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Media representations of sexual abuse risks

Kitzinger, Jenny ORCID: 1996. Media representations of sexual abuse risks. Child Abuse Review 5 (5) , pp. 319-333. 10.1002/(SICI)1099-0852(199612)5:5<319::AID-CAR294>3.0.CO;2-W

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What are the risks associated with child sexual abuse? Who is at risk? From whom? For professionals working in the field of child abuse, the main answers to such questions are straightforward. There is a broad consensus that children are at risk from adults (and young people), often from men (and sometimes women) that they know. Fathers, step-fathers, uncles and brothers are often implicated. This is not, however, the focus of news coverage. Abductions, paedophile rings and abuse in children's homes attract intermittent but occasionally intense media attention. In contrast, sexual abuse of children within their own families is rarely front page news—except, that is, where the accusations are contested. Almost as soon as the existence of widespread abuse within ‘ordinary’ homes became public knowledge, this was over-shadowed by a series of high-profiled ‘scandals’, such as Cleveland, Rochdale and Orkney. The focus turned to questions of misdiagnosis, inappropriate intervention and the supposed coaching of children to make false accusations. More recently ‘false memory syndrome’ has hit the headlines suggesting that some adults' accounts of abuse can also be discredited. The news coverage often gives the impression that the main risks are not tochildren, but to parents, particularly fathers. How has this come to be the focus of public debate? Why is it that these risks have proved so much more ‘newsworthy’? This paper examines the media profile of the risks associated with sexual abuse and draws on interviews with journalists to seek to explain the shape of the coverage.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Uncontrolled Keywords: false memory; risk; media; news
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
ISSN: 0952-9136
Funders: ESRC
Last Modified: 18 Oct 2022 12:59

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