The image of the abused child – now almost universally understood to be the sexually abused child – is today an integral element of the iconography of Anglophone culture. Few new plays, novels or film scripts lack an act of abuse (Baxter 1997). These fictional acts serve as explanatory devices in the narratives in which they occur: characters act as they do because they in turn were ‘abused’. Estimates of the actual occurrence of child abuse vary considerably, but some claims are shockingly high – one in four, for instance. If this figure should be correct, the corollary is that there are a very large number of adults who prey on children. An industry exists to detect and prevent abuse by this apparent army of paedophiles, and in most Anglophone countries anyone who works with children is required to obtain police clearance – as if all paedophiles come with a criminal record handily attached. Various measures are also proposed to track and identify sex offenders, so that the communities in which they live know that they have a monster among them. Children are ‘taught’ at school to defend themselves against abuse, via ‘educational’ programs, with messages such as: ‘If it doesn’t feel right, you can say no’ (Scott 2006). The belief in the existence of numerous sexual predators has shaped legislation and social attitudes, even attitudes of adults to their own motivation and probity (Piper & Smith 2003). Yet others claim that 80 per cent of child abusers are biological parents (UNICEF), and if we add step-parents to this figure, this leaves a relatively small percentage of abuse that can be attributed either to the ‘stranger’, or to professionals.
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