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Feeling the Fleshed Body

The Aftermath of Childhood Rape

Brenda Downing

In 1971, on two separate occasions, Brenda Downing was raped. She was in her final year of primary school. In the immediate aftermath, the shame she harboured, coupled with a failed disclosure the same year, meant she did not risk talking of her experience again until almost thirty years later and did not begin to address the trauma, held frozen in her body, for a further ten years.
In this book, she not only explores her long-term somatic response to the trauma of rape, but also examines the bodily responses of nine other women raped in childhood. Using a combination of somatic inquiry, writing and performance-making, her pioneering reflexive and embodied methodology reveals the raped body as agentic and subversive, with the capacity to express trauma through symptoms not always readily recognized or understood. Her findings have significant implications for the care and treatment of rape victims, for further research into the multiple impacts of sexual trauma, and for materialist knowledge-making practices.


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My sincere and heartfelt thanks to the nine women who so generously offered their personal stories of post-rape trauma and placed their trust in me to hold their stories with sensitivity and care. To Lekkie Hopkins, my loving thanks. Your deep feminist knowledge, insightfulness, and unwavering faith in me and in this book has been an invaluable support. Our many conversations overlooking the Indian Ocean helped breathed life into this project and helped sustain its momentum. To Marilyn Metta, my loving thanks. Your belief in this project and your faith in my capacity to complete it with creativity and integrity has been invaluable. Your wise and generous counsel has sustained and nour- ished me throughout. To Alice Cummins, my enduring gratitude and love for helping me find other ways to read, feel, and move with my body. Your involvement in this project and your presence in my life has been a gift. My deep appreciation to a wide circle of friends and colleagues for their friendship, perceptiveness, encouragement, and good humour: Regina Downes; Debbie Marfleet; Danielle Brady; Julie Robson; the Magdalena Talks Back women; the Riddells Creek Body-Mind Centering women; Ross Colliver; Joy Scott; and Rashida Murphy. To my siblings, who have only been aware of my story in recent times, my thanks for your continuing love and understanding. And finally, to Jack, Lucy, and Beth, my tender love. These chapters will help you understand. I would like to dedicate this book to the memory of my gentle and loving...

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