Lecturer, Psychology Department
University of Auckland, New Zealand
Research: Rape and the politics of trauma
Nicola Gavey, is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of
Psychology at the University of Auckland. She trained there
in the 1980s as a clinical psychologist, and completed a
PhD in 1991. Her research and teaching interests broadly
focus on the intersections of gender, power, and sexuality.
In particular, she has been interested in critically examining
the cultural supports for rape and heterosexual coercion
within Western society. She has recently completed a book,
Just sex? The cultural scaffolding of rape, which brings
together work she has been doing in this area for a number
of years. Her current research is concerned with contemporary
understandings of the impact of rape. She has also recently
collaborated on a project investigating the sociocultural
implications of Viagra.
Gavey, N. (forthcoming). Just sex? The cultural scaffolding
of rape. London and New York: Routledge.
Potts, A., Gavey, N., Grace, V., & Vares, T. (2003).
The downside of Viagra: Women's experiences and concerns.
Sociology of Health and Illness, 25(7), 697-719
Gavey, N. (2003). Writing the effects of sexual abuse:
Interrogating the possibilities and pitfalls of using clinical
psychology expertise for a critical justice agenda (pp.
187-209). In Reavey, Paula & Warner, Sam (Eds.) New
Feminist Stories of Child Sexual Abuse: Sexual Scripts and
Dangerous Dialogues. London: Routledge.
Gavey, N. & Doherty, M. (2001). Rape, desire, and gender
reversal: Sex and sexuality in White Palace. International
Journal of Critical Psychology, 3, 117-139.
Gavey, N. (1999). "I wasn't raped, but
Revisiting definitional problems in sexual
victimization. In S. Lamb (Ed.) New Versions of Victims:
Feminist struggles with the concept (pp. 57 - 81). New
York and London: New York University Press.
Rape and the Politics of Trauma
Less than half a century ago, rape was routinely denied
and minimized within Western societies such as the United
States and New Zealand. Although it seems surprising from
a contemporary perspective, the notion of rape as traumatic
only entered public discourse in the 1970s (e.g., Vigarello,
2001). Arguably, this kind of public acknowledgement of
the trauma of rape has been crucial to the anti-rape movement
- providing as it does both a framework for supporting the
survivors of rape, and a strong platform for launching moral
arguments against rape. The notion of trauma has come to
be used as both a model and a metaphor for understanding
the impact of rape. The application of a trauma model for
understanding the psychological impact of rape and sexual
abuse has been widely embraced by feminists working in the
area. However, it has also been strongly criticized by other
feminists for its potentially reductive and depolicitizing
The aim of this research is to produce an empirically-informed
critical feminist theory of the politics of trauma as a
paradigm for understanding the impact of rape. I will ask
if and how it might be possible to retain the critical recognition
that rape is potentially traumatizing without the deployment
of a trauma model totally eclipsing a feminist analysis
of the gender politics of rape and sexual violence against
women? How, moreover, might we draw on developments in the
neuroscience of trauma without the seduction of this kind
of science ending up overshadowing, or potentially erasing
concern for addressing the sociocultural dynamics of gender
that continue to support and camouflage rape and violence
against women. This challenge is essential, I argue, for
the prevention of rape.
Violence against women, including rape, is widely acknowledged
as a global problem causing hidden burdens on the health
and wellbeing of women. Not only are rape and sexual assault
potentially traumatic experiences, which adversely affect
a woman's health, mental health and general wellbeing, but
they arguably arise from the very same dynamics of gender
and power that restrict women's sexual and reproductive
choices (Gavey, forthcoming). Working towards stopping rape
and, in the meantime, mitigating its effects on women, is
an essential component of an agenda concerned with the New
Century Scholars program theme: Toward equality and the
global empowerment of women.