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

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4

Sexual exploitation

A new discovery or one part of the continuum of sexual abuse in childhood?

Liz Kelly, Linda Regan and Sheila Burton


Introduction

This chapter draws on our work at the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at the University of North London over the last eight years. During that time we have conducted fourteen larger and smaller scale studies on various aspects of child and woman abuse. 1 This chapter draws on three in particular: a prevalence study of sexual abuse (Kelly, Regan and Burton 1991); a study of the impact and meaning of sexual abuse in childhood (Kelly, Burton and Regan 1996); and a review of what we know about sexual exploitation of children (Kelly, Wingfield, Burton and Regan 1995).

Many commentaries tell a story about child abuse which suggests that since the 1960s there has been a progressive and incremental awareness; the story begins with physical abuse in the 1960s, followed by neglect and sexual abuse in the 1970s and 1980s and sexual exploitation in the 1990s. This is the story of late twentieth century policy and media recognition, it is not the history of child abuse or of feminist theory and practice. Both child welfare organisations and feminists were aware of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation in the nineteenth century (Jeffreys 1984); of physical abuse of children and women in families (Gordon 1988); and first wave feminists made connections between woman and child abuse (Hendessi 1991). We have witnessed a process of rediscovery in the last four decades, in which feminists have again made connections. What is different is the extent of research and media attention given to the issues: both have contributed to a context in which distinctions rather than connection, novelty rather than historical accuracy, have been stressed.

In this chapter we seek to remake connections between child and woman abuse, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, locating the issues within the continuum of violence against women and children (Kelly 1988). Our perspective is one which views both differences and connections as equally important if we are to understand the issues involved, and therefore respond to them appropriately. We have chosen five areas to concentrate on: definitions; prevalence; exploring the continuum; explanatory frameworks; and policy and practice implications.

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