Home Truths about Child Sexual Abuse: Influencing Policy and Practice - A Reader

By Catherine Itzin | Go to book overview
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Child sexual abuse and the radical feminist endeavour

An overview

Catherine Itzin


In this chapter, I introduce some of the key themes in this book, drawing on the work of contributors. The first is to question the utility, in terms of reducing the incidence and prevalence of child sexual abuse, of the vast volume of academic and professional work on the subject produced since 1978 (when feminist scholarship started to identify incest as a major social problem), and to question the efficacy - in the radical feminist terms of 'stopping abusers abusing' - of current policy on child protection and child sexual abuse prevention. I use the findings of official inquiries into child abuse in the UK, and in particular the Report of the Inquiry into Child Abuse in Cleveland in 1987, to illustrate the size of the problem, and the lack of impact inquiries have had on solving it. I discuss the usefulness of 'cycle of violence' theory in explaining the aetiology of child sexual abuse and focus on feminist concerns about the way it is being used against the interests of sexually abused children and their non-abusing or protective mothers. This leads on to looking at the impact of gender-neutral language on what is seen, known and done about child protection and child sexual abuse prevention, and in particular, how it makes men invisible as primarily the sexual abusers of children and protects their sexual access to children.

The incest industry

There is a huge academic and professional interest in the issue of child sexual abuse. This is represented graphically in Bagley and Thurston's two-volume compilation of critical summaries of 500 key studies on the subject of Understanding and Preventing Child Sexual Abuse published in 1996. Volume one covered Children, Assessment, Social Work, Clinical Issues, and Prevention Education; volume two Male Victims, Adolescents, Adult Outcomes and Offender Treatment. It included a subject index of 153 headings; it was based on a literature review of '3000 journal articles, reports, book chapters and monographs'; and this was 'many more articles, book chapters and books on child sexual abuse' than the authors selected as being 'directly relevant to the issues of prevention' (Bagley and Thurston 1996:2). Bagley observed that 'virtually no important studies on CSA


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