Sexuality, innocence and agency in narratives of childhood sexual abuse: implications for social work

Mark Smith (Lead / Corresponding author), Jo Woodiwiss

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)
    89 Downloads (Pure)

    Abstract

    This article explores how girls’ and young women’s sexual behaviours have been and currently are constructed and responded to within social work. Contemporary views of childhood consider young people as sexually innocent and lacking (sexual) agency. Moreover, the experience of sexual abuse is believed to be traumatic and to result in long-term adverse life experiences. Such narratives can influence how social workers perceive and respond to abuse and indeed whether sexual activities involving young people are understood as abusive. Drawing on different but related Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded projects, the article introduces narratives of girls who were resident at the school where allegations against Jimmy Savile originate from. It then considers research looking at adult women’s engagement with the childhood sexual abuse (CSA) recovery literature and draws links from this to the ways in which cases of sexual exploitation in UK towns such as Rotherham are responded to. Both examples challenge dominant understandings of CSA, raising questions of girls’ agency but also of how sexual experience might act to remove a responsibility to protect girls from abuse. We argue that there is merit in separating out wrongfulness from harm in how social workers respond to such issues.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2173-2189
    Number of pages17
    JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
    Volume46
    Issue number8
    Early online date25 Oct 2016
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016

    Keywords

    • child sexual abuse (CSA)
    • child sexual exploitation (CSE) childhood sex
    • Jimmy Savile
    • harm story
    • social work
    • agency

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