Historical Perspectives on Child Sexual Abuse, Part 1


Correspondence: ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, Griffith University, Mount Gravatt Campus, 176 Messines Ridge Road, Mount Gravatt, Qld 4122, Australia. E-mail: y.smaal@griffith.edu.au


This article reviews histories of child sexual abuse in Australia. While it is national in its focus, the historical problems, methods, and approaches explored here resonate globally, especially in the Anglosphere. Given the transnational dimensions of sex and gender politics, child welfare and protection, and the development of common law, any local historiographic survey is best located within the international context. This article argues that defining and interpreting sex with children is a significant problem in the historical literature. The cleavage between constructions of innocence and paradigms of abuse remains prominent in contemporary scholarship although assimilating these schools of thought is neither feasible nor fruitful. The first part of this article explores the feminist rediscovery of child sexual abuse in the late twentieth century, considering the extent to which the problem had been earlier erased from the public domain. Paying particular attention to law and socio-legal histories, it investigates definitional problems around children and crime, and examines how the criminal justice system and media have been used to recover histories of abuse.