A piece by Richard Scorer published on thejusticegap.com
Richard is head of the abuse team at Slater & Gordon, and author of Betrayed: The English Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse Crisis, published by Biteback books
Is the current wave of public concern about child abuse a ‘moral panic’? The level of public and media attention on abuse is certainly unprecedented. It was triggered, more than anything, by the devastating revelations about Jimmy Savile in 2012. Since then, public attitudes have changed dramatically.
I started representing abuse survivors in 1995. My early years were dominated by local authority care home cases, particularly the Waterhouse Inquiry in North Wales. By 2000, investigations into care home abuse were under way in most major urban centres. But the wider implications of what was being uncovered were not much discussed in the media. What the care home scandals in fact suggested was that abuse was likely to be widespread in many institutions. But it took many years for that truth to dawn on the public and legislators.
It’s true that, over the decade leading up to the Savile revelations, other scandals were coming to light – in the Catholic Church, for example. And cases like Baby P also raised serious concerns.
“But there is no doubt that following Savile, something extraordinary and unprecedented has happened. The penny has dropped – institutional child abuse has been widespread. It has pervaded powerful organisations and has involved individuals who were once trusted. Our politicians have struggled to give voice to the ensuing public disquiet, and indeed have themselves fallen under suspicion for covering up abuse within their own ranks.”
Perhaps predictably, some have tried to dismiss that heightened public concern, characterising it as moral panic – an ‘intense public feeling about an issue that appears to threaten the social order’ and which is ‘unfounded in fact and motored by irrational fears’.
But is the current wave of public concern around abuse a moral panic in any meaningful sense? No, it isn’t. In some respects the phrase ‘moral panic’ has become rather hackneyed. On Spiked online, anyone who expresses even the mildest concern about any social problem – obesity, internet trolling, sexual harassment, inequalities of wealth, etc – is immediately accused, with tedious predictability, of moral panic. In some quarters, dismissing real social ills in this way has become a substitute for reasoned argument.
Full article can be found on thejusticegap.com