Monday, September 28, 2015

Sexual Abuse: A Hidden History

Throughout the 20th century responses by Britons to the sexual abuse of children have been hindered by the desire to avoid scandal and blame the victim

Lilian Wyles, one of the first police officers to take
statements from sexual assault victims.
Aneenee FitzGerald-Kenney, an Irish inspector of workhouses, wrote to the British National Vigilance Association in 1929, in despair at what to do with a 16-year-old who had been sacked from her job as a domestic servant. The girl had admitted to her employers that she had a history of being sexually abused. Remarkably, the abuse had led to a conviction: a rare outcome given that a child's uncorroborated evidence was rarely sufficient as evidence of a crime. In 1932 a campaigner against child sexual abuse estimated that 'not one case in twenty, if so many, is ever reported to the police'. In this Irish case, the long-standing nature of the abuse and the youth of the victim had led to a successful prosecution of 'a middle-aged man'. Nonetheless, the victim now had to live with the damage to her reputation and the after-effects of personal trauma. Her mistress was incensed at this evidence of 'bad character' and no longer wanted to employ her. FitzGerald-Kenney was forced to acknowledge that the girl, though 'quiet and willing', did tell lies: 'not infrequently, I think from nervous fear of being found at fault'.

This kind of ambivalence towards child victims of abuse is marked in the sources that describe both voluntary and statutory work with children in the 20th century.  (more...)

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