4 - Bound by silence: sexual abuse of children  pp. 57-79

Bound by silence: sexual abuse of children

By Alistair McFadyen

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In this and the following chapter, I present accounts of the two concrete pathologies against which the theological language of sin will be tested in Part III. These accounts are the fruit of sustained engagement with the relevant secular disciplines and are presented in terms that are not explicitly theological. My purpose is to work up phenomenological descriptions of pathologies in their own terms, without bringing them into immediate, explicit relation to theology. To do otherwise would undermine the possibilities of testing the descriptive and explanatory power of the theological language of pathology in relation to both its concrete manifestations and its non-theological expression. In order to ask whether theology might enrich (and, in turn, be enriched by exposure to) such non-theological description, it is necessary to delay the point at which it is drawn into an explicit theological framework. However, whilst these phenomenologies have been shaped through engagement with secular disciplines, they do not simply replicate their terminology or frame of analysis. The engagement is both constructive and synthetic, seeking to understand the concrete situations described and analysed in secular discourses rather than attempting a straightforward representation of those descriptions.

The pathological effects of childhood sexual abuse can be, and often are, severe, deep-seated and long-lasting. They are also highly particular. What the reality of abuse actually is for any individual child or adult survivor – how it is experienced, the nature and extent of its effects – relates to a complex interaction of factors which will be unique in every case.

Because the experience of being abused and of surviving is idiosyncratic, it is not possible to give any unitary account that will hold true for all survivors.