Book Review: Trauma and Sexuality: The Effects of Childhood Sexual, Physical, and Emotional Abuse on Sexual Identity and Behavior

Published date01 September 2005
Date01 September 2005
Subject MatterArticles
Trauma and Sexuality: The Effects of Childhood Sexual, Physical, and Emotional Abuse on
Sexual Identity and Behavior, by James A. Chu and Elizabeth S. Bowman. Binghampton,
UK: Haworth Medical Press, 2002. pp. 150.
DOI: 10.1177/0734016805284324
Some mental disorders have had controversial histories. One example is homosexuality:
once considered deviant, now regarded as a legitimate expression of sexuality. James Chu
and Elizabeth Bowman’sTrauma and Sexuality highlights this point but does not mention the
almost equally controversial status of dissociative disorders. Current schools of thought on
the reality and scientific credibility of these disorders are divided. There are the true believers
(who argue that dissociativedisorders are uncontroversial and who readily diagnose and treat
them in their patients), the hard-line skeptics (who believe that dissociation is nothing other
than an artifact of overzealous therapies), and everybodyelse who believes that the evidence
is inconclusive at best.
I suspect that James Chu and Elizabeth Bowman are true believers, as are the authors of the
six reprinted articles and one commentary that compose their book. A more appropriate title
for the text would have been Trauma, Sexuality, and Dissociative Disorders. Potential read-
ers should note that the book has been simultaneously published as the third volume of the
Journal of Trauma and Dissociation.
The first chapter, by Elizabeth Howell, titled “‘Good Girls,’ Sexy ‘Bad Girls,’ and War-
riors,”starts with a provocative thesis: that people’s gender may in part be due to the effects of
childhood trauma. Howell argues that trauma, most notably physical and sexual abuse, is
more prevalent than is generally assumed. Differenttypes of abuseinflicted on girls and boys
(e.g., girls are mostly sexually victimized, whereas boys are more often physically abused)
are supposed to combine with different profiles of abusersto profoundly influence thegender
development of children. Howell’sexplanation for this process is that victims dissociatively
assume the “self-states” (p. 11) of their abusers as a survival strategy.
I found the chapter’s use of self,cultural norms, and stereotyping confusing. Howelluses
these terms interchangeably, and it is therefore not clear if she is claiming that abuse leads to
posttraumatic formation of gendered personalities (the self), social expectations about gen-
der (cultural norms), perceptions that categorize members of a group (stereotypes), or all
Margo Rivera’s contribution to the volume argues that even mental health professionals,
who are more informed about sexuality than the public, do not fully understand the unique
concerns of sexual minorities (lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people).
Minority patients who were also victims of child abuse have two hurdles to overcome: the
aftereffects of abuse and pervasive societal prejudices.
The health profession’s poor record with sexualminorities, which includes the problem of
applying traditional gender norms to transgendered patients, is well discussed by Rivera. She
shows that therapists frequently diagnose transgendered patients with gender identity disor-
der. This is due to the apparently widespread belief that transgenderism is the result of sexual
abuse rather than a legitimate choice of lifestyle.
Steven Gold and Robert Seifer attempt to clarify the oft-cited relationship between child-
hood sexual abuse (CSA) and sexual addiction and compulsivity (SAC). The aftereffects of
234 Criminal Justice Review

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