Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 16 Issue 3 (May/June 2006), Pages 171-245

‘How can we help when she won't tell us what's wrong?’ Professionals working with South Asian women who have experienced sexual abuse (pages 171-188)


In this paper, we explore some of the issues facing professionals in the UK currently involved in providing services for South Asian women who have experienced sexual abuse. The study describes part of a wider Economic and Social Research Council funded project, based upon interviews and focus groups with both professionals and women survivors of sexual abuse. Drawing on semi‐structured interviews and two focus groups with 37 professionals including psychological therapists, refuge and project workers, from a range of organisations, our aim in this paper is to provide a discursive analysis of some of the key dilemmas faced by professionals working with sexual abuse in South Asian communities by exploring two central interpretive repertoires: ‘culture not self’ and ‘symptom talk as solution’. The analysis indicates that professionals face a series of dilemmas when working with South Asian women survivors. They highlight the tension between individualised models of personhood in many psychological therapies and the challenge to these by South Asian communities who hold a more relational view of the person. One of the strategies used by professionals to work with the tensions between ‘culture’ and the ‘reality’ of the survivor's pain was the translation of women's distress into symptoms of mental disorder. However, the consequences of this intervention raised some serious issues, including further pathologisation and stigma. The implications of these findings will be discussed in terms of how to understand the experiences of South Asian women from a more socially grounded perspective and to explore the issues they face in accessing and receiving appropriate services to deal with the aftermath of sexually abusive experiences. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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