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Deflection, denial and disbelief: social and political discourses about child sexual abuse and their influence on institutional responses

A rapid evidence assessment

The aim of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA or ‘the Inquiry’) is to investigate whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their responsibility to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales, and to make meaningful recommendations for change, to help ensure that children now and in the future are better protected from sexual abuse. As defined in current government policy in England and Wales, child sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person under the age of 18 to take part in sexual activities. It includes contact and non-contact abuse, child sexual exploitation (CSE) and grooming a child in preparation for abuse (HM Government, 2015b).

However, definitions and understandings of what counts as child sexual abuse have been subject to substantial change over time. As part of its work, the Inquiry commissioned this rapid evidence assessment (REA) to understand what the social and political discourses have been about child sexual abuse, and the ways in which these discourses may have influenced responses to child sexual abuse by institutions. These questions have cross-cutting relevance for the work of the Inquiry.

The overarching aim of this REA was to summarise the existing evidence base about social and political discourses concerning child sexual abuse in England and Wales from the 1940s to 2017 and identify the ways in which those discourses may have influenced institutional responses to such abuse.