Surviving Sexual Violence by Liz Kelly

Surviving Sexual Violence by Liz Kelly

Author:Liz Kelly [Kelly, Liz]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780745604626
Publisher: Wiley


Who does the defining

Whilst research on sexual violence is a relatively new area of study, a range of theoretical and methodological differences are already discernible. These differences are reflected in concepts and definitions which involve implicit (or occasionally explicit) references to the theoretical framework underlying the study and the causal factors offered as explanations. It is not just in ‘common-sense’ ideas that implicit/explicit allocations of blame and responsibility are present. Susan Schecter presents an insightful analysis of how these factors have influenced research on domestic violence.3 For example, she points out just how many assumptions are implicit in the choice of names/concepts by comparing ‘family violence’ with ‘domestic violence’ and ‘spouse abuse’ with ‘woman battering’.

In the majority of studies of sexual violence, minimal attention has been paid to how women define abuse and violence; it is all too often taken for granted. Many research projects begin with analytic definitions into which women’s experiences are slotted. Many, in fact, depend upon women having already identified themselves as victims or survivors of the form of sexual violence being investigated (as to some extent did this one). But there is a crucial process involving a number of stages which must occur before this. Women must define the incident first as lying outside normal, acceptable or inevitable behaviour and, second, as abusive. Contacting support services or answering research questions involves a third step: naming the experience as a particular form of abuse. To report an incident to the police, the event must be defined by women as a crime.

In chapters 3 and 4, I made reference to the fact that a few researchers had begun to acknowledge the importance of this issue for research findings and, therefore, research design. Two recent studies of marital rape paid careful attention to the wording of questions.4 However, both of these projects also involved the use of analytic definitions of rape in the analysis of their interview data. As a result, the researchers’ definitions did not always reflect those of the women participating.

It was an important principle of this project’s methodology that women define their own experience. Care and attention was also paid to the wording of questions so that they did not presume shared definitions. I also asked women who had experienced rape, incest and/or domestic violence how they defined the violence at the time of the assault(s) and whether their definitions had changed over time. Of the 45 women with these experiences, 60 per cent did not define them as such at the time although half of those experiencing domestic violence did so as the abuse continued. These figures are just one small example of how the way we understand our lives is not static. Women’s definitions of sexual violence can and do change over time.

Accounting for how each woman defined her particular experiences of sexual violence, both at the time and over time, was beyond the scope of this project. What did emerge from the interviews, however, was a number of recurring themes which influenced women’s definitions.



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