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The Trauma Myth: The Truth About the Sexual Abuse of Children--and its Aftermath

The Trauma Myth: The Truth About the Sexual Abuse of Children--and its Aftermath

3.1 7
by Susan A. Clancy

Few would argue that the experience of sexual abuse is deeply traumatic for a child. But in this explosive new book, psychologist Susan Clancy reports on years of research and contends that it is not the abuse itself that causes trauma—but rather the narrative that is later imposed on the abuse experience. Clancy demonstrates that the most common feeling


Few would argue that the experience of sexual abuse is deeply traumatic for a child. But in this explosive new book, psychologist Susan Clancy reports on years of research and contends that it is not the abuse itself that causes trauma—but rather the narrative that is later imposed on the abuse experience. Clancy demonstrates that the most common feeling victims report is not fear or panic, but confusion. Because children don’t understand sexual encounters in the same ways that adults do, they normally accommodate their perpetrators— something they feel intensely ashamed about as adults. The professional assumptions about the nature of childhood trauma can harm victims by reinforcing these feelings. Survivors are thus victimized not only by their abusers but also by the industry dedicated to helping them. Path-breaking and controversial, The Trauma Myth empowers survivors to tell their own stories, and radically reshapes our understanding of abuse and its aftermath.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

New York Times
“[T]he moral of Dr. Clancy’s story is clear: science should represent truth, not wishful thinking. When good data fly in the face of beloved theory, the theory has to go…Dr. Clancy writes with the precision and patient repetition of a good teacher on complicated terrain. Her prose could not be clearer, and her points are restated many, many times over.”

The Trauma Myth is a nuanced and muscular work that takes a surprisingly straightforward approach to a tough subject matter.”

Publishers Weekly
“[A] nuanced psychological study.”

Carol Tavris, Ph.D., coauthor of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)
“With her usual clarity of prose and reasoning, Susan Clancy has written a calm and persuasive assessment of a volatile subject. I highly recommend this book for anyone with a personal or professional interest in child abuse—which should be all of us.”

Paul McHugh, University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University; author of Try to Remember
The Trauma Myth is not a debunking of the psychic damage that sexual abuse of children can cause or a denial of its existence. Rather it reveals how sexual abuse occurs and illuminates its pathogenic nature by drawing upon descriptions from people in the population at large rather than in the clinic. Read this book so as to understand just what is involved in these matters, to grasp what is needed to protect children from these experiences, and to treat them if they have been so miserably betrayed. It’s a great story of discovery – about truth, about interpretation, and about why truth matters.”

Sally Satel MD, Yale University School of Medicine; resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute; author of PC, M.D. and co-author of One Nation Under Therapy
“Psychologist Susan Clancy explodes conventional wisdom about child sexual abuse. Though never ever the child’s fault, as Clancy makes crystal clear, abuse is not usually experienced as traumatic when it occurs. Instead, the trauma often comes later, Clancy argues, when the therapeutic culture dictates to victims how they should feel about their experience. The Trauma Myth is an extremely brave book, filled with enough data to satisfy the open-minded skeptic and a great store of compassion for victims.”

“Persuasive…Clancy approaches child abuse with sensitivity, empathy, and thoughtfulness.”

Internet Review of Books
The Trauma Myth is an important addition to the growing literature in this field. Any fair-minded person who reads her nuanced and balanced discussion likely will conclude that Clancy’s sole interest is learning the truth about what happens to young victims.”
“This excellent book asks important questions about understanding of child-abuse experiences at the time and subsequently…Highly recommended.”

The Trauma Myth is a serious effort to deal with child sexual abuse and its aftermath…I hope readers will give [the book] the careful attention it deserves.”

Commonweal Magazine
“In her new book, Susan A. Clancy offers a powerful and unsettling message about childhood sexual abuse in the United States… It’s a compelling story… The data presented in these pages provide an urgent corrective to societal misconceptions about abuse.”

Publishers Weekly
As a graduate student at Harvard, Clancy (Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens) was warned by a respected psychiatrist not to challenge the "dominant theoretical framework" regarding sexual abuse, which "fosters and supports the notion that sexual abuse involves fear, force, and coercion" (she's even been accused by peers of hurting victims with her research). But in consequent research on the traumatic effects of sexual abuse, spanning 10 years, Clancy and colleagues found that victims seldom reported "fear, shock, force, or violence at the time the abuse occurred." Rather, trauma arises in the act's aftermath, when victims who were betrayed by trusted authority figures (90 percent of children victims know their abuser) blame themselves for failing to resist effectively-failing to register the "fear" or "violence" in the moment, which always involves more complex factors and feelings than the popular framework accounts for. The shocking body of statistics on sexual abuse-involving one in five women and one in 10 men, at an average victim age of 10 years-and growing attention to PTSD could garner broad interest for this nuanced psychological study.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

Basic Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Susan A. Clancy is a psychology associate at Harvard and Research Director of the Center for Women’s Advancement, Development and Leadership at INCAE. She is the author of Abducted. She has been featured in Scientific American, Psychology Today, and the New York Times, and has appeared on Larry King Live, CNN, and more. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Managua, Nicaragua.

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The Trauma Myth: The Truth About the Sexual Abuse of Children--and Its Aftermath 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I encourage people to actually read the book, not just scan the buzzwords like many of the people reviewing the book seem to be doing. Clancy does NOT defend pedophila. She does NOT say sex abuse is ok. She DOES say that many children who are abused trust the people doing it, so they don't realize at the time how wrong it is. They may be uncomfortable with it and not want to do it, but they trust the person. It is only AFTER they learn what really was going on that they feel seriously traumatized, but by then they are made to feel like it was their fault because they didn't fight it at the time and so never get the help they need. Clancy expressly states that abuse is never the victim's fault, yet most rape "help" so trumps the trauma that the victim "must" have felt that if the victim did not feel the terrible trauma at the time, then the victim must have been complicit in the act. Thus, most rape victims are never helped and continue to believe that it was their fault. This is why Clancy criticizes the current methods, because they are driving people AWAY from being helped. If you want to help people, the first step is to listen to them, not tell them how they should feel, yet that is precisely how most people act and this is what Clancy is trying to get people to understand. Course, many people will say how would I know how it feels and that of course it must be traumatic. Unfortunately, I am well familiar with it. yes, it is traumatic, but the confusion can easily override any sense of trauma at the time. But try telling anyone you were confused when it happened and so couldn't fight back effectively, the sorry truth is that most people will then say, well, you must have wanted it then. This is what Clancy is trying to get people to see and stop doing to the victims.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book and its theory make a large mistake. It claims that child abuse is rarely traumatic when it happens. But this is not true. The betrayal of the child, using the child inappropriately for the adult's benefit, is incredibly traumatic. It claims the child is "confused" and not traumatized. It states that sexual abuse rarely physically or psychologically damages a child. Yet almost all of the research in the field of child abuse contradicts this. A child may not be able to interpret the damage done to them when they are abused because they have no language for this kind of betrayal, yet they are seriously damaged. She claims that recovered memory doesn't exist. Yet, many studies show that not only does it exist, but that it is often accurate. There are legal cases that back this up, including the recent Paul Shanley case decided in Massachusetts. One of the most damaging things about this book is that it ends up criticizing those that help the victims of these crimes. According to her, the level of traumatization of the abused person is influenced by those to whom they discuss the crimes of abuse to, like a therapist. Actually, the act of discussing these sexual abuse crimes is the beginning of the healing from them. The most damaging thing about this book is that it can be easily misinterpreted to mean that child abuse is never traumatic. The next step is to state that there is nothing wrong with it (though Clancy does not go this far). She does state that children often enjoy sexual abuse. This is another dangerous statement to make, one that an abuser can use to justify their actions.
AJNewsom More than 1 year ago
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I can say that the theories of the author helped me understand a number of the feelings that I have been dealing with for the past 25 years. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse, or anyone who knows someone who was a victim. I think it would give a lot of insight into what occurred and who the victim has to deal with.
LynnCrook More than 1 year ago
Five years ago, Clancy asked subjects to "rate their CSA [child sexual abuse] on a 10-point scale (1=not traumatic at all, 10 = extremely traumatic." She then published the results. Their ratings averaged 7.5 (Clancy & McNally, 2005/2006, p. 69). They thought the abuse, not what they learned/thought about it years later, was traumatic. Not extremely traumatic, but certainly traumatic. In this new book, Clancy says 92% thought the abuse was confusing. Yes, that's reported in the 2005/2006 study. But she fails to report they thought the abuse was traumatic. Professionals who challenge Clancy's conclusion say that sexual abuse is traumatic for children. And based upon Clancy's research, they're right.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Researchers who study child sexual abuse agree with many of the points raised in this book. The research and scholarship is solid. A careful read can see that many of the criticisms levied against the book are largely a result of misunderstanding, fear, or both. If you haven't yet read the book, keep an open mind and give it a go. It is an important book
Joe_Peters_Author More than 1 year ago
This book is disrespectful and very shallow indeed, as an author of both Cry Silent Tears & Cry Myself To Sleep and a advocate for children that have been severely abused and also a survivor myself, I'm somewhat shocked and disgusted with her book & the tasteless title of it, lets hope she isn't working around children as I would be very worried if she is. I think she is very manipulative in what she has written and journalists all over of the world that hate so called misery memoirs in which they slate, will love this book, which is sick, what is the world coming too. This person should be strung up, just another Psychologist trying to stand out and make a name for herself, she is in fact stating that its ok to abuse children? well the title of book really gets to me, not only is it false but I am asking people not to buy it, don't give her the attention she wants. This book give peadophiles the green light too abuse children, hey don't worry they enjoy it and they wont be traumised by it in later life, what a sick minded individual Susan is. OK Susan time to have you admitted into a psychatric ward!!! Joe Peters Author http://www.joepeters.co.uk Sorry about any grammar or spelling mistakes, I wrote this whilst being very angry indeed.