Date of Award

January 2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Kim Donehower

Abstract

There are many barriers that women face when they tell their stories of sexual assault, namely—that they will not be believed. A number of factors hinder believability, many of them related to the broader relationship that narrative plays in our lives. Narrative expectation, cultivated by the texts we consume, shapes what we find believable or “tellable” in the words of scholar Amy Shuman. Difficult narratives are often rendered “untellable” because they contain unfamiliar patterns or because they fall outside recognizable frameworks of understanding. Sexual assault narratives are rendered untellable for many reasons, including social misunderstanding of the problem and the limitations imposed by trauma and PTSD which hinder a teller’s ability to impart a complete and cohesive narrative. Compounding these problems is the tendency of others to appropriate stories of sexual assault, sometimes for entertainment purposes. The flexible nature of narrative means that different versions of the same story may circulate at once, but audience expectation and social discourse will dictate which narrative is believed. The most believed version of a narrative is not always the most accurate. This dissertation explores the narratological limitations that women face when telling their stories of sexual assault, tracing the problems back to their discursive roots, then providing pedagogical approaches for addressing these problems. Using the Lorena Bobbitt story as a grounding case study, this dissertation analyzes the various barriers that Lorena faced while bringing those issues forward with contemporary case studies that mirror her struggle and reflect some of the current barriers to believability women face.

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