South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence

'Unspeakable acts': Struggling to face the issue of abuse by women

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The difficulty women (particularly) face in confronting the issue of sexual abuse by females is easily understandable when we see how readily the 'women do it too' argument is used to deny the central importance of abuse of male power in sexual abuse (Crisp 1991). Liz Kelly (1991) coined the term 'unspeakable acts' to illustrate our silencing of these issues. Yet, she argues, that if we fail to develop feminist perspectives, we hand over the issue to those professionals who deny the central significance of gender in sexual abuse and the media, and through our silence, continue the conspiracy to fail those who have suffered at the hands of women. It was in fact a small group of feminist women who first tackled the issue of sexual abuse by women at a conference in London in 1990, although they requested no publicity (Kelly 1990).

Women in society are the carers and protectors. To accept that some women also abuse sexually is therefore difficult Kelly (1991) argues that in developing an understanding of women's oppression we are engaged in a process which includes documenting the forms and extent of male violence and revaluing women. These, and other factors, led to an idealisation of women and their relationships'. While privately we know the gap between our ideals and capacity to live by them to speak publicly is threatening in the extreme. Yet, failure to name and confront issues of power among women has led to the downfall of many women's groups, campaigns and relationships. It is in the interests of women and children to confront the issue of abuse by women.

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