Title

Silencing violence in the family: Making the victim the problem

Date of Award

2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Jill Durey

Second Advisor

Deidre Drake

Abstract

The title of my research, Silencing Violence in the Family: Making the Victim the Problem, consists of two parts: an autobiography which explores the nature and dynamics of violence against children within an Australian home and the ways in which it is silenced within the family, schools and community, and three essays which focus on the process of writing an autobiography as well as the ways in which therapy, theories and heroes have worked either to condone or break the silences.

The autobiography takes into account the life of a child (predominantly inspired by male fictional heroes) who, as a teenager and young adult continues to conceal the emotional, physical and sexual violence to which she was subjected within the family. Her competitive nature, creative imagination and love of the landscape, literature and school is short-lived when she is faced with ongoing parental abuse, giving her no option other than to escape from her family when she is fifteen. As a vulnerable teenage wife and mother, her own mother rejects and demonises her as she sets the family against her. Her childhood experiences cause her to trust no one as she maintains the secrets and struggles to survive in an adult world. Themes of escape from traumas too difficult to face, illustrate the ways in which a high-achieving child, who is violated within the home, survives and develops the courage, eventually, to seek the help she needs to change entrenched patterns of behaviour that position her to be exploited and further violated as an adult. This story addresses intergenerational patterns of sexual, physical and emotional violence as it explores the nature of the perpetrators and points out the ways in which enforced silences condone such violence, while developing the potential for victims either wittingly or unwittingly to repeat such behaviours in their adult lives.

The three essays explore the ways in which individuals confront human rights violations occurring within the family and selected socio-political contexts. They also examine the consequences of being silenced or of speaking and writing of such injustices. With an emphasis on the importance of speaking up in order to influence changes in policies and practices that have had a damaging impact on the lives of women and children in particular, these essays take into account the costs and benefits to autobiographical writers who have come face to face with family, government, religious, psychiatric, medical, legal, and educational institutions which have either ignored, misunderstood, or, ultimately encouraged the telling of such stories. The process of writing the autobiography remains the underlying focus in the essays, which inspire questions relative to genetic memory and the ways in which individuals recall life experiences. Institutionalised psychoanalytical and autobiographical theories that have silenced the voices of women and children are reviewed in order show how some victims of family violence have been further violated. Considering misconceptions and socially entrenched silences against those who speak of violence in their childhoods, the identification with male or female heroes is deemed to be an essential characteristic of autobiographical writers who ultimately take their stories beyond the private sphere and make them public.

LCSH Subject Headings

Victims of family violence

Adult child abuse victims' writings

Access Note

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