“Child abuse is an “expression” of specific behavioural and emotional attitudes of parents or other adults toward a child” (Vranic, 2003, pg.552). Every community is made up of children as a social group. Walker and Thurston (2006, pg.1) state “in Britain at least one child dies each week as a result of adult cruelty”, from this it is reasonable to suggest that child abuse is a key concern in the United Kingdom. Lindon (2008, pg. 15) defines safeguarding as “the process of creating a safe environment for the entire younger generation, as well as protecting those children and young people who are vulnerable or have already been harmed”. Child abuse has four categories which include emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect and sexual abuse (reference). This paper will examine how ‘society is ineffective in safeguarding its children from sexual abuse’ (reference); ‘Society’will be addressed as a whole and not on any one social group; this will be achieved through analysis of past and present legislations. Suggestions for improvements to the current system will be touched upon.

Sexual Abuse

There are many definitions of child sexual abuse “the most frequently quoted definition is that provided by Schechter & Roberge (1976); “the involvement of dependant, developmentally immature children and adolescents in sexual activities that they do not fully comprehend and are unable to give informed consent to and that violate social taboos of family roles” (Jones, 1992, pg. 1).

This definition of child sexual abuse is commendable, however it fails to highlight that in reality child abuse is not necessarily confined to the home or family but also teachers, friends, carers and others in authoritative roles can abuse children. Richardson and Bacon (1991) explain how child sexual abuse involves adults who abuse children through the power they have over them, and this is primarily male power, however; this does not exclude abuse by women. Richardson and Bacon (1991, pg. 18) further highlight that “unfortunately, ‘children’s powerlessness and dependence on adults’ means most abuse goes undetected for long periods with devastating long-term emotional and psychological consequences”. Lindon (2008) also defines sexual abuse highlighting that it is the exploitation of a young person as they are not at a mature age to give informed consent to engage in any kind of sexual activity, this takes into consideration young people who may have learning difficulties

Society and Children – A Short History Richardson and Bacon (1991) explain how children who have been sexually abused are made to keep quiet about their experience and the abuser. The early to mid-nineteen hundred’s saw the development of the children health and welfare services. Foley et al (2001, pg. 10) suggests the reason for these changes as he explains “In England, the extent of poor health among men, brought to light by Boer War (1899-1902) recruitment, was identified as a national problem and as being rooted in their poor health as children”. Dwork (1987) speaks about George Newman, ‘the chief medical officer to the board of Education’ and how he suggested that the growing number of disability, ill-health and premature deaths among babies and young children was the fault of women. Newman suggested women could not manage their households well enough to prevent the deaths of their children. Newman’s ideas seriously contradicted the statistical evidence available during that time, which research by Foley et al (2001, pg. 10) shows” infant mortality to be primarily a feature of inner-city slums”.

Thus, ‘the education of mothers as a solution to the problem of children’s ill-health became a firmly rooted idea’ (Foley, Roche & Tucker, 2001, pg. 10). ‘For small girls, the curriculum was heavily weighted towards needlework, laundry, cookery, and housewifery’ whilst ‘for adult women the first ‘Schools for Mothers appeared opening in St Pancras in 1907 and by 1913 150 such schools were in operation, teaching ‘mother-craft’ to mothers’ (Dwork, 1987, pg. 145). ‘Children like other social groups, categories and classes, are exposed to societal forces’ (Foley et al, 2001, pg. 5).

The ‘Notification of Births Act 1907’, saw that all notices of birth were sent to the ‘medical officer of the district in which the child is born within 48 hours after such birth’ (Dwork, 1987, pg. 139). Foley et al (2001) speaks about how midwives also came under the supervision of local authorities by the ‘Midwives act 1902’. The ‘Education Act 1907’ established a the school medical service, which was “placed under the responsibility of the medical branch of the Board of Education, alongside the provision of specific education for the handicapped children and the Maternity and Infant welfare service”(Foley et al, 2001, pg. 13).

The concept of compulsory education was a positive period for children as “schools meant children became increasingly economically inactive members of their families, spending most of their days in a world separate from adults” (Foley et al, 2001, pg. 12). Children from all types of backgrounds including those who were “ill-fed” and “poorly clothed” as well as those who were ‘”mentally and physically disabled” were safeguarded and cared for like never before (Foley et al, 2001, pg. 12). In 1944, it became necessary for the “LEAs to provide school meals for all primary and secondary school children who wanted them, and milk become free for schoolchildren from 1946 onwards” (Morton) under the Education Act.

In 1961, Henry Kempe ‘described what he called ‘the battered child syndrome’ which suggested that ‘adults, including parents, sometimes intentionally injured children’. In 1973, Maria Colwell, then seven-years-old ‘was killed by her step-father’ although she was ‘known to be at risk by the local authority’. In 1974 a public inquiry ‘criticised the lack of communication between various agencies involved with the family’ this led to the establishment of the child protection register in 1975. (Lindon, 2008, pg. 2).

Foley et al (2001, pg. 16) explain how the early part of the twentieth century “acted as a means of expressing concern for the welfare of other people’s children, a way of expressing the concept that children are valuable not simply to their parents, but also to the wider society”. The development of a health and the welfare state which recognised the needs of children safeguarded them against becoming economically active from a unusually young age. Children being recognised as a separate social group with the opportunity to get free education rescued them from neglect.

Government and Every Child matters “Many of the changes over the past two decades have been based on a desire to promote and safeguard the welfare of children in society” (Foley et al, 2001, pg. 2). 2010 saw the election of a coalition government. “The Conservative Party has insisted it is committed to the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda” (cypnow, 2009) however it was “The Labour UK government, elected in 1997, that had put children and young families high on its agenda” (Scott & Ward, 2005, pg. 44). The aims and what was trying to be achieved through the Every Child Matters guidance will be discussed.

Reducing child poverty was the main aim in promoting the welfare if children. “The target set in 1999 was to eradicate child poverty in twenty years and halve it in ten” (Scott & Ward, 2005, pg 47). “In the UK in 2001/02, about 30 per cent of children (some 3.8 million) lived in poverty” (Scott & Ward, 2005, pg 26). the “Supporting Families document published by the Home Office in 2008 aimed to create “better services and support to parents, better financial support to families, helping families balance work and home, strengthening marriage, and better support for serious family problems” (, the Sure Start program reflected these aims.

The new Labour government which created Every Child matters also had an aim to strengthen families. There were initiatives like “neighbourhood renewal strategies”, which had strong emphasis on the need to reduce the social exclusion on children by focusing on “regeneration of inner-city areas, truancy, homelessness and teenage pregnancy” (Social exclusion Unit, 2001, pg. 39)

The improvement of health and raising the standards of education was another agenda for the government. Improving health was “primarily achieved through the implementation of the National Health Service Plan” (Department of Health 2000). ‘Expanding nursery education, through class sizes’ and ‘through introducing standards for literacy and numeracy’ increased standards in education. “Joined up thinking and joined up services” “has driven all policy development in the New Labour government”. It is the “central focus of the Green Paper Every Child Matters”. (Scott & Ward, 2005, pg. 47-49).

The 2003 green paper every child matters policy was published reflected the death of Victoria Climbie on the 25th of February 2000. Victoria died “with 128 injuries to her body” ( The tragic death of Victoria called for reform, improvement and drastic changes in the children’s services as a whole. “Children, as minors in law, have neither autonomy nor the right to make choices or decisions on their own behalf. Instead, responsibility for such decisions and for the welfare of children has traditionally been vested with those adults who care for them” (Lansdown, G. 2005, pg. 117). Every Child Matters was established on five fundamentals. “From the perspective of children, and young people, perhaps one of the most encouraging developments is the recognition that five key outcomes truly matter for their well-being”, (Scott & Ward, 2005, pg. 50).

The Every Child Matters and Children’s Act 2004 complement one another and these affect every person working in a child care setting; “whether it be in a early years setting, a children’s centre, a special school, a mainstream school in the primary and secondary phase with or without resourced provision” (Cheminais, R, 2007. pg. 2). The Children’s Act 2004 has up to 52 sections which discuss Laws and duties which are relevant to all practitioners in local authorities and child based settings. There are five fundamental areas highlights in the Children Act these include “being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and” ( economic wellbeing and every child has the right to be healthy. Theories on Sexual Abusers “The majority of identified sexual abusers are male. But there has been increased awareness that sexual abuse by women happens and has been underestimated” (Lindon, 2008, pg 55). “Adults who sexually abuse children are desperate to satisfy their own sexual desires and impulses”(Lindon, 2008, pg. 56).

The “most influential theoretical model of sexual abusiveness” (Wilson & James, 1995, 77) was developed by Finkelhor (1984). The model is made up of four key factors “to form a series of interconnections which may have sexual abuse as their outcome” (Wilson & James, 1995, 76). These factors are as following

• “Factor 1: emotional congruence, meaning children may seem attractive because of their lack of dominance”.

• “Factor 2: sexual arousal”, may be conditioned due to “early childhood experiences”, suggesting that children who are abused, later themselves become abusers. • “Factor 3: blockage” from “relating to adult females” and processing “inadequate social skills” which may lead one to find children to be sexually attractive. • “Factor 4: disinhibition”, which means the abuser may be suffering from ‘mental retardation’, ‘alcoholism’ or ‘failure of incest avoidance mechanism’. Sexual activity with children may also be a ‘cultural toleration’ (Wilson & James, 1995, 77).

“Research in this area is extremely insubstantial, and even the best and most cautious of models relies mainly on face validity and clinical appropriateness for its influence” (Wilson & James, 1995, 77). Furthermore, (Lindon, (2008, pg. 43) highlights “there is no single pattern of cause-and-affect for abuse”. “Adults, or young people, who sexually abuse others, remain accountable for their actions, even if they have themselves suffered abusive treatment in the past, or it is still going on” (Lindon, 2008, pg. 60).

According to Wilson and James (2002), Kay (1999) and Corby (2000) there are three key theories of abuse. Walker and Thurston (2006, pg. 6) explain the psychological theory suggesting that “there is some innate characteristic within an individual, which places them at greater risk of abusing, their motivation being linked to biological or instinctive features of human behaviour” (Walker & Thurston, 2006, pg. 35). The Social psychological theories ‘focus on the dynamics of interactions between the abuser, the child and their immediate environment’ which encompasses the individual and the wider social factors. It also focuses on the individual’s ability to relate ‘to their immediate environment which is seen as the cornerstone for these perspectives’ (Walker & Thurston, 2006, pg. 35).

“Social conditions and the political climate as the principal reason for the existence of child abuse and neglect” (Walker & Thurston, 2006, pg. 35) are highlighted in sociological theories. Walker and Thurston (2006) make a important note of how “exploring the sociological perspectives of child abuse is unsettling as it raises the issue of safeguarding children and young people to the level of society rather than the individual” (Walker & Thurston, 2006, pg. 35)

Identifying child abuse

An adult or young person, who uses children or vulnerable peers to satisfy their own sexual needs, is defined as a sexual abuser (Berns, 2009). There are many different types of sexual abuser in society. Lindon (2008, pg. 61)) explains that a paedophile is “sexually attracted to children and particularly young people, below the age of consent”. The paedophile aims to create relationships with children, in a process called ‘grooming’. In order for a paedophile to successfully groom a child they need to be reasonably socially skilled, which will help a paedophile to create a trusting relationship which a child (Lindon, 2008). Other sexual abusers can target adults but also “children and young adolescents because they are available or easier to intimidate” (Lindon, 2008, pg. 62). The nature of the crime abusers commit tends to keep them working alone, however, Lindon (2008, pg. 63) explains there are such cases in which “families have involved either several generations of the same family or a linked group of local families”.

Sexual abusers are usually able to attain what they are looking for through methods like the Internet which is a growing trend amongst sexual abusers. “Pornography involving children can be part of sexually abusive behaviour’. ‘Communication via the internet has offered an easy expansion of the opportunity to access and exchange images of abuse” (Lindon, 2008, pg. 63).

There are several ways a practitioner can identify whether a child maybe is sexually abused. There are signs and symptoms which can help identify whether a child is a victim of sexual abuse. Although they may not always mean the child is a victim, practitioners need to be cautious. Some children being sexually abused may show, “highly sexualised behaviour from young children, rather than affectionate physical contact” (Lindon, 2008, pg. 94). Other children may express their “worries and experiences in their pretend play or with dolls and small figures”, whilst others may produce “sexually explicit paintings or write stories, showing unusual knowledge for their age”. Lindon (2008, pg.94) further explains that it could also be that extremely young children are aware of “sexual function’ of some body parts or may masturbate ‘a considerable amount”.

Alongside emotional and behavioural symptoms, physical symptoms can also identify a victim of child abuse. Some of the physical symptoms include itching, swelling or soreness of the private areas. There may also be bleeding “or bruising in the genital or anal area” ( Although these maybe medically related signs and symptoms practitioners should not disregard them if they are present.

Society and Safeguarding Children “The shape of child protection across the UK was determined during the late 1980s and 1990s. The first new legislation was the Children Act 1989, which applied to England and Wales” (Lindon, 2008, pg 4). Each new law shared key principles. These were; “welfare of children, inter-agency working, children are not the possession of parents, children should be raised by their own families and that childhood ends at 18 years of age” (Lindon, 2008, pg. 5).

“Since the 1990s, there have been significant reviews of how well the child protection system is working to safeguard children and young people effectively from harm” (Lindon, 2008, pg 6). It also became “clear that the full possibilities of family support services were not always used” (Lindon, 2008, pg. 9). Lindon (2008, pg.9) explains how government departments “sometimes commission research reviews”. If there was a failure in a child protection area then a public inquiry would follow as in the case of Victoria Climbie and Baby P. It is necessary to note that “Carefully drafted procedures, like safeguarding policy, do not in themselves protect children and young people” (Lindon, 2008, pg. 9).

Although there is evidence to suggest that some families maybe dangerous for children, there is also reason to suggest that professional practitioners may also endanger children. “A significant consequence of reviews throughout the 1990s was to show that children’s welfare may not only be endangered by their families, but also that professionals may have the potential to harm children through their actions or inactions” (Lindon, 2008, pg. 9).

There are several examples when a practitioner in a trusted post in a child care setting abused their position. The Clywch Report 2004 documents “allegations of sexual abuse, dating back to 1991, by a drama teacher in a secondary school” who “bullied students into using inappropriate contact and actions for themselves, within the context of drama”. Complaints from students about the teacher failed to open up any inquiry into the abuse that was being taken place. ‘The report was highly critical of the head’s refusal to take seriously the concerns of a series of distressed students’ (Lindon, 2008, pg. 10).

In order for sexual abuse to be effected in society there need to be early intervention; ‘Intervention is the practice of coming between or interacting with other humans’. “Prevention of abuse is the ideal solution but if this is not achievable then early detection and intervention is the next best thing” (Walker & Thurston, 2006, pg. 26).


• Children should be allowed to see people who can help them without parents knowledge. Currently seeing the “child without the parents’ knowledge’ is something English social workers feel is ‘too risky’” (Parton & Wattan, 1999, pg. 43) • Greater care needs to be given to all reports of possible abuse whether small or large.


In conclusion society is not playing a crucial enough role in stopping child sexual abuse. The media are able to encourage the use of the Internet by children however little emphasis is given on protected vulnerable children.