One of the most unnerving aspects of child sexual abuse is that it is constantly manifesting in unexpected ways. The current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has collected testimony of abuse in churches, schools, out-of-home care, hospitals and religious communities, demonstrating the breadth of institutional arrangements whose structures and cultures have facilitated child sexual abuse. Cases of serious and prolonged sexual abuse in family contexts have been excluded from the terms of reference of the Royal Commission but nonetheless continue to surface in media reports. In 2013, twelve children were permanently removed from an extended family living in rural NSW in what has been described as one of the worst cases of child abuse in Australia, involving intergenerational incest going back at least three generations (Auebach 2014). Another recent high-profile case involved the use of the Internet to facilitate the sexual exploitation of an adopted child by his parents in Queensland (Ralston 2013). These cases challenge the received wisdom that child sexual abuse is characterised by the victimisation of one child by one opportunistic offender. Such incidents suggest instead that child sexual abuse takes varied and systemic forms, and can operate to perpetuate and entrench toxic cultures and power structures.
This special issue on Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation is a timely contribution to ongoing efforts to understand the multiplicity of child sexual abuse. It is an interdisciplinary collection of insights drawn from criminology, sociology, psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis, and includes papers from academic researchers alongside academic practitioners whose writing is grounded in their work with affected individuals and communities. A key aim of the special issue is to contextualise the diversity of child sexual abuse socially, politically and historically, recognising the dynamic and iterative relationships between sexual abuse and the contexts in which it takes place. The contributions to this special issue examine how the diversity and dynamics of abuse unfold at the individual, community and social level, and across time. The issue is focused on emerging or under-recognised forms of child sexual abuse, such as organised abuse and sexual exploitation, which illustrate recent shifts in the knowledge base and require new and innovative criminological thinking.
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