The Trauma Myth

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Psychologist Susan Clancy reports on years of research and argues that it’s not sexual abuse itself that causes trauma but rather the narrative that is imposed on the abuse experience.

In her controversial new book The Trauma Myth: The Truth about the Sexual Abuse of Children—and Its Aftermath she explains that survivors are often victimized not only by their abusers but also by the industry dedicated to helping them.


Dr. Susan Clancy

Comments [45]

Lynn Crook

In Clancy's earlier study (Clancy & McNally, 2005/2006) not mentioned in her book, “subjects were asked to rate their CSA [child sexual abuse] on a 10-point scale (1=not traumatic at all, 10 = extremely traumatic.” Clancy and McNally report the average rating was 7.5 (2005/2006, p. 69).
These subjects thought that the abuse, not what they learned about it years later, was traumatic—but not extremely traumatic or life-threatening.


Feb. 22 2010 10:33 AM
Jen Ba from Madison, NJ

Dr Clancy's research rang so very true with me; and lucky for me my parents were intuitive enough to realize the same 37 years ago.

I lived from age 6 to age 19 thinking that my babysitter's husband was studying to be a doctor and needed to practice listening to my heartbeat. And, that they were adopting a girl my size and needed to make sure they had underwear that would fit.

It wasn't until as an adult and I wondered aloud if he had made it through med school that I learned the other side of the story.

Feb. 19 2010 10:41 PM
Gabrielle from brooklyn

i was listening to this interview on my ipod this morning and couldn't believe Dr. Clancy had anyone arguing against her on this! what a wonderful woman for investigating the cases that go unreported. i wish her the best and hope she comes back to the US soon!

Feb. 19 2010 07:03 AM
Richard Lance Corey from Westchester

I'm a survivor of sexual abuse committed by my Boy Scout Troopmaster. It began at age ten playing "Marco Polo" in the pool at the St. Georges Hotel in Brooklyn, to playing "Cowboys & Indians" at Bear Mtn. State Park to being raped in his basement in Merrick, LI. These things occurred between 1960-62. The rape occurred in his basement while a darkroom light had been turned on. He stuck a 38 caliber "policemen's special" in my mouth to help me forget. It worked for 33 years. My memory came back at age 45 in September 1994.
One must remember by age 23 to prosecute in New York. The Statute of Limitations in NY prevents me from prosecuting &/or suing. He was never charged, and he lives in Boca Raton today. He apologized to me in July 1999 the Sunday of the weekend JFK Jr.'s plane crashed.
The closest I came to telling anyone was when I set my underwear on fire (upon getting home) and almost burned down our house when the fire in the waste basket caught onto my bedroom curtains. My mother heard me screaming, ran upstairs, helped put out the fire and asked me why. My answer was: "I don't know."
I stopped painting art, collecting stamps, coins, insects, and rocks and became a burglar.
I did that from age 13 to 19 and thank God that I quit before ever getting caught. Otherwise I never would've graduated from Notre Dame nor would I have ever been allowed to be a NYC High School History Teacher.
I'm retired now and have 3 missions in life:
1. Eliminate the NY Statute of Limitations,
2. Bring about the use of Federal Civil Rights Laws to protect children as a special class by over-riding any state statutes limiting prosecution by prosecuting pedophiles in the Federal Courts, and 3. Writing Damaged Goods, my book on the effects of childhood sexual abuse on children.
You can be certain that I'll be looking for allies to support my efforts. Dr. Clancy will be hearing from me. Thank you for having her on your program.

Lance Corey

Feb. 18 2010 01:41 PM
John from Brooklyn

I was sexually abused by a brother when I was seven, so my comment is about repressed memory. I did not repress my memory of this incident, but I never said anything about it until I was sexually assaulted in jail after I was arrested during an anti-Vietnam War demonstration. I was twenty years old at the time, and the memory of the childhood incident came roaring back into the foreground. I eventually learned that unresolved trauma is often visited again and subconsciously repeated in an attempt to resolve the deep feelings. It's what the psychologist Alice Miller termed "the repetition compulsion." The implications of this were huge for me, as the theory forced me to face the fact that I was punishing myself, even as an adult. Years later, I confronted my brother, and this has helped me heal.

Feb. 18 2010 12:58 PM
derek from NYC

I agree with the authors findings of abuse, having been abused as a you adolescent from a neighbor man. A major tool in overcoming this has been through a sexual abuse specialist Dr Murry Schane and the group Male Survivor located at They have a conference coming in March 18-21 at John Jay College in NYC. It is a conference for survivors, spouses with workshops, conferences. There are legal advocates, lawyers, law enforcement professionals, researchers, educators, authors etc. This workshop has changed my life, helping me to claim what is mine and release the stigmas and myths of survivors of sexual abuse.
The shame and loss of self value has shadowed my life and many others who have experienced this. As I do more research I realize how wide spread this is. We are not alone and silence is our worst enemy. By speaking up we reclaim our power and shine light onto this dark area of society and humanity.

Feb. 18 2010 12:57 PM
A. Listener

[[[29] B. from NYC February 18, 2010 - 12:38PM I was not physically abused by a male relative (except for being grabbed and him trying to kiss me), but verbally, since I was 15. Sexual innuendo in private, insults in public. Since he is married to a family member I have never said anything because like others I would never be believed. No one can understand why I have such animosity towards him; they already think it must be my fault. He is dying now, and I don't know what to do. It is roiling around in me. If I tell, I doubt I would be believed and it would alienate me from my family. What's the point?]]

i would say, just let him die. don't make any fake shows of pity. don't make any pubic displays of happiness, (but feel free to raise a drink in private). if you've never been able to "win" a confrontation with him, don't try to do it now.

if someone in the family confronts you, tell them plainly what a jerk the guy was. if they call you a liar, tell them you don't need them to believe you for it to be true.

lastly, if you find that you are constantly angry at family members, consider walking away from them. you can't make people do what you want. your power comes from choosing whether or not to put up with them.

i'm no expert in any of this, just my opinions.

Feb. 18 2010 12:54 PM
the truth!! from BKNY

@ B #30 - I would not let him go to his grave quietly....I would confront him with the information and let him know that you were and still are aware that what he did was abuse. Your family will question why you didn't come forward sooner but SO WHAT, you will feel better I'm sure. Once he is dead, well...dead is dead.

Feb. 18 2010 12:49 PM
the truth!! from BKNY

*Side Note to JESSE* FYI..only Oprah can put Oprah out of business and she has already taken care of that! lol

Feb. 18 2010 12:47 PM
Tom from Flushing

There was talk about repression. Question:I was dating someone recently who during sexual intimacy seemed to be recreating some form of sexual abuse in that moment, is this re-enactment of sexual abuse carried over into adult sexuality? When I asked him about it, he did not want to discuss it.
Also does anyone know if there are studies correlating sexual abuse to influencing a persons sexual identity? Curious.

Feb. 18 2010 12:47 PM
the truth!! from BKNY

Child abusers are cowards, they know that children are powerless and less likely to tell on them...they were probably victims themselves but no excuses, they should be caught and prosecuted. Shame on the mother/father or family member that encourages a child to keep this quiet. They cannot be rehabilitated they should be castrated both men and women predators!

Feb. 18 2010 12:43 PM

It is unbearably confusing when the people in power betray or abandon you and you can't get help or be accepted (for something someone else did)

Feb. 18 2010 12:42 PM
Jocelyn from Brooklyn

What trauma support groups?

Sorry, I'm getting mixed messages here. Now it sounds like it's traumatic. Before she was saying it was only "confusing?"

Where is she getting here data? If people don't talk about it, where is the data?

On repressed memory: yes, a victim can remember things that did not actually happen with the urging of a bad therapist. but you also "forget" things that did in fact happen for many complicated reasons. When the abuser is also close to you, you have many conflicted feelings that you can't handle. Add to that the way that people won't believe you anyway (all the denial that was just discussed), it's simply overwhelming. Better to put it away to deal with later when you have adult resources at your disposal.

Feb. 18 2010 12:42 PM
Beth from Manhattan

I disagree with the caller who said less trauma is caused by touching compared to more drastic abuse. It depends on the situation. I am disappointed that the guest agreed and suggested she join the abuse field. Situations like this cannot be quantified. There are many other effecting issues.

I agree completely with the author about the importance of the family to support victims. It's betrayal by them that is worse and longer lasting.

Feb. 18 2010 12:42 PM

I heard someone share at a meeting that bad acne can be a sign of sexual abuse - the body saying, "Get away from me"

Feb. 18 2010 12:40 PM
B. from NYC

I was not physically abused by a male relative (except for being grabbed and him trying to kiss me), but verbally, since I was 15. Sexual innuendo in private, insults in public. Since he is married to a family member I have never said anything because like others I would never be believed. No one can understand why I have such animosity towards him; they already think it must be my fault. He is dying now, and I don't know what to do. It is roiling around in me. If I tell, I doubt I would be believed and it would alienate me from my family. What's the point?

Feb. 18 2010 12:38 PM
Jesse Lemisch from uws

wonderful. This will put Oprah out of business. This has been a national obsession which is conservative in its implications.

Feb. 18 2010 12:38 PM
the truth!! from BKNY

I like title, it provokes thought, but people need to get past the title and onto helping the children, we need to expose the real predators and save the children.

Feb. 18 2010 12:37 PM
Kim from NYC

Thank you for this topic and this author. What she says is entirely consistent with my experience. I didn't have the most outward signs of trauma, but started having PTSD symptoms in middle age.

Nancy from Bronx, good for you for supporting your sister. It may hurt her to talk about it, so I don't know if you should force her to talk with you. She may be unconsciously angry at you & your sister because you both escaped the abuse. Let her know that you believe her and are prepared to hear what she has to say --but you have to be prepared to hear what she has to say.

Is there a good book for families of victims of sexual abuse?

Nancy from Bronx, good for you for supporting your sister. It may hurt her to talk about it, so I don't know if you should force her to talk with you (I'm no professional). She may be unconsciously angry at you & your sister because you both escaped the abuse. Let her know that you believe her and are prepared to hear what she has to say --but you have to be prepared to hear what she has to say.

Feb. 18 2010 12:37 PM
Patrick from Brooklyn, Park Slope


I was abused (touching not penetration). But I hate the suggestion that I must be "traumatized". I am not at all hurt by it: someone did something inappropriate, but so what? It was their bad.

I dont get why you are so hurt by it.

Feb. 18 2010 12:37 PM
Polly Smail from Brooklyn

I'd like to hear more about prevention that focuses on the perpetrators rather than the victims. How can we dissuade/treat the perpetrators in order to reduce the rate of abuse?

Feb. 18 2010 12:36 PM

think about the priests and boys!

Feb. 18 2010 12:35 PM
Abby from Pittsburgh PA

Does Susan have any advice for therapy methods for these victims? If children don't fully understand what is happening when it is happening, how do we help them come to terms with their abuse as they become sexually active adults?

Feb. 18 2010 12:34 PM

Thank you for this segment. I was sexually abused by an uncle for years growing up (as was my sister) and we had no idea what was happening; I remember having these secret meetings between ourselves that were more like, "Huh, well, I guess if Mom keeps taking us over must be fine."

Although I will say this: I knew it didn't feel good. And I did feel powerless. And as a teenager, it caused me to have strange ideas about normal events such as menstruation, etc.. Very strange ideas that I believe came as a result of the confusion I felt then.

I remember have bleeding as a teenager as a result of a minor vaginal issue and I created a whole web of lies because I thought it must have been directly related to what had happened earlier.

Feb. 18 2010 12:34 PM
the truth!! from BKNY

Sounds like the therapy books need updating.

Feb. 18 2010 12:34 PM
daniel from passaic

haven't read the book but i'm not sure i understand what the point is of a study to determine if kids were terrified at the time of their abuse? also: 1. sexual abuse, in fact any oppressive act in my opinion, but especially sexual abuse is an act of violence, i strongly disagree with the characterization that you would need to sustain or manifest physical injury for it to be considered so. 2. as i understand it, most people who are abused do NOT abuse others, however many people who do abuse were themselves victims -which isn't to excuse it. 3. most abusers aren't prosecuted because of statutes of limitation -a travesty considering the longterm effects of abuse which apparently don't have any limitation!

Feb. 18 2010 12:33 PM
the truth!! from BKNY

This is a very sad situation, 1 in 5 is extremely conservative...we have got to shine a brighter light on this subject and save the children that are suffering in silence.

Feb. 18 2010 12:33 PM
Suki from Williamsburg

Um - sexual touching IS abuse. STOP NORMALIZING!!!

Feb. 18 2010 12:31 PM
Andrea from CT

At what age should we introduce the topic of appropriate touch to our children?

Feb. 18 2010 12:30 PM
Suki from Williamsburg

There are signs. There are always signs. The signs of sexual abuse are rarely those you'll look for but there are always signs.

Feb. 18 2010 12:28 PM

I think that's conservative 1 in 5 -

why not work on negligence? pay more attn to kids so htey are not targets of people taking advantage of their emotional need

Feb. 18 2010 12:27 PM
Abby from Pittsburgh PA

This is a very important and interesting subject. I'm glad Susan is on the show to combat the negative reactions she has received. I hope the book and her studies helps improve the handling of these abusive incidents and therapy.

Feb. 18 2010 12:26 PM
Deborah from Eatontown, NJ

Are PEDIATRICIANS any better these days at picking up clues that abuse is going on at home? I had a friend (who killed herself in her 20s) who was abused throughout her childhood. Her unknowing mother took her to the doctor for constant problems ("unexplained") and the doctor did not act. I hope it is better today.

Feb. 18 2010 12:26 PM
Alison from Manhattan

I can barely listen to this segment - as a mom to 2 beautiful girls it saddens and disgusts (beyond words) me that there are adults/ monsters who commit these awful crimes. I just hope that the abusers rot in jail! I also hope there are some good therapists and programs out there for the victims so that they can try and heal.

A very sad listener...

Feb. 18 2010 12:25 PM
Andrea from Manhattan

I think the "trauma" described does begin earlier than puberty, especially with ongoing abuse, but the definition of trauma in this model is very blunt and un-nuanced. In my own case, repeated sexual abuse since a very early age at the hands of a family friend impacted my sense of trust, and gave me a distorted notion of my own value as a human being. While it's true that the most dramatic consequences didn't manifest until later, I can't help but wonder whether I would have been a more well-adjusted child if the abuse wasn't happening. It is a terrible theft: the abuser robs the victim of all possibility of knowing how he/she would have experienced childhood without the abuse.

Feb. 18 2010 12:25 PM
Leah from Brooklyn

What about the violation of childhood agency in abuse? Children seem remarkably invested in their agency and proctective of their independence from a young age. What about the experiences of fear, aversion and paralysis during the abuse? Might these lay the groundwork for the experience of delayed shame, guilt and terror later in life?

Feb. 18 2010 12:24 PM

You're right, it's a terrible title

Feb. 18 2010 12:24 PM
Nancy from Bronx

How can I help my sister who recently told me our father abused her? She won't talk about it..., just told me and my other sister when we pressed her on her anger with dad, not knowing it'd be this dar. :(

Feb. 18 2010 12:23 PM
Laura from CT

Thank you for this book. It will help so many people to reconcile what's happened to them to hear what you have to say. Myself included, I think.

I don't think the title's necessarily bad either - there is *indeed* a myth, and plus I don't know if that implies that there isn't a problem.

Feb. 18 2010 12:23 PM
Rich from NJ

My son was molested, by his nanny, when he was 4. The police child sex abuse team interviewed him and felt he was 'credible'. We opted not to proceed with a trial, on the recommendation of a therapist and the police, to avoid further trama. And, since then, it has not be discussed with him. He is now 17, in therapy and struggling. I wonder if this is why and what advice you may have, if any, for parents in this or similar situations.

Feb. 18 2010 12:23 PM

Also can you discuss the power imbalance aspect of sexual abuse?

Feb. 18 2010 12:21 PM

1)Oprah just had a program on with convicted offenders talking about their crimes - she should have your guest on - that would help teh Amazon naysayers

2) Also it isn't so long ago taht women couldn't report rape because they were always blamed for being alluring

3) Sexual abuse also contains sexual assault, right?

Feb. 18 2010 12:20 PM
Suki from Williamsburg

More than not resisting, women are hesitant to consider themselves victims because society has *normalized* these attacks on women to an extent. By the time a woman is old enough to understand the implications of the betrayal, they've likely gone through a lifetime of shame and self-inflicted blame.

Thank you for writing this book.

Feb. 18 2010 12:19 PM
Tina from Brooklyn

We are taught as kids not to trust strangers.

But it is most often members of the family that transgress.

Feb. 18 2010 12:17 PM
kira from nyc

this makes total sense. children are not sexually awake in the way that adults are and when sex arrives on the horizon of one who has been sexually abused, it is often the first time they really feel all of these complicated ramifications of having been abused.

Feb. 18 2010 12:17 PM

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