Women and sexual violence, paths to healing: resistance, rebellion, resilience and recovery

Thomas, Kimberley (2017) Women and sexual violence, paths to healing: resistance, rebellion, resilience and recovery. [Doctorate by public works]


The purpose of this study is to illuminate the process of recovery for women who have experienced sexual violence at some point in their life span. The study explores the existing literature on trauma-based models of survival from sexual violence and finds that the prevailing view of the impact in the current trauma literature predicts a downward trajectory of distressing trauma-related symptomology. The aim of this research is to expand on the contemporary trauma literature and to elucidate and explore the role of self-protective factors, both in terms of how they might ameliorate the adversities associated with surviving sexual violence and of their function in the process of recovery.

The study examines the naturally occurring antidotes to the trauma model, exploring self-protective concepts such as resilience and post-traumatic growth. These are contrasted and expanded by the less explored stories of women’s active fight for survival using resistance strategies aimed at mitigating the impact of sexual violence and securing recovery.

The study employs the methodology of interpretative phenomenological analysis to explore the narratives of six survivors of sexual violence, using semi-structured interviews to discover their routes to healing and recovery. The findings reveal four major themes: The Traumatised Self – ‘Worlds falling apart’; Resistance and Survival Strategies; Recovery ‘The view from the other side’; and, finally, Rebellion and Transformations.

The findings illustrate a multiplicity of pathways to recovery from sexual violence and illuminate key stages to the process, from the devastation resulting from the impact of the assault through to a sense of recovery, culminating in acts of altruism and social activism. However, it is evident from the research that the recovery process is not linear, but rather should be seen as a complex interrelated array of actions and strategies, created almost entirely from the efforts of the survivors. An additional point of interest emerging from the findings is the potential for the recovery paradigm to consider the co-existence of vulnerabilities and self-protective strategies as part of a continuum of recovery. This will be of particular significance in the future design of services for women surviving sexual violence.

KThomas thesis.pdf - Accepted Version

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