– When the media draws attention to the vulnerability, worth and rights of girls and women, there is increased scope to expose abuse and institute change, says Ninni Carlsson.

Eight women who were subject to abuse as children talk about their experiences in Ninni Carlsson’s study. Despite 40 years separating the oldest and the youngest, there are common features.

– The discussion on sexual abuse has frequently placed help on a par with professional treatment.
Such ways of thinking are problematic as they conceal what is happening in people’s everyday encounters with their environment, says Ninni Carlsson who is publicly defending her thesis at the Department of Social Work.

Her thesis shows that the period when the interviewees started to disclose abuse coincides with the first debates on rape, incest and sexual abuse. She has discovered that attention in books, TV, newspapers and periodicals snowballed during the years 1976?1996 and came about as a result of political protests and campaigns in conjunction with the Swedish Commission on Sexual Offences in 1976.

– Ever since the debates commenced, what has been said and written in the press has acted as a spotlight for my interviewees. A large number of critical ”elucidations”, where various debaters were on the side of women and children, led to the possibility of thinking consciously about their abuse, finding words for it and both desiring and looking for someone to talk to. From the mid-1980s it has also been possible to find people who listen.

The most important change
According to Ninni Carlsson, the most important change is that sexual abuse perpetrated by husbands and fathers on children has been publicly condemned. The interviewees have thereby been enabled to express criticism that was not previously possible – and been believed. The only interviewee who was believed prior to the 1980s was one who was not abused by her father. Those who were abused by their fathers previously felt, and some still do feel, their lives to be under threat and afraid. As fathers also hit family members, and girls were belittled, it was neither possible to think consciously about the abuse nor to reveal it.

– Being believed constitutes a profoundly transformatory force. It is only when others take what has happened seriously that it is possible for it to occupy a space in one’s own body and for one to trust one’s sensory impressions. Such changes take place both through what is taken up in the media and through equal relationships based on gender equality. Mutual openness, solidarity and care are of particular importance, says Ninni Carlsson.

– But women also say that people in general do not want to talk about sexual abuse. When it crops up many people react with diversionary tactics or disbelief. It results in women and children still being belittled. Being subject to sexual abuse becomes the same as being mentally ill, mendacious, dissolute and of less worth than others.

Title of the thesis: A time of telling. Women working through child sexual abuse
E-link: http://hdl.handle.net/2077/19727
Faculty opponent’s name: Associate Professor Eva Magnusson, Department of Psychology, Umeå University
Time and venue for the public defence: Friday March 8, 2009 at 9.15, Lecture Theatre Sappören, Sprängkullsgatan 25, Gothenburg. The thesis can be ordered from Ingegerd.Franzon@socwork.gu.se, SEK 170 plus postage.

Author of the thesis: Ninni Carlsson, tel +46 (0)737-558086 (mobile), +46(0)31-7866374 (work)
E-mail: Ninni.Carlsson@socwork.gu.se