Trauma and the Construction of Suffering in Irish Historical Child Sexual Abuse Prosecutions
Adopting the special issue’s broad definition of criminal law reform, this article explores some of the ways the Irish criminal process is grappling with the demands for justice of adults who report childhood sexual abuse. In particular, it shows how the cultural notion of trauma is bound up with the construction of victims’ suffering. In historical child sexual abuse prosecutions, trauma is shown to be an effect of the abuse on the victim/survivor; a site of mediation of the relationship between the state and victims; and a site of mediation of the relationship between the state and its past. The article first explores these insights in relation to the law’s approach to questions of alleged procedural unfairness to defendants flowing from the passage of time. Trauma is exposed as both legitimating some forms of suffering, and disqualifying others. The article then employs the trope of trauma to expose the problems with current approaches to cross-examination of vulnerable victims and recent reforms of the rules on disclosure of victims’ counselling records. Finally, the article explores the possibilities of trauma discourse in thinking anew about how to address the suffering of victims of historical child sexual abuse.
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