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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 Six: Somatic narratives and meaning-making


Chapter Six Somatic narratives and meaning-making Was Poppy saying with her body what she couldn’t say with words, what couldn’t be said with words? Perhaps she lost control of herself, or her body, when she lost control of the sense we depend on language to provide for us. It was not that she would not speak, but that she could not. Her silence was a symptom and a cause. Words literally failed her. The voice she needed hadn’t been invented yet, or if it had, it hadn’t been heard in the south of England. — Drusilla Modjeska1 In this chapter I bring together the somatic narratives and findings from the participant somatic inquiry component of the research. Given the more macro non-cellular focus of the women’s inquiry, I examine these narratives in relation to my own more general non-cellular experience of the somatic aftermath of childhood rape. I explore both in relation to the literature. To briefly reprise my research objectives in this component of my research, my aims were multiple: to establish a sense of the relationship the women now had with their bodies after significant periods of time had elapsed since their childhood rape experience/s; to discover how they thought their bodies had responded since their experience/s; to determine whether the women had made connections between their physical wellbeing in the aftermath and their childhood experiences; to find out if they had discussed any of their bodily responses with healthcare professionals; and to ask whether they had attended any...

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