Mental health articles

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Feminist conceptualization in sexual abuse

Feminist conceptualization in sexual abuse Several papers have reframed the response of nonoffending mothers to the disclosure of their child’s abuse using a feminist-oriented approach (Birns & Meyer, 1993; Cammaert, 1988; Hooper, 1989; McIntyre, 1981 ; Wattenberg, 1985). These and other writers presenting alternate views recognize that a power imbalance exists in families in which incest occurs. As such, mothers are often financially dependent upon the offender, which significantly increases the costs of disclosure to the mother. This problem may be worsened when mothers with physically abusive partners fear physical retribution against their children or themselves for reporting the abuse. Further, mothers, who receive no formal training in how to identify abuse, may recognize that their child is distressed but may not realize that the distress is related to sexual abuse. Society also places expectations on mothers to stand by their partners in times of trouble, while placing the burden of responsibility on them for their family’s wellbeing. As such, mothers may try to stop the abuse themselves or may seek out informal sources for help, perhaps not even considering that they can or should seek formal assistance. Conversely, the loss of support after disclosure by friends and family might exert pressure on mothers to believe their partner over the child. Finally, in today’s climate in which false-memory syndrome stories make the headlines in newspapers across the country, guardians may be led to believe instead that the disclosure is false.

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