Girls and Trauma: Performing Socio-Surgery through a Gender-Responsive Lens

  • Sherida V. MorrisonEmail author
  • T-awannda Piper


Adolescence is a precarious time in the development of girls. Faced with the complexities of biological changes, self-awareness, and family and peer relationships, the realities of trauma often amplify the need for social and emotional support. Statistical data and brain research reveal that girls are more prone to trauma and express the effects of trauma more often than boys. The impact of trauma can be physiological and psychological, from development through adulthood. The results of recent studies have led researchers to challenge the elasticity and resilience of girls because of the systemic and familial blows of trauma experienced by girls within certain socio-ecological environments. Socio-ecological breakdown has heightened girls’ vulnerability to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the frequency in which they encounter them, and ACEs are known to increase the difficulties of achieving wellness. The strength of the socio-ecological environments surrounding girls can prevent and buffer the negative trajectories of childhood trauma. Gender-responsive approaches play a critical role in reducing the lasting effects of trauma, and a network of specialized practitioners can restore balance to socio-ecological environments affected by trauma. Practitioners can take on the role of “socio-surgeons” and, through a gender-responsive lens, can redirect the course of girls by utilizing strategies that are strength and relationship based, trauma informed, culturally competent, and holistic.


Girls Trauma Gender Responsive Socio-ecological Trauma Posttraumatic stress disorder Traumaprint Socio-surgery Socio-surgeon Speciation Trauma-informed Adolescents Socio-environment Urban 


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Belsky, J., Steinberg, L., & Draper, P. (1991). Childhood experience, interpersonal development, and reproductive strategy: And evolutionary theory of socialization. Child Development, 62(4), 647–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Benedict, A. (2008). The five CORE practice areas of gender-responsiveness. CORE associates, LLC. Accessed 10 Feb 2018.
  4. Bernhard, L. (2000). Physical and sexual violence experienced by lesbian and heterosexual women. Violence Against Women, 6(1), 68–79. Scholar
  5. Bloom, B., Owen, B., & Covington, S. (2003). Gender-responsive strategies: Research practice and guiding principles for women offenders. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections.Google Scholar
  6. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989(1), 8. Accessed 18 Feb 2018.Google Scholar
  8. Crenshaw, K., Ocen, P., & Nanda, J. (2015). Black girls matter: Pushed out, overpoliced and underprotected. African American Policy Forum, New York. Accessed 10 Feb 2018.
  9. Daly, K. (1992). Women’s pathways to felony court: Feminist theories of lawbreaking and problems of representation. Southern California review of law and Women’s. Studies, 2, 11–52.Google Scholar
  10. De Bellis, M. D., & Zisk, A. (2014). The biological effects of childhood trauma. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 23(2), 185–222. Scholar
  11. Digitale, E. (2016). Traumatic stress changes brains of boys, girls differently. Stanford University School of Medicine, Office of Communication & Public Affairs. Accessed 14 Feb 2018.
  12. Ellis, B., & Essex, M. (2007). Family environments, adrenarche, and sexual maturation: A longitudinal test of a life history model. Child Development, 78(6), 1799–1817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Epstein, R., Blake, J., & González, T. (2017). Girlhood interrupted: The erasure of black girls’ childhood. Center on Poverty and Inequality. Georgetown Law. or Accessed 14 Feb 2018
  14. Epstein, R., & González, T. (2017). Gender & trauma—somatic interventions for girls in juvenile justice: Implications for policy and practice. The Center on Poverty and Inequality, The Art of Yoga Project. Accessed 14 Feb 2018.
  15. Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Finkelhor, D., Shattuck, A., Turner, H., & Hamby, S. (2013). Improving the adverse childhood experiences study scale. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(1), 70–75. Scholar
  17. Green, J. G., McLaughlin, K. A., Berglund, P. A., Gruber, M. J., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., et al. (2010). Childhood adversities and adult psychiatric disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication I: Associations with first onset of DSM-IV disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 67(2), 113–123. Scholar
  18. Johnson, M. (2014). Girls in-between: Social, emotional, physical, and sexual development in context. In D. L. Barnes (Ed.), Women’s reproductive mental health across the lifespan development (pp. 27–48). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lesesne, C. A., & Kennedy, C. (2005). Starting early: Promoting the mental health of women and girls throughout the life span. Journal of Womens Health, 14(9), 754–763. Scholar
  20. Levine, P. A., & Kline, M. (2006). Trauma through a child’s eyes: Awakening the ordinary miracle of healing. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.Google Scholar
  21. McCormick, A., Scheyd, K., & Terrazas, S. (2017). Policy essay: Fostering the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system: Considerations for advancing trauma informed responses for LGBTQ youth in care. Journal of Family Strengths, 17(2), 3.Google Scholar
  22. Miller, J. B. (1976). Toward a new psychology of women. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  23. Miller, J. B. (1987). Toward a new psychology of women (2nd ed.). Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  24. Newbury, J., Arseneault, L., Caspi, A., Moffitt, T. E., Odgers, C. L., & Fisher, H. L. (2016). Why are children in urban neighborhoods at increased risk for psychotic symptoms? Findings from a UK longitudinal cohort study. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 42(6), 1372–1383. Scholar
  25. Quinlan, C. (2016). Girls coping with trauma are often met with harsh discipline at school. Available via Think Progress. Accessed 26 Feb 2018.
  26. Ross Leadbeater, B. J., & Way, N. (2001). Growing up fast: Transitions to early adulthood of inner-city adolescent mothers. New York: National Vocational Guidance Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ross Leadbeater, B. J., & Way, N. (Eds.). (2007). Urban girls revisited: Building strengths. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Saar, M. S., Epstein, R., Rosenthal, L., & Vafa, Y. (2015). The sexual abuse to prison pipeline: The girls’ story. Human rights project for girls, center on poverty and inequality georgetown law, and Ms. Foundation for women. Accessed 14 Feb 2018.
  29. Sacks, V., Murphey, D., & Moore, K. (2014). Adverse childhood experiences: national and state-level prevalence. Child trends research brief. Accessed 4 Feb 2018.
  30. Seltzer, L., Ziegler, T., Connolly, M., Prososki, A. R., & Pollak, S. D. (2013). Stress-induced elevation of oxytocin in maltreated children: Evolution, neurodevelopment, and social behavior. Child Development, 85(2), 501–512. Scholar
  31. Wade Jr., R., Shea, J., Rubin, D., & Wood, J. (2014). Adverse childhood experiences of low-income urban youth. Pediatrics, 134(1), e13–e20. Scholar
  32. Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: The career of a concept. In C. Blackmore (Ed.), Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179–197). London: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Demoiselle 2 Femme, NFPChicagoUSA
  2. 2.H.O.P.E. Network of SchoolsChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations