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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 Nine: Coming to knowing through embodied autoethnography

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Chapter Nine Coming to knowing through embodied autoethnography Just at the moment of the instant, in what unfurls it, I touch down then let myself slip into the depth of the instant itself. — Hélène Cixous1 Giving oneself entirely to rediscovery. […] One can tell facts. One can invent some. It is more difficult to tell than to invent. Inventing is easy. But what is most difficult is fidelity to what one feels, there, at the extremity of life, at the nerve endings, around the heart. And for that, there are no words. For what one feels, there are no words. — Hélène Cixous2 1 From: Cixous, Hélène (1991). ‘The Last Painting or the Portrait of God.’ In Deborah Jensen (ed.), ‘Coming to Writing’ and other Essays. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press (104). 2 From: Cixous, Hélène (1991). ‘The Last Painting or the Portrait of God.’ In Deborah Jensen (ed.), ‘Coming to Writing’ and other Essays. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press (127). 16 September, 2007 It was meant to be a game, a school-holidays-we’re-bored kind of game. I knew that. I’d even played this game myself as a child. I understood its harmless and playful intent. But when those young, primary-school-aged sweaty hands lost their accuracy in their haste to play the game and covered my nose and mouth as well as my eyes, and when the heat of the voices shouting ‘Boo!’ in my ear arrived simultaneously, the game went wrong. Horribly wrong....

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