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Richardson, S. (2013). Emerging Narratives of Historic Abuse: Is This a Watershed Moment?. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 7(2):vii-x.

(2013). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 7(2):vii-x

Emerging Narratives of Historic Abuse: Is This a Watershed Moment?

Sue Richardson

My professional experience over more than thirty years has taught me that the recognition of child sexual abuse is characterised by “cycles of discovery and suppression” (Olafson, Corwin, & Summit, 1993, p. 7). Emerging narratives of abuse by high profile personalities such as Jimmy Savile and in prestigious institutions such as Chetham's School of Music in Manchester are part of this cycle. While they underline the conclusion of the Butler-Sloss Inquiry (1988, p. 243) that “child abuse occurs throughout society and in all classes”, are they a “brief clearing of the fog” (Summit, 1988, p. 41) soon to descend once more?

The sheer volume of historic abuse in institutional and other settings emerging in recent years continues a series of forest fires that have ignited press and public attention and alarm. Starting with the work of paediatricians in Leeds, since the mid-1980s the smoke of reported child abuse has risen in a number of areas of the UK. Full-scale blazes broke out in North Wales, Cleveland, Rochdale, and Orkney. The typical reaction was to dampen them down via processes such as official inquiry and the scapegoating of professionals who had raised the alarm. Approaches introduced in the aftermath of these “blazes” could not prevent new fires from erupting and the ground was left tinder dry. Fires have reignited in new settings and led to feelings of insecurity concerning the ability of a variety of care settings to provide a safe haven for children and young people. A major legacy of all of this has been an increase in fearful care-giving (McCluskey, this issue) by professionals with responsibility for safeguarding children.

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