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Recovered memory's high priestesses

By Jim D'Entremont
The Guide, November 2002

The single most destructive text of the survivor movement is
The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse
by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis.

Bass, a poet and writing teacher, drifted into incest counseling in the early 1970s when members of creative writing workshops she conducted began spinning sex-abuse narratives. Her credentials are self-manufactured; her ideas have been shaped by immersion in the recovery movement that began to coalesce around 12-step self-help programs in the late '70s, and in feminist polemics like Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will and Adrienne Rich's The Will to Change.

Bass's female partner is a professed abuse survivor. Davis, one of Bass's former students, is a lesbian who says she has recovered memories of sexual assault by her grandfather. Accordingly, The Courage to Heal and Davis's spin-off, The Courage to Heal Workbook, have a dedicated following among lesbians -- and, since Bass and Davis have turned some of their attention toward male victims, gay men.

(Bass also contributed a foreword to Mike Lew's popular Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse.)

Both coauthors, especially Bass, have been honored by gay and lesbian entities like Boston's Fenway Community Health Center.

Their message is, at a glance, as liberating as it is comforting.

"If you think you were abused and your life shows the symptoms, then you were," they assert in their first chapter. "To say, 'I was abused,' you don't need the kind of recall that would stand up in a court of law."

The Courage to Heal reassures its readers that analytical or even rational thought is irrelevant to insight. If "certain words or facial expressions scare you," or you appear to be frowning in old family photos, Bass and Davis hasten to assure you that you were abused. They encourage their target audience -- middle-class white women hungry for validation -- to accept victimhood as if it were a sacrament.

In addition to advice and therapeutic exercises, the book provides a succession of true-life inspirational stories.

"I didn't remember anything about the abuse until I was 48 years old," says "Annette" an SRA survivor. "I was what they called a 'breeder.' I was less than twelve years old. They overpowered me and got me pregnant and then they took my babies ... killed them right in front of me."

Accepting Annette's account at face value, Bass and Davis report that

"From infancy, Annette was abused in rituals that included sexual abuse, torture, murder, and systematic brainwashing through drugs and electric shock."

The book is spiced with juicy accounts of sexual defilement reminiscent of the masochistic ecstasies of anti-porn zealot Andrea Dworkin.

"As soon as his penis left my mouth, I threw up ...," says "Gizelle," a woman who "three and a half months before this interview took place" remembered being raped by her father just before her third birthday. "I remember him banging, trying to get into me, and then he ripped me open ...."

In the Third Edition of The Courage to Heal, Bass and Davis respond to their critics in a new section called "Honoring the Truth." They mount a weak defense for the existence of traumatic amnesia

(" is difficult to understand this phenomenon unless you have experienced it yourself"),

and attribute ulterior motives to their detractors. While they grudgingly admit that some accusations are false, they blame much of their negative publicity on abusers who deny their crimes, family members who are in denial, and "pedophiles and pedophile advocacy groups" like NAMBLA and the mythical Rene Guyon Society.

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