Organised Abuse and Testimonial Legitimacy
This paper will discuss the relationship between sexual abuse, invalidation and testimonial legitimacy with a particular focus on organised abuse. Using qualitative data drawn from a study of adult survivors of organised abuse, the paper emphasises how strategies of invalidation, disbelief and minimisation are embedded in children’s experiences of organised abuse as well as in the response of others to organised abuse throughout their lifespan.
This analysis troubles the distinction between everyday and legalistic notions of credibility and emphasises instead how the denial of testimonial legitimacy to children and women in a range of contexts is underpinned by relations of power that compound the gendered risks and
harms of sexual abuse.
The findings of this study suggest that the denial of testimonial legitimacy is a serious barrier to the wellbeing and safety of victims of sexual abuse, such as those disclosing organised abuse, whose life histories render them particularly vulnerable to strategies of invalidation.
Background to the Research
Although most incidents of sexual violence involve one victim and one perpetrator, a significant proportion of victims report experiencing victimisation by more than one perpetrator (Kellogg and Hoffman 1997;
Horvath and Kelly 2009; Harkins and Dixon 2010). In the case of child sexual abuse, victimised children and adults reporting multiple perpetrators have typically experienced more severe victimisation than victims reporting one perpetrator (Finkelhor and Williams 1988; Long and Jackson 1991; Casey and Nurius 2005) and they exhibit greater psychological distress and mental illness (Briere and Conte 1991; Leserman et al
1997; Steel et al 2004).
Some of the most acutely ill survivors of multi-perpetrator sexual abuse disclose what La Fontaine (1993) has defined as ‘organised abuse’; that is, incidents of child sexual abuse that involve multiple adults acting in a coordinated way to sexually abuse multiple children.
Health and welfare workers in diverse contexts have reported contact with adult and child clients with histories of organised abuse (Creighton 1993; Bibby 1996; Cooper 2004), including clients disclosing sadistic, ritualistic or otherwise extreme experiences of sexual abuse (Sinason 1994; Noblitt and Perskin Noblitt 2008; Sachs and Galton 2008).
conference presentation at
ANZCCC: The Australian and New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference 2010
Institute of Criminology, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney
full paper at