Book Review: The Trauma Myth by Susan Clancy, Ph.D., Part 1

 Ninety-five percent of children don’t fight it

because they don’t understand what’s happening

and because when they tell the truth nobody cares.

Susan A. Clancy, Ph.D., to Thomas Rogers at Salon.com.

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Susan A. Clancy, Ph.D. looks a little bit like Cybil Shepard, not the researchy post-doctorate fellow that I would have pictured her being. It took reading her interview at Salon.com to really grasp her message and get a feel for her voice. I finished her book, The Trauma Myth, last week. I started writing this blog and realized I was going to have to spread the material out over a couple of days. The next few days I will be posting about the book and my thoughts.

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There’s something I would like to add. 

Despite all of this media and research attention on sexual abuse for the last 30 years, I still don’t hear the answer to one question: What the fuck is wrong with all of these men? 

Sexual abuse is not women; it’s men.

Every once in a while a woman will sexually abuse,

but in 95 percent of cases it’s a man that is known to the child — a teacher, a friend, a family member. 

These are high-functioning people in society who are choosing to molest children. All this focus on the psychology of the victim is a way to sidestep this central question: What is going on in society that so many men are choosing to get off on small children? 

I can find almost no studies on the subject. People will go into jails and interview a perpetrator, but most of these people don’t go to jail, and most of them aren’t caught.

Susan A. Clancy, Ph.D., to Thomas Rogers at Salon.com.

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Dr. Susan A. Clancy, Ph. D., is a cognitive psychologist currently working as Associate Professor in Consumer Behavior at INCAE business school in Nicaragua, she is the Research Director of INCAE’s Center for Women’s Leadership, and she is also a Post-Doctoral Fellow from Harvard. Her focus is on memory and she is the author of another book called Abducted: How People Come to Believe That They Were Kidnapped by Aliens (Harvard University Press, 2007). That’s a pretty impressive resume.

According to her interview at Salon.com, it was the work she did on her second book, The Trauma Myth, that drove her (in part) to Nicaragua. The reaction to her controversial work was vehemently negative, and as she states in the book, she was accused of hurting victims more than they already had been and that [she] was a friend of pedophiles (Clancy, The Trauma Myth, p.77).  She was accused of having a political agenda, one biased against the victims (Clancy, The Trauma Myth, p.78).

Why such a reaction? Any research is good research, and the more we understand what causes trauma the better we can help people recover, correct? Not so. Dr. Clancy states that the current advocacy system is heavily dependent on its current belief structure and advocates and researches have a vested interest in ensuring its perpetuation.

The current therapeutic structure in regard to child sexual abuse is that it is traumatic. The experience itself is traumatic and when it’s happening it’s traumatic, there is a lot of fear regarding what could be lost if we tossed years of research out the window.

However, Dr. Clancy states that during her research she discovered that it wasn’t the abuse that was traumatic. Instead,  most of her research subjects, 92% (Clancy, The Trauma Myth, p. 38), qualified the abuse as confusing. They stated that they didn’t understand what was happening, didn’t understand that it was wrong and so they did not find the experience traumatizing. 85% stated that they knew something about the situation was wrong (Clancy, The Trauma Myth, p. 39) (However, the subjects that had required medical attention as a result of the abuse did qualify the abuse as “traumatic”).

This is an explosive assertion. But what if she is correct, what if we have been handling this all wrong? What does that mean for the advocacy community?

Those that didn’t qualify the abuse as traumatic at the time of its occurrence stated that the traumatic aspects of the abuse came later. If they didn’t report the trauma, the eventual realization of what had happened to them was traumatic. The trauma came as a result of understanding that their trust had been violated, that someone had used them in a most despicable manner. If the subjects did report, often the trauma came from the reactions of others.

As you can see, Dr. Clancy’s book was incredibly interesting. I am spreading my thoughts out over a few days and would love to hear from you. Stay tuned.