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Growing Up with Child Sexual Abuse in an Experimental Commune: Making Sense of Narrative Variation


Correspondence to: Kerry Lynn Gibson, Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, Tamaki Campus Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand.



The legitimacy of adult's accounts of child sexual abuse depends on the consistency of the story they tell about this experience. But there are a variety of influences that conspire to create dynamic variation in retrospective accounts of child sexual abuse. In a study of an experimental New Zealand commune called Centrepoint, participants showed considerable variation in accounting for the child sexual abuse that was known to have occurred there. We used a narrative methodology to show the variation between stories that highlighted abuse and suffering and others that represented an idyllic childhood within which sex between children and adults was normalised. There was also considerable variation within individual participant's accounts. The variation within and between accounts was shaped by features such exposure to contradictory experiences, different social positioning in relation to child sexual abuse, shifts in memory and interpretation over time, differences between insider and outsider perspectives on child sexual activity at the commune and alternative perspectives on victimhood. This research challenges the mythology that accounts of child sexual abuse should be expected to be clear and consistent. Instead, variation should be treated the rule rather than the exception in these accounts. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.