I agree with every word of Baroness Lister’s blog on Assisted Dying, I’ll say more next week as we approach the debate. But I don’t want to leave the recent news on child sexual abuse without a comment. Claims of an establishment cover-up of historical child sex abuse involving public figures, including politicians, have prompted Home Secretary Theresa May to announce two inquiries. One is an overarching inquiry into the way public bodies and other important institutions have handled child sex abuse claims. The other will look at how the Home Office dealt with allegations about powerful figures and paedophilia in the 1980s. Both will almost certainly prove to be expensive, unnecessary exercises in digging up what we all should know by now, that child sexual abuse is endemic, common, involves perpetrators of all classes, credes and ethnicities. Concern and reporting of child-adult sexual activity has increased markedly in the last two decades, although its prevalence has not increased at least since the 1960s. What has changed is the public’s awareness of it and an increased determination to punish the perpetrators in a fashion that borders on hysterical revenge. Child sexual abuse is often profoundly damaging…but not always. Each case is different; society’s uniformly abhorrent response is understandable but unhelpful. Let’s get the problem into perspective.
The global prevalence of child sexual abuse has been estimated at 19.7% for females and 7.9% for males, according to a 2009 study published in Clinical Psychology Review that examined 65 studies from 22 countries. Using the available data, the highest prevalence rate of child sexual abuse geographically was found in Africa (34.4%), primarily because of high rates in South Africa; Europe showed the lowest prevalence rate (9.2%); America and Asia had prevalence rates between 10.1% and 23.9%. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims; approximately 30% are relatives of the child, most often brothers, fathers, stepfathers, uncles or cousins; around 60% are other acquaintances; strangers are the offenders in approximately 10% of cases. The 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, back in the 1850s, shocked the Victorians by suggesting that frequently reported incest and sexual activity with children in families living in poverty were made worse by overcrowding but he did not doubt that the problem was not confined to the poor. Neither is it confined today to the rich and influential. We are more prepared to discuss it, to look out for it, to be sympathetic to victims and to prosecute offenders than 40 years ago. Leave it there….