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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Deflection, denial and disbelief: social and political discourses about child sexual abuse and their influence on institutional responses A rapid evidence assessment

Defining discourses

The term ‘discourse’ has been interpreted and applied in a broad way in this research. Discourses can be defined as clusters of ideas that provide ways of talking about issues such as child sexual abuse (Hall, 1997). This includes the language, terminology and definitions used but also how child sexual abuse comes to be understood, through the key points of change, and the different lenses through which it has been viewed, for example, through a focus on gender, social class or sexuality. It is important to look at which discourses have dominated ways of speaking about child sexual abuse over time, and who is speaking, because the language used to describe it is significant in determining how the issue is addressed. Discourses also produce meanings that can become accepted ‘truths’ and sustain particular power relations in society.

The contexts in which discourses about child sexual abuse originate are wide ranging. They include academia, politics, the media, and social movements or civil society groups such as the feminist, children’s rights and victim and survivor movements. They can be amplified by the media and through government policy. Discourses may be linked to particular institutional contexts or ‘arenas’. They circulate both within and across these and can be key to how institutions respond to child sexual abuse. Competing and contradictory discourses can co-exist within the same time periods, and the views and approaches held by some may be contested by others, which can create shifts.

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