Child sexual abuse – Michael Salter – “empirical basis of the moral panic account of sexual abuse has been shown to be substantially untrue”

October 29, 2017 Comments Off on Child sexual abuse – Michael Salter – “empirical basis of the moral panic account of sexual abuse has been shown to be substantially untrue”

Child sexual abuse
by  Michael Salter

Salter, M. (2017) Child sexual abuse. In Dekeseredy, W. and Dragiewicz, M. Routledge Handbook of Critical Criminology, Routledge: London and New York

Despite its popularity amongst critical criminologists, the empirical basis of the moral panic account of sexual abuse has been shown to be substantially untrue. There is no evidence of an increase in reckless or baseless sexual abuse prosecutions during the 1990s, which was supposedly the height of the “moral panic” (Cross, Walsh, Simone, & Jones, 2003). Child sexual abuse, whether recent or historical, remains very difficult to prosecute, with low rates of reporting, high rates of attrition, and low rates of prosecution across jurisdictions (e.g. Connolly & Don Read, 2006; Fitzgerald, 2006; Kelly, Lovett, & Regan, 2005). In order to establish the narrative that innocent men have been the victims of an epidemic of false allegations, “moral panic” advocates have misrepresented child protection interventions and legal cases in significant ways (R. Cheit, 2014; Kitzinger, 2004; Michael Salter, 2016). This has included championing the cause of convicted sex offenders despite overwhelming evidence of guilt (R. Cheit, 2014; R. E. Cheit, 2001; Olio & Cornell, 1998)….

It is clear that “panic” is an insufficient descriptor of social responses to child sexual abuse, and captures only the most visible tabloid responses to child sex offending. While the “moral panic” literature advances a view of society united in condemnation, the social and legal response to child sexual abuse remains uncertain and contradictory. Most abused children do not disclose at the time because it is unsafe to do so, and those who disclose are routinely disbelieved and left unprotected (Swingle et al., 2016). When child or adult survivors of sexual abuse disclose, they can face a hostile response from families or communities who rally in support of the alleged or convicted offender (e.g. Adcock, 2016; Salter 2017a). Daly (2014) offers a compelling explanation of polarised responses to sexual violence, suggesting that “a minimization of sex offending and victimization, on one hand, and a demonization of certain groups as ‘sex offenders’, on the other hand” are “mutually reinforcing” (p 378 – 379)….

An over-reliance on moral panic theory can blind scholars to the power dynamics, vested interests and discursive struggles that shape public understanding and responses to child sexual abuse…..

Jerry Sandusky asks Pennsylvania high court to take case, Blind to betrayal: Why we fool ourselves we aren’t being fooled – Book Review

November 2, 2013 Comments Off on Jerry Sandusky asks Pennsylvania high court to take case, Blind to betrayal: Why we fool ourselves we aren’t being fooled – Book Review

Jerry Sandusky asks Pennsylvania high court to take case
AP November 1, 2013
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Jerry Sandusky wants Pennsylvania’s highest court to take up his appeal of a 45-count child sex abuse conviction, saying in a petition released Friday that the trial judge should have instructed jurors regarding the length of time it took his victims to come forward.

The new filing also repeated other arguments that were recently rejected by the mid-level Superior Court, including a claim that Sandusky’s lawyers lacked sufficient time to prepare and that a prosecutor improperly referred to Sandusky’s decision not to testify….

The petition argues that Judge John Cleland’s decision not to issue the “failure to make a prompt report” jury instruction was catastrophic to the defense strategy….

The defense lawyers said most of the eight young men who testified against Sandusky waited years to disclose the abuse, although one told his mother about showering with Sandusky the same day. The others ranged from two to 16 years, they wrote.

Cleland said he would not issue the jury instruction because he believed research indicates delayed reporting is not unusual in child sexual abuse cases, so a delay would not necessarily indicate dishonesty….

(Wiley, 2013). Molly Dragiewicz, Queensland Institute of Technology   The Criminologist The Official Newsletter of the American Society of Criminology Vol. 38, No. 5, September/October 2013 p. 60-61

Jennifer Freyd and Pamela Birrell’s “Blind to betrayal: Why we fool ourselves we aren’t being fooled”….expands upon Freyd’s earlier work on betrayal trauma theory (Freyd, 1996; Smith & Freyd, 2013)….However, the most interesting contribution of the book for criminologists may well be the authors’ attention to the relationship of power to the social construction of reality. The authors argue that vulnerability to or dependency on the perpetrator contributes to failures of recognition of abuse. In other words, targets of abuse may be “blind” to the harm being done to them while it is unsafe to recognize it. As a result, some memories of abuse are visible only later, when they attain the resources to survive the trauma.

Recent scholarship has highlighted the connections between psychological phenomena like individual perceptions of reality and the collective power relations that shape them (Salter, 2012; Zurbriggen, 2009). As critical scholars argue, pervasive forms of violence and abuse serve to reproduce social hierarchies, reinforcing some hegemonic community values even as they transgressother social norms. Like Stanley Cohen’s earlier book, States of Denial (2001), Blind to Betrayal examines victim, perpetrator, and bystander denial of horrific events and traces connections between psychology, culture, and politics. Freyd and Birrell argue that “betrayal blindness means not seeing what is there to be seen” (p. 1) and emphasize the way that betrayal and vulnerability shape the experience of trauma.

Using examples from popular culture and research, the authors illustrate the dynamics of interpersonal and institutional betrayal in a range of contexts. The book describes Freyd’s two-dimensional model for traumatic events, which incorporates the extentto which events are terror or fear inducing and the level of social betrayal involved. The authors argue that events that are both terror or fear inducing and high in social betrayal are the most traumatic (p. 57). Thus, Freyd and Birrell stress the multiplication of trauma by social betrayal. They also note the gendered nature of the phenomenon, wherein “betrayal traumas are frequent, particularly for girls and women” (p. 58). This observation agrees with other scholarship on the routine negation of girls’ and women’s accounts of abuse (Richie, 2012; Salter, 2012).

….Page 61

One of the most important parts of the book is found in Chapters 10 and 13 where Freyd and Birrell discuss the phenomenon of scholars’ participation in organized resistance to the disclosure of violence and abuse. Freyd uses the example of her ownexperience, in which her mother created a non-profit organization called The False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) in response to learning that Jennifer Freyd had disclosed her experience of childhood abuse to her partner. The FMSF website says, The False Memory Syndrome Foundation was formed by a group of accused families and several professionals at the Uni-versity of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Johns Hopkins Medical Institution in Baltimore. This nuclear group had come together with other families to try to figure out what had happened to cause the dramatic change of behavior in their now-adult children, to try to cope with the pain from the loss of their children and to address the legal nightmare of being accused of abuse. (The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, n.d.)

The organization has an advisory board made of up PhDs who share a belief in “implanted” and “false memories.” They advocate for those who claim they have been falsely accused, and promote research that allegedly shows disclosures of abuse are not credible, especially when delayed. This example of scholars mobilizing to discredit survivors of abuse is not unique. Criminologists rarely discuss the role of self-interest among scholars who may be perpetrators as well as survivors of violence and abuse. However, it is a mathematical certainty that some scholars are indeed perpetrators of violence and abuse. Freyd’s discussion of the harassment and discrediting tactics of the FMSF, including recruiting her own colleagues in the campaign to discredit her, will probably be familiar to some ASC members. Freyd and Birrell’s discussion of these dynamics took courage, since scholars who talk about campaigns against them are sometimes silenced when attempts to defend themselves result in claims of ad hominem attacks….


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