This article continues the discussion of how child sexual abuse was uncovered and then buried again, this time over 100 years ago by Sigmund Freud (who had discovered that child sexual abuse was the cause of hysteria).
In 1896, Freud shocked his peers when he presented his paper “The Etiology of Hysteria” in which he unequivocally stated that the origin of hysteria lay in child sexual abuse. By simply listening to his women patients, Freud heard their stories of sexual assault, abuse and incest. Following back the thread of memory, Freud and his patients uncovered traumatic events of childhood underlying more recent, often relatively trivial experiences that had actually triggered the onset of hysterical symptoms in the present.
Judith Herman says:
“A century later, this paper still rivals contemporary clinical descriptions of the effects of childhood sexual abuse. It is a brilliant, compassionate, eloquently argued, closely reasoned document. Its triumphant title and exultant tone suggest Freud viewed his contribution as the crowning achievement in the field.”
Freud couldn’t have been clearer or more certain when he presented his eighteen case studies. “I therefore put forward the thesis that at the bottom of every case of hysteria there are one or more occurrences of premature sexual experiences, occurrences which belong to the earliest years of childhood, but which can be reproduced through the work of psycho-analysis in spite of intervening decades.”
So what happened? Here we have a clear understanding of childhood sexual trauma as the underlying cause of the signs and symptoms recognized as “hysteria.” Where did that clarity go? How come society denied the sad reality of what was being done to its children?
My next post will unravel the mystery.