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Confronting Abusers: The Opinions of Clinicians and Survivors

NCJ Number
Journal of Child Sexual Abuse Volume: 11 Issue: 4 Dated: 2002 Pages: 35-52
Kate Freshwater; Carolyn Ainscough; Kay Toon
Date Published
18 pages
This article discusses direct and symbolic forms of survivors confronting their abusers.
Confrontation of abusers can range from confrontation of memories and emotions, to symbolic confrontation, to face-to-face confrontation. Each type of confrontation may be sufficiently healing in itself for the individual. The benefits include increases in power, assertiveness, and self-esteem and decreases in guilt, depression, helplessness, and fear. Symbolic confrontation is a behavioral technique in which feared situations from the survivor’s past are visualized and worked through in a graded desensitization. Direct confrontation can put power in survivors’ hands, perhaps for the first time. Giving evidence in court can be an empowering and therapeutic experience for survivors. If conducted too early in therapy or without proper preparation, direct confrontation can be a source of extreme emotional pain and disappointment, particularly if the survivor holds expectations that the abuser will accept responsibility for or validate the abuse, which perpetrators usually fail to do. The process of directly confronting abusers from childhood should be driven solely by the motivation and informed consent of the survivor. Much of the clinical literature emphasizes the importance of preparation and debriefing in enabling survivors to achieve a more therapeutic experience when directly confronting abusers. Twelve female survivors were interviewed regarding their opinions on the subject of the confrontation of abusers. They showed a wide range of opinions regarding the usefulness of directly confronting abusers. The women that had confronted their abusers directly perceived it to have been useful despite the fact that none of the perpetrators had accepted responsibility for the abuse and that some of the women received negative reactions from other family members. Most of the survivors in the study that had found some benefit in direct confrontation referred to issues of power, responsibility for the abuse, and the change in relationships. Further study should explore survivors’ experiences and opinions of confrontation at various stages of therapeutic involvement, but within a methodology that includes those that choose not to confront and those that may not engage in long-term therapy. 27 references