Contesting the dominant discourse of child sexual abuse

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Responding to previous scholars' call to explore the complexities of child sexual abuse (CSA), this article presents narratives of CSA and scrutinizes a binary construction underpinning this discourse of CSA, namely, the positioning of children as powerless and adults as powerful. The narratives belong to three Indonesian young people who have had sexual interactions with adults when they were children. The findings demonstrate how this binary positioning has been both drawn upon and resisted in the ways participants understand their sexual experiences. This article contributes to the existing literature by providing analyses of some vignettes of everyday experiences of how children might be constituted as sexual subjects, including their capability to exercise agency, perform resistance, and negotiate ethics. The implications of the findings are discussed in relation to how the recognition of children as sexual subjects and their sexual agency might be beneficial for parents, educators, and counselors.

[The article is a plea to recognize children (and pubertals) as sexual subjects:]

Addressing this situation, scholars in this area have proposed some careful suggestions. Without undermining valuable efforts to protect children from violence and abuse, Egan and Hawkes (2009) recommended that firstly, children must be recognized as sexual subjects who actively make meanings about sexuality and exercise agency. Completely denying children's sexual agency might reinforce the idea that they are always lacking in power and control in any interaction with adults, including sexually-related interaction. By acknowledging children as sexual subjects, more spaces might be opened up to talk about, examine, and explore discursive resources that can be drawn on to expand children's exercise of power. Secondly, children's sexuality needs to be uncoupled from the adult-oriented model (Egan and Hawkes 2009). This means that children's sexuality must be acknowledged, not as trivial or merely a projection of adult sexuality, but as unique in its own right, including its multiple sexual expressions such as children's "sex play." Thirdly, adults must cease using the notion of protection as an excuse to legitimize surveillance and excessive control over children. Rather, children need to be encouraged to build ethical and respectful relationships as early as possible (Robinson 2013), but without assigning responsibility to them for their participation in a sexual activity. Currently, knowledge and examples of various ways children ethically negotiate consent, desire, and pleasures in specific discursive contexts of their sexual relationships are still lacking (Carmody 2015). This article seeks to fill this gap, that is, by fleshing out these suggestions in the narratives of children's sexual interaction with adults, and thus call into question the binary of adults' (sexual) powerfulness and children's (sexual) powerlessness underpinning the discourse of CSA (Angelides 2004). In the Findings and Discussion section I will demonstrate in what ways children might be positioned as sexual subjects and how ethical sexual negotiations might have been engaged by children.

Methodology of the study:

The data analysed in this study are a part of my doctoral research on Indonesian young people's sexual subjectivities. I interviewed 22 Indonesian young people aged 16-24 about their ways of being sexual, and during the interviews some of them shared their experience of CSA. At the time of the interview, 6 participants were high school students, 8 were college students, 5 were in employment, 1 was a postgraduate student, 1 was a freelance journalist, and 1 was an NGO activist.

[The article describes 3 child-adult-sexual contacts: 1) One violent contact, 2) Sex that was initiated and liked by a 12-year-old boy with an adult woman, 3) Sexual contacts the 22-year-old Hardi had with adults since he was 5 years old.]

Hardi: It all started when I was 5 years old. I already experienced sexual harassment, but I just enjoyed it. At that time my mom worked in a rural town. One day I was invited by a young guy in that neighbourhood. He asked me to hold his penis. I did what he said till his fluid came out. I didn't know what fluid it was, but I just enjoyed it. This happened repeatedly, including my friends at the same age with me asked me to do that too. Then my family moved to another city. There, I experienced the same thing. Young men there invited me to do the same, and I just enjoyed it. I was also asked to oral his penis and I did it. I did all those things but I have not yet experienced the peak. Until one day I also can feel how pleasurable it was when that white fluid came out. My intermediate and high schools were the time when I really enjoyed such activities. Almost every day I masturbated and did same-sex activities like that. Thanks to God after high school, uni, and until now I am not bound to those sins like I was. It's all because of my struggles with God so that I can leave all those sinful deeds. Teguh: I know it has been long time ago, but as far as you can remember, were you "forced", or "invited by them and then you were willing"? Or perhaps it's hard to describe that experience in these ways? And how do you feel about those experiences now? Like, do you hate those young men, or do you feel nothing? Hardi: As far as I remember, I was playing around the neighbourhood, then a young guy invited me, and I don't know why, I just followed him. At that time I was only 5 years old, if I'm not mistaken. My feeling now? Just ordinary. I remember at that time I just enjoyed it without knowing what I was doing. I never hated those guys. I don't know where they are now, and I don't care. I totally forget it. (email interview)

[The author writes about that sexual contact:]

Instead of "devastating," Hardi articulates those sexual experiences with adults as pleasurable. Hardi used and repeated a phrase "I just enjoyed it" at least four times in this narrative to describe his sexual experience with adults. This finding offers an example of children's capacity for pleasure in a sexual interaction (Foucault 1978; Lamb and Plocha 2014). It also challenges the erasure of childhood sexuality implicated in the discourse of CSA (Angelides 2004). This narrative demonstrates that children are sexual subjects who make meaning out of their experiences. Continuously denying their agency and sexual capacity through the discourse of CSA could further confine them into (potential) victim subject positions. Such denial could also make them feel guilty or betrayed by their body when they felt pleasure in their sexual interactions with adults (Allen 2012; Angelides 2004).

Hardi's narrative has shown a possibility for resistance towards the discourse of CSA in the constitution of his sexual subjectivity. His alternative subjectivity disrupts: (1) the discursive positioning of children as innocent and powerless, (2) the dominant construction of the devastating effect of CSA, and (3) the continuous denial to recognize children as legitimate sexual subjects. In this way, Hardi's narrative may contribute to the enactment of Gavey's (1999) call for more complex and less certain constitutions of sexual abuse and its effects. This means that all kinds of children's interpretations of their sexual experience with adults and its effects are acknowledged and examined.

source: Article 'Contesting the Dominant Discourse of Child Sexual Abuse: Sexual Subjects, Agency, and Ethics' by Teguh Wijaya Mulya;; 'important article: 'Contesting the Dominant Discou' by 'Filip30';; Sexuality & Culture; February 2018; Published online: 21 February 2018