August 25th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Current policies leave farmers high and dry in drought

CANBERRA OBSERVED Captain and Lieutenant's $444 million munificence

MEDICAL ETHICS Changes to AHPRA's code of conduct would gag doctors

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump delivers for U.S. economy and workers

CHILDREN AND SOCIETY Treating depressed children: How will history judge us?

PRIVACY Big Brother is marketing you

THE FAMILY Humanae Vitae: a prophetic document at 50

SOCIETY AND MORES Novel features of child sexual abuse in our time

EUTHANASIA International expert emphasises palliative care

BIOGRAPHY The trouble with Harry (Freame) is that we've forgotten him

OPINION Just asking ... sauce for the goose ...?

HISTORY Christianity has died. Agreed, and yet ...

MILITARY HISTORY The volunteering spirit proves best in the test


MUSIC Chilly exposure: The sound and the fury

CINEMA Mission Impossible: Fallout: Ethan Hunt, knight errant

BOOK REVIEW A good diagnosis enables the cure

BOOK REVIEW End of the American empire?



OPINION The Victorian ALP observed from up close

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Novel features of child sexual abuse in our time

by Dr Lucy Sullivan

News Weekly, August 25, 2018

Whether child sexual abuse has occurred in all human societies and in all eras, we obviously cannot know. But we do know something of its prevalence and nature in English-speaking countries since the late 19th century, when it first became the object of public concern and of benevolent social reform societies.

It does not seem that the British Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children particularly had this form of abuse as its object, but there were specific societies for the prevention of child (girl) prostitution, which achieved the sanction of a legal “age of consent”. Pre-pubertal and homosexual child sexual abuse do not appear as public concerns.

The absence of a category of sexual abuse in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) records for most of the 20th century is a pretty sure sign that it did not occur frequently nor was reported with sufficient incidence to warrant a crime category of its own. In the forms in which it has appeared prominently in the 21st century, but dating back to the last two decades of the 20th century, it has rather novel characteristics: it is pre-pubertal as well as post-pubertal and it is homosexual as well as heterosexual, involving boys as much as girls, and occurring in the case of boys in institutions offering care or coaching away from parental supervision. On the basis of litigant claims, it reached at a peak in the 1980s.

Why this resurgence and the forms it has taken and takes? It is highly plausible, and I do not doubt, that it was spawned by the sexual revolution of the late 1960s that, gathering strength through the 1970s, decreed that all sex is good, and on its more radical fringes that children should not be excluded from its bounty. It was also a period of ideological normalisation of homosexuality.

A catalyst was the lifting of censorship from books and film, which in their later pornographic manifestations in the digital age have reached levels of brutality, degradation and inhumanity that no one would have thought possible in 1968.

An early note was sounded in the 1950s with Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, the message of which was that there is a subgroup of little girls, whom Nabokov named “nymphettes”, who seek to enjoy full sexual intercourse not just with their young male peer group, but with middle-aged men.

The girl in the novel is only 12 years old and the pain caused her by their mismatch in sex organs is mentioned in passing with equanimity. The book’s implied message is: “If such is your taste, go, seek and you will find. You do no harm.”

As far as I remember no protest at the book’s theme was publicly raised, and a film of the book soon followed that was equally applauded by the cultural elite. Even more surprisingly, a remake of the film appeared in this century, again uncriticised for its potential harm, which should have been obvious by then.

Throughout the 1970s, books and films portraying parent-child incest or including children in adult sexual activity were applauded as victories over prudery and censorship (for example, David Stratton, at the successful inclusion of such a film in the Sydney Film Festival, and James McQueens’ novel The Floor of Heaven, an apologia for father-teenage daughter incest). In the late 1980s gay activists were still able to lobby for lowering the age of consent and be treated with respectful consideration.

Through these decades, “nonjudgementalism” was the prevailing progressive ethic. Then, in the late 1990s, just as it was beginning to seem that any type of child abuse, physical or sexual, was, if not acceptable, at least forgivable (as perpetrated by victims of an unjust society), condemnation in the media suddenly surfaced.

The clarion call was, I think, Helen Garner’s article, “Why did Daniel Have to Die?” about a toddler brutalised to death by his mother and her partner, not the child’s father, a syndrome that has occurred with monotonous regularity since ex-nuptial birth and divorce became common. Garner shockingly used the word “evil”, which had been taboo for at least two decades, except as applied by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to communist USSR.

A prominent case of child abuse in a Sydney child-care centre produced a rash of advice to parents to teach their children about “good and bad touching”, as if the onus of defence was on these tiny victims. A volunteer with the charity, “Dial a Mum”, set up to provide support for isolated women at home with little children, told me that the vast majority of their calls were from teenage girls who had been interfered with by their mothers’ new partners.

In the 1990s, the reality of child sexual abuse was at last achieving traction among its old liberal, progressive proponents. But in the meantime, as we have seen, sexual liberation ideology had liberated a different level of society, where men had positions of authority over the young. The epidemic of teenage sexual abuse in institutional settings of the 1980s seems to have waned as elite morality changed its tune.

This demonstration of the extent to which ordinary people will absorb elite opinion to exonerate controllable behaviour that is clearly exploitative and self-serving, is deeply depressing.

Meanwhile, the sexual torture and murder of pre-pubertal children continues, no doubt fuelled by its presentation and consumption in the digital media as entertainment.

What underlies what is clearly an aberration of adult sexual predation, an innovation of our age unseen in classical pornography? Its origin may lie in the emphasis, in the sexual liberation discourse of the 1970s, on genital stimulation rather than “intercourse” with the whole person.

Little children lack the hormonal component of sexuality but their genitals are fully formed, making them targets for those in whom the innate restraints on sexual behaviour have been overridden by the denatured hyperbole of sexual liberation evangelism, propagated now in 21st-century pornography.

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