, when her own family could not support her, and worked with him by singing and collecting money.

In her autobiography recounting her experiences, she recalled,.

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One evening I found myself alone with Mr Pratt. For a while he sat looking at me in an evil way that made me afraid. This beast—old enough to be my grandfather—grabbed hold of me, a child about six years of age, if I was that. He undid some of my clothing and behaved in a disgusting way. This behavior was repeated, and Emma was also sexually abused by a casual lodger who was allowed to sleep next to her on the pile of coats that made up her bed. Emma's care was fluid, and when her foster family refused to have her for a period, she was housed at a Salvation Army home.

Despite her age, Emma Smith may have been assumed to be corrupt and thus a danger to other children. She was not, however, directed into one of the specialist care homes for victims of sexual assault run by the Salvation Army, but was returned to the care of her mother, who remained unwilling to take her in.


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After some temporary stays with other families, she was given the option by her mother of traveling again with Pratt, her abuser. Aware that her family could not support her, her autobiography dwelt on her sense of having few options, in justifying why she chose again to go on the tramp and make further abuse possible. Pratt continued to make sexual demands on her. An evacuated schoolgirl, for example, complained in of the sexual assault she had suffered in her billet.

Around , she eventually ran away from her foster family. Emma had yet to disclose her experiences of sexual abuse. However, Miss Butler sought a certificate to testify to Emma's sexual status, which may have been inferred from the physical neglect she suffered or from other aspects of her behavior. She continued to be labeled a prostitute throughout her adolescence; her status as an innocent victim of sexual abuse was eroded by the habitual assumptions of welfare practitioners. Her laundry work offered practical benefits for the institution and symbolic purification for the individual penitent.

This advice aimed to preserve her reputation but was also based on a strong belief that children were best served by forgetting any sexual incident. The Home Office Children's Branch reported regularly on work with children who were victims of sexual assault.

This silence around her past caused Emma great distress, and she found it very hard to stay in the domestic service jobs she was found. Her clothes marked her as having come from residential care, and it was assumed that she had been promiscuous. The ban on talking about her past meant that she was not able to offer an alternative narrative. Unusually, she returned to the penitentiary and stayed until she was nineteen. How was it possible for Emma to give this account of her experiences of sexual abuse, when the cultural scripts of both her Edwardian childhood and her mid-twentieth-century adulthood provided so few ways to acknowledge these experiences?

Some composure may have been gained through of the passing of time—her account was written some five decades after the abuse. She had also gained elements of social respectability through her marriage and children.


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  5. Her religious faith clearly gave her a confessional mode that perhaps made the autobiography easier. I will therefore touch lightly on the subject by saying that he was not the sort of sleeping partner my Sunday School teacher would have chosen for me. This man was nasty. I was sinned against. Her obscene singing and her choice to return to the household of her abusers both required explanation and clumsy maneuvers to reconcile with claims of innocence.

    The ability to write of her sexual abuse may also have been aided by external interventions. Emma Smith's authorial voice was not entirely her own; her manuscript was heavily edited by her literary mentor, the historian and poet A. Rowse had secured publication, obtained the rights to Emma's book, and initially, split with her the profits gained by its success. His intervention may have helped convert chaotic memories into direct prose, and to impose narrative form or literary modes of presentation onto the life story. Emma's story was often presented with reference to Dickensian literary characters.

    It is hard to know how much was her own work and how much was imposed externally by her mentor or publisher. The relationship between Rowse and Smith broke down fairly quickly after publication, and despite her ambitions to be a writer, she was not able to publish anything further. Nonetheless, her first book was extremely successful—it was reviewed widely and even serialized on the BBC radio Western Regional Programme in January Yet, despite sexual abuse being central to the narrative of the memoir, her publisher, Odhams, adopted the euphemistic and cautious conventions of the time, and marketing materials made no mention of the sexual nature of her abuse.

    In the press, reviewers were also noticeably disinclined to discuss or even name her mistreatment as sexual. Published at the height of the popular reception of Bowlby's theories of maternal attachment, there was more interest in the heartlessness of the mother and mother substitutes than in sexual assault.

    It was the security she was seeking. Only the more radical journal the New Statesman and Nation was willing to go beyond euphemism and mention sexual content. The reviews also suggest ways in which disclosures might be used for other purposes—in this case, for political point scoring about welfare systems. In the aftermath of the book's publication and its reception, Emma experienced a personal breakdown, triggered by her loss of control over her story.

    While a transhistorical experience of trauma associated with child-adult sexual interactions cannot be assumed, many twentieth-century sources suggest that contact abuse had deep psychological effects, particularly centered on feelings of powerlessness. Contemporary research in this field concludes that subsequent experiences of powerlessness, for example, through bureaucratic or intrusive questioning, can retrigger the emotions and symptoms of abuse. Her publisher did not keep this agreement, and Emma blamed Rowse, her collaborator. Just as disturbing was learning that she had signed away the rights to income from a book that the publisher termed a bestseller.

    Emma Smith's memoir is a relatively unique, detailed narrative of abuse and institutional care.

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    Nonetheless, she struggled to gain authorial composure and found her literary self being read as primitive or pathetic. The unusual conditions of production of A Cornish Waif's Story suggest it was an exceptional rather than typical disclosure, in a period when a vernacular language of child sexual abuse was not readily available. It was published in a period of confidence that the abuse of children had been overcome by the welfare systems and affluence of postwar Britain.


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    Yet there is irony in her optimism, for subsequent decades saw continuing cultures of abuse in families and communities. Child sexual abuse also continued to feature in institutional settings such as children's homes, as well as religious, sports, and entertainment circles, though this was only belatedly recognized. The postwar period was one of changes in the aspirations for, and value of, childhood and the family. As Mathew Thomson has documented, the period saw a heightened awareness of a range of dangers to children, including that of indecent exposure outside the home setting.

    Yet Thomson notes that despite parental concerns, there was surprisingly little concern amongst welfare professionals and establishment figures over children's sexual vulnerability. The divergent attitudes found in popular culture and among practitioners make for a complex historical context. Both new influences and older traditions can be discerned in debates about child sexual abuse. Social workers, for example, were prone to eliding child welfare with family welfare.

    Panton b. She had been in care at the Erdington Cottage Homes between the ages of five and thirteen but was returned to live with her brother around She said she couldn't comment on what he was doing.

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    Panton remained extremely angry about this disbelief and inaction. The postwar years did not, however, only register continuity with older traditions; new influences on social work and public opinion also inflected attitudes to child sexual abuse. Testimony to the —57 Wolfenden Committee, for example, raised the previously little-discussed issue of the sexual abuse of boys. However, this issue was raised only to be closed down again; experts presented it as solvable by the decriminalization of homosexuality.

    The growing influence of ideas of the child as sexually active, or an agent with sexual rights, was another new component of thinking about childhood. Initially, then, these ideas tended to limit appreciation of the scale and significance of child sexual abuse, particularly in residential institutions and private domestic settings. They may not participate emotionally in offences, but they certainly precipitate them; and, if supported by another child of the same age, will blackmail adults to pay them weekly for the repetition of the same indecent act.

    There had long been a genre of working-class memoirs and autobiographies, though relatively few women had contributed to it. Prior to the s, most lives captured were of politically active or upwardly socially mobile men.

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    This trend gave more opportunities for working-class, female, and young people to situate their lives as part of history and rethink their intimate or sexual experiences. The disclosure of an experience of sexual abuse was usually incidental to the main thrust of these interviews, and did not always appear to be premeditated.

    Freeman b. Freeman struggled to convey what had happened to her as a child at a London railway station.

    From Victim to Victor: Overcoming a Sudden and Unexpected Loss of Children From Victim to Victor: Overcoming a Sudden and Unexpected Loss of Children
    From Victim to Victor: Overcoming a Sudden and Unexpected Loss of Children From Victim to Victor: Overcoming a Sudden and Unexpected Loss of Children
    From Victim to Victor: Overcoming a Sudden and Unexpected Loss of Children From Victim to Victor: Overcoming a Sudden and Unexpected Loss of Children
    From Victim to Victor: Overcoming a Sudden and Unexpected Loss of Children From Victim to Victor: Overcoming a Sudden and Unexpected Loss of Children
    From Victim to Victor: Overcoming a Sudden and Unexpected Loss of Children From Victim to Victor: Overcoming a Sudden and Unexpected Loss of Children

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