Recognition of Sexual Abuse: Progress and Backlash
The discovery of high rates of sexual abuse in the histories of eating-disordered women is different from other clinical discoveries. The unmasking of sexual abuse is a cultural event that is potentially transformative of gender relations. Unlike other causes of psychological distress, sexual abuse is a crime, and its identification in individual cases can have far-reaching consequences. Childhood sexual abuse was regarded by most clinicians as rare and had been characterized in the well-known Kinsey report as essentially harmless. The credibility of sexual abuse reports—so problematic in the case of young children—has increasingly been raised with adult informants. As the problem of sexual abuse has been disclosed in patient narratives, self-help books, investigative journalism, highly publicized court cases, and television talk shows, Americans have reacted with predictable extremes of feelings, leading to charges of hysteria and countercharges of backlash.