Author: Sarah Nelson
Title: Research Into Child Sexual Abuse: A Radical Reappraisal.
Recent years have seen a tremendous growth in academic and practitioner research into child sexual abuse. Yet despite being widely viewed as vital to the task of tackling this social problem, it has failed to make a clear impact either on the general incidence of abuse, or on specific problems such as difficulties faced by child victims in court. In particular, research programmes have not been informed by coherent strategies of prevention. This paper argues that much research into child sexual abuse has been without clear point or purpose, often serving to postpone legal, political or social reform to combat this form of exploitation. Many researchers have failed to take account of the political context of the debate, or the research problems raised by deliberate concealment, distortion and fabrication. The paper examines three popular areas of research: the prevalence of child sexual abuse; the testimony of child witnesses; and the long-term psychological effects of childhood abuse. These examples raise fundamental questions: what is the justification for this research? Does it collect information from the most productive sources? What messages are drawn from it, and are different ones more appropriate? The paper argues that in future researchers should make much greater use of survivor-based and offender-based knowledge, along with information from criminal investigations. It explores the consequences of a radical change in priorities, approach and evidence-gathering which is informed by coherent strategies of prevention.