Vulnerable bodily integrity: under-recognised sexual violence among girls in residential care institutions

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  • 1 University of Oulu, Finland
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Our focus is on under-recognised experiences of sexual violence among adolescent girls in residential care institutions in Finland. Sexual violations of the girls’ bodily integrity were connected to transactional sex and trauma-based behaviour. The girls’ experiences of sexual violence partly appeared to be internalised sexism, a form of collective social violence manifested on a personal level. However, if this phenomenon is discussed only as self-harming or self-abusive behaviour, it may be seen solely as an individual problem of the girls themselves, hiding the society’s and perpetrators’ responsibilities. Based on the feminist theoretical framework and critical evidence-based insights, we propose the term ‘internalised sexual violence’ to describe this phenomenon of under-recognised sexual violence. Recognising the inadequacy of the ‘victim–perpetrator’ view of violent experiences in one’s own life and naming the phenomenon of one’s own involvement are steps towards a proper and nuanced conceptualisation of internalised sexual violence. We recommend that this risk-taking and trouble-seeking form of sexual behaviour be recognised and identified in the World Health Organisation’s typology of violence. Moreover, there is a need to organise more training for both professionals and girls about gendered, sexualised violence and internalised sexual violence.

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