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A Personal Call for Abuse Studies: A Path Toward Pride, Beauty, and Hope

This special edition of Literature and Film Quarterly (LFQ) dedicates itself to the creation of Abuse Studies in the Humanities by concentrating on the issue of child abuse, which is a fitting place to start as child abuse is often shied away from despite its vital importance. How we treat our children plays such a huge part in how they will treat their children and others, and the subsequent interaction of all these relationships plays a huge role in who we are as a society. While I think many would agree with this line of thinking, I am troubled that the Humanities approach to abuse is always un-concentrated, typically too deeply rooted in the psychological at the expense of the sociological, and ultimately an inadequate response to the importance of the issue given its immense impact. Fundamentally, studies in abuse  examine power and our relationship to it. In multiple contexts, abuse is the issue of our day.

I propose a radical pride. In my earlier LFQ essay concerning Lolita, I introduced the idea of abuse as identity and demonstrated a relationship between abuse and passing. I relate to Lolita’s passing because I spent my childhood and then portions of my adulthood passing in the same way. At first, some of this passing stemmed from my parents as they manipulated me to cover up and escape responsibility for their crimes, but I was eventually making these choices partially out of inertia and mostly because it was simply easier to get along in the world without revealing that I was sex trafficked as a child. Honestly, passing is still very much easier, but I am concerned, without at all being critical of those who pass, that the collective effect of so many people passing this way makes it difficult for feelings of pride to emerge, identity to be recognized, and a sense of belonging to develop. My adoptive father was a pedophile. My adoptive mother was a sex trafficker. Abused is a significant part of who I am. I  cannot conceive of a way around that, but I can find pride in all that I have endured. Underage sexual abuse is part of the identity of between 12.5% and 30% of Western populations.1 My hope is to make something meaningful out of this pain, to celebrate the strength it takes just to be here, and to make space in society to discuss these issues both intellectually and emotionally.

Considerable obstacles exist to establishing this pride. I was homeless during the winter of 2003. A lot of people—including my own educators—made contributions to keep me alive, and I express my immense gratitude for their support. I took my first upper division Shakespeare course as a nonpaying homeless person, and I appreciated both the warmth and the vague sense that I could become more than I was. I mention this because I believe in the generosity and good intentions of educators. Still, that is not all  I have known. Studies indicate that around 10% of childhood sexual abuse occurs in an educational setting, and I also count some of my experiences in that number.2 So,  I would like you to understand how troubled I am that so many important, well-respected, and influential French thinkers (Barthes, Beauvoir, Deleuze, Guattari, Sartre, Derrida, Foucault) campaigned in favor of “consensual” pedophilia on the grounds that the children “have not been victims of the slightest violence” and that the law “denies [the children] their right to consent.”3 I understand that notions of consent and violence have evolved, and I understand and am grateful that the same people signing this petition did innumerable amounts of good in the world for many marginalized groups. Yet, I have also learned that many of the thinkers that inspired my inner intellectual world also openly and publicly campaigned for the most horrifying part of my life. This overwhelming anxiety of influence strikes me every time they come up at a conference and every time I decide to cite them. How can I feel like I belong to a group of people that often reveres these thinkers? Establishing pride amongst an academic community that celebrates those advocating for your pain becomes impossible. These thinkers’ advocacy of  “children’s consent rights may currently be a footnote to their careers, but I and those like me are not footnotes. We are a group that, by definition, has overcome incredible obstacles just to be in an atmosphere of higher learning at all. Battling against these obstacles in all facets of life is a source of our potential pride. Celebrating those that signed the petition without considerable discussion of the immense error these thinkers made stifles this potential pride, muffles the voices of the abused, and sublimates abuse as identity. Abuse Studies provides a place for discussions like that one to happen.

Please help create an environment that fosters this pride, hears these voices, and recognizes Abuse as identity. If we are to adapt to an environment that is inclusive for those that have experienced child abuse, then we need to start opening up conversations about historical mistakes in scholarship and current practices impacting endurers of child abuse. We need to acknowledge that abuse has long been part of the educational experience, and  it is probably happening in ways  beyond those we are currently concerned with. For instance, if you have not already, please consider what it is like to be forced to take a communal shower in a dorm room as an endurer of sexual abuse. Abuse Studies offers a lens to view our culture and our society through that is consistently concerned with power and the ethical and moral questions related to it , and it is not at all limited to domestic violence or other similar concerns: Abuse Studies has application in all sorts of areas including military, political, and corporate life. Still, looking through the eyes of an abused child forces us to confront nuanced realities related to the misuse of power that our adult eyes often miss. The application of this lens to literature and film allows for new readings that confront power through the eyes of an abused child. When we apply that same lens to society, we can see the ways authority figures sometimes act as abusive parents.

I am very proud of our authors and the work they have contributed to this special issue, which aims to begin  constructing a bridge to the environment of pride, recognition, and inclusion I have just discussed. I attempted to curate an issue that was as diverse as possible: diverse in terms of the voices speaking; diverse in terms of the types of texts adapted to and from; diverse in terms of the kinds of abuse discussed. I am proud to introduce Lukasz Borowiec’s thought provoking article on BBC radio plays that asks us to consider how the medium of a sexual abuse narrative impacts its design and our response to it; proud to introduce Laura Cesa’s insightful article on various versions of James and the Giant Peach  considering the significantly under discussed issue of child neglect; proud to introduce Louis Breitsohl’s powerful article on Mysterious Skin that invites new understanding concerning the way trauma relates to filmic studies; proud to introduce Douglas Macleod’s meaningful article on The Color Purple, which examines iterations of the texts through a womanist lens; proud to introduce Sata Prescott’s timely and inspiring article on Nimona  concerning the abuse of trans people as a societal concern.

This issue is not dedicated solely to creating discourse where discourse is vitally needed through the creation of Abuse Studies, but also to turning this discourse into pride filled  compassionate action within and beyond our academic communities. I am trying to adapt and help others adapt from screams and tears to hope and beauty because I  do not really have another choice, and I need your help.


1  Please see Conte, Goode, Mendel, Seto, and Warner to better understand and evaluate the wide range.

2  Please see Winton and Mara for further discussion.

3  See Le Monde for an English translation of the full text.

Works Cited

Critical Issues in Child Sexual Abuse: Historical, Legal, and Psychological Perspectives, edited by Jon Conte, Sage Publications, 2002.

Goode, Sarah D. Paedophiles in Society: Reflecting on Sexuality, Abuse and Hope. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Le Monde, 26 Jan. 1977, https://archive.ph/WGwSU

Mendel, Matthew. The Male Survivor: The Impact of Sexual Abuse. Sage Publications, 1995.

O’Malley, G. Jeffrey. “‘Prowled Rather than Passed’: Abuse and Veiled Social Mobility in Nabokov’s and Kubrick’s Lolita.” Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 50, no. 4, 2022. https://lfq.salisbury.edu/_issues/50_4/prowled_rather_than_passed_abuse_and_veiled_social_mobility_in_nabokovs_and_kubricks_lolita.html

Seto, Michael. Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children: Theory, Assessment, and Intervention. American Psychological Association, 2008.

Warner, Sam. Understanding the Effects of Child Sexual Abuse: Feminist Revolutions in Theory, Research and Practice. Routledge, 2009.

Winton, Mark A., and Barbara A. Mara. When Teachers, Clergy, and Caretakers Sexually Abuse

Children and Adolescents. Carolina Academic Press, 2013.