Child sexual abuse

Authored by: Michael Salter

Routledge Handbook of Critical Criminology

Print publication date:  March  2018
Online publication date:  March  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138656192
eBook ISBN: 9781315622040
Adobe ISBN:


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Child sexual abuse (CSA) engages the core themes of critical criminology, namely power and harm. It is therefore surprising that child sexual abuse has drawn relatively little attention from critical criminologists, other than as an illustration of ‘moral panic’. This is, to my knowledge, the first dedicated chapter on child sexual abuse in a critical criminology handbook or encyclopaedia. After providing an overview of the major characteristics of child sexual abuse, the chapter begins by reflecting on the neglect of child sexual abuse in critical criminology and the dominance of a dismissive ‘moral panic’ account. It goes on to summarise analyses of child sexual abuse advanced by feminist criminologists and scholars, for whom child sexual abuse is situated within, and reflective of, the structural and cultural forces at work in contemporary societies. The chapter then discusses critical and psychosocial perspectives on child sex offending, emphasising the interplay of psychological and social dynamics in abuse and responses to it. The latter half of the chapter identifies four key areas of future research and theorising for critical criminologists, namely 1) accounting for the full spectrum of child sexual abuse, 2) attention to power and intersectionality, 3) developing more nuanced analyses of collective responses to child sexual abuse and 4) critiquing and advancing justice responses. The chapter concludes by emphasising the centrality of child sexual abuse to contemporary power relations and structures. It suggests that critical criminology has an important, if not fully realised, role to play in interrogating the contradictions, inequalities and hypocrisies evident in the commission of child sex offences and broader social and legal responses to it.

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