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…..