The Peril of Vehemence

The Trauma Myth
The Truth about the Sexual Abuse of Children—and Its Aftermath
Susan A. Clancy
Basic Books, $25, 256 pp.

In her new book, Susan A. Clancy offers a powerful and unsettling message about childhood sexual abuse in the United States. The Trauma Myth is a scathing attack on the widely espoused “trauma model” of child sexual abuse, a model that characterizes most abuse as a physically coercive act perpetrated against a terrified victim. Clancy’s research proposes a different template: the seductive manipulation, by a trusted intimate, of a confused and compliant child. She argues that societal emphasis on the relatively rare incidents of violent and sadistic abuse obscures our awareness of the more common, noncoercive type, and tragically shames adult survivors—convinced their violation does not meet the threshold of “real abuse”—into continued silence.

As a graduate-student researcher at Harvard, Clancy conducted over two hundred interviews with adults who had suffered childhood sexual abuse. Her interviews repeatedly and unexpectedly revealed that victims described their abuse as “confusing” rather than terrifying, and recalled it occurring without physical force or threat. Often the abuser was a trusted and familiar person—an older relative, family friend, or authority figure from the community. With sexual contact realized through manipulation rather than violent force, victims seldom experienced trauma at the time of the abuse. Only later, with increased perspective, did they begin to suffer the consequences: anger, anxiety, depression, shame, and often escape...

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About the Author

Jefferson A. Singer is a professor of psychology at Connecticut College and a clinical psychologist in private practice. He is the author of Memories that Matter (New Harbinger).