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Dark secrets of childhoodMedia power, child abuse and public scandals$
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Fred Powell and Margaret Scanlon

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781447317845

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447317845.001.0001

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The construction of child abuse as a social problem

The construction of child abuse as a social problem

(p.27) One The construction of child abuse as a social problem
Dark secrets of childhood

Fred Powell

Margaret Scanlon

Policy Press

This chapter maps the emergence of child abuse as a major social issue in western countries, focusing in particular on developments in Britain, Ireland and the United States. The chapter’s starting point begins with the late 19th/early 20th century, during which time the foundations of contemporary child protection and welfare systems were laid. The second period of major change runs from the 1960s to the current day, a period in which the main focus of anxiety commenced with physical abuse (the ‘battered child syndrome’) and finally focused on the sexual abuse of children as the ‘paramount evil’ to be confronted. This period has seen a shift in emphasis from intra- to extrafamilial abuse, particularly within institutional settings. These developments will be situated in the wider context of changing conceptions of childhood and the family, and the emergence of the media as the ‘fourth estate’ that brought the issue of abuse to a mass audience and acted as a powerful catalyst for change.

Keywords:   history of child abuse, construction of child abuse, media and child abuse

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