“Disgusting Details Which Are Best Forgotten”: Disclosures of Child Sexual Abuse in Twentieth-Century Britain
Journal of British Studies
Cambridge University Press
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Delap, L. (2018). “Disgusting Details Which Are Best Forgotten”: Disclosures of Child Sexual Abuse in Twentieth-Century Britain. Journal of British Studies, 57 (1), 79-107. https://doi.org/10.1017/jbr.2017.181
This article investigates the different genres and narrative forms that have been available across the twentieth century to narrate and evaluate sexual abuse of children, by those who, by the end of the century, came to be termed ‘survivors’ of such abuse. I explore the reception and practical results of disclosure – the unpredictable effects of telling, and the strategies of containment, silencing or disbelief that greeted the disclosures. The ethical challenges of writing the history of child sexual abuse are noted, and the article concludes that twenty-first century observers have been too ready to perceive much of the twentieth century as a period of profound silence in relation to child sexual abuse. At the same time, historical and sociological accounts have been too ready to claim the final third of the twentieth century as a period of compulsive disclosure and fluency in constructing sexual selves. The history of child sexual abuse reveals unevenness in narrativising sexual experiences, and significant barriers to disclosure in the 1970s and 1980s, despite the new visibility of child sexual abuse in the media and through feminist sexual politics. Attention to such obstacles suggests the need for a rethinking of narratives of sexual change in the later twentieth century to more fully acknowledge the ongoing inequities and hierarchies in sexual candour and voice.
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/jbr.2017.181
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/266315