A qualitative study of sex abuse survivors' experience of confronting the perpetrator



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Texas Tech University


Childhood sexual abuse can cause long-lasting and negative consequences for the survivor. As public awareness has been heightened regarding sexual abuse and survivors have broken the silence surrounding it, many have sought and received individual or group therapy, or both. Some adult survivors may choose to confront their perpetrators. In this study, confrontation is broadly defined as the survivor telling her abuser in person, on the telephone, or in a letter that she remembers being sexually abused. Clmical and popular literature as well as survivors' reports confirm the fact that confrontation can be a powerful experience. Because of the lack of empirical knowledge concerning the impact of confronting the sexual abuse perpetrator, this study was undertaken so that clinicians might have some other guide in helping their clients decide to confront or not. It was anticipated that this qualitative study would help bridge the gap between clinical practice and anecdotal information about the role of confrontation.

This study utilized the inductive methodologies of in-depth interviewing and qualitative analysis for identification of relevant categories and themes. An in-depth interview was conducted with 19 female incest survivors who had elected to confront their perpetrators directly. The participants were asked to relate their perceptions of the confrontation process.

Although it was not difficult to find adult childhood sexual abuse survivors, it was much more difficuh to find women who had directly confronted their perpetrators. Participants described the process of confrontation as it related to the effects on their family-of-origin, themselves and others. The effects on their families and other relationships were mixed and encompassed a range of responses from improved relationships to complete family cut-offs. After confronting most of the women in this study felt either relief or relief mixed with other emotions such as shock, fear, anger, and regret. Despite some fears and undesired outcomes of the confrontation, a majority of the survivors said that the confrontation process was empowering and an important part of their healing. All of the survivors said that they would confront again, and all but two survivors stated that they would not do it differently.