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  • Publication
    ‘Monster, give me my child’: How the myth of the paedophile as a monstrous stranger took shape in emerging discourses on child sexual abuse in late nineteenth-century Britain
    (Taylor & Francis (Routledge), 2021-04-22)
    In the late-nineteenth century the origins of the modern concept of child sexual abuse (CSA) started to emerge in a set of intersecting medical and legal theories concerning the notion of sexual harm to children, especially in the new science of sexology. The concept was also shaped in sensational journalism and popular fiction which dramatically exploited the medico-legal theories in works that reached a wide audience. Within this set of overlapping discourses, this article identifies the developing characterisation of the abuser, or ‘paedophile’, as an outsider or stranger in order to provide distance from the uncomfortable reality that CSA is typically perpetrated by family members or others well known to the victims. The article also argues that much writing about sexual harm to children, including the factual treatments, often drew on the dark metaphors of gothic writing to avoid addressing this difficult subject explicitly. In this way the figure of the monster came to stand in for the perpetrator of sexual crimes against children, with the result that the paedophile was portrayed not just as a social outsider, but as a monstrous stranger – creating a persistent, detrimental myth which kept social attention away from the most common types of abuse.
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