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Surviving Sexual Violence

Liz Kelly

ISBN: 978-0-745-66743-0 April 2013 Polity 288 Pages


Women's awareness of the threat and reality of sexual violence is now perhaps more than ever publicly acknowledged. Yet this fact continues to be almost wholly ignored. This new study, based on in-depth interviews with 60 women, is the first to cover the experience of a range of forms of sexual violence over women's lifetimes. Drawing on feminist theory, developing a critique of male research and quoting extensively from the women interviewed, it developes feminist thought in several key areas: the similarities and differences between forms of sexual violence; the ways women define their experiences; and the strategies women use in resisting, coping with and surviving sexual violence. The author stresses the importance for all women of recognizing the incidents of sexual violence in their lives and seeing themselves and other women as survivors rather than victims. In highlighting the ways in which the media, the criminal justice system and even the "helping" profess ions contribute to the trivialization of sexual violence, she demonstrates the necessity of women organizing collectively to end this suffering.

Acknowledgements vi

Guide to transcription of interviews vii

Introduction ix

1 ‘Sharing a particular pain’: researching sexual violence 1

2 A central issue: sexual violence and feminist theory 20

3 The knowledge explosion: an overview of previous research 43

4 ‘It’s happened to so many women’: sexual violence as a continuum (1) 74

5 ‘It’s everywhere’: sexual violence as a continuum (2) 97

6 ‘I’m not sure what to call it but . . .’: defining sexual violence 138

7 Victims or survivors?: resistance, coping and survival 159

8 ‘It leaves a mark’: coping with the consequences of sexual violence 186

9 ‘I’ll challenge it now wherever I see it’: from individual survival to collective resistance 217

Notes 239

Select bibliography 266

Index 268