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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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Chapter Two: The language and prevalence of sexual violence


Chapter Two The language and prevalence of sexual violence The inclination for avowal, the desire for avowal, the yearning to taste the taste of avowal, is what compels us to write: both the need to avow and its impossibility. Because most of the time the moment we avow we fall into the snare of atonement: confession-and forgetfulness. Confession is the worst thing: it disavows what it avows. — Hélène Cixous1 This chapter includes many definitions: of sexual violence, of rape, of sexual assault, of sexual trauma. I have consciously included these definitions, with their explicit language and unsettling and confronting imagery, as a reminder of the focus of this book. This book is about the adult female body in the aftermath of childhood sexual violence. These definitions act as an aide-memoire for the range of sexual violations that lie behind the somatic aftermath narratives contained in these chapters. Alongside some of these definitions, I have included extracts from the narratives of nine women. It is my multiple intention for these extracts to disrupt the accumulative narrative of the formal and clinical definitions, to illuminate the void beyond the definitions, and to help create embodied links between the de-personalised definitions and the subjective embod- ied reality of experience. The voices of the women help shed light on the space between the institutionalised and formal discursive constructions of sexual violence and lived reality to make connections between states of being, between existing discourses, and between what is said and what 1...

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