Clregy Abuse Scandal - Page 1
Legacy of the Clergy Abuse Scandal
By David Finkelhor November, 2004
Crimes against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire,
126 Horton Social Science Center, Durham, NH 03824 USA
Bio: The International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) is a multidisciplinary professional organization working to combat child maltreatment through the exchange of research and professional education worldwide. ISPCAN publishes the monthly Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal compiling research on all forms of child maltreatment, and the Link newsletter highlighting developments in practice and including case studies compared across regions. In addition, ISPCAN provides a membership directory for professional networking and sponsors a variety of training events, conferences and biennial Congresses. For more information, please visit www.ispcan.org.
Bio: David Finkelhor is Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, Co-Director of the Family Research Laboratory and Professor of Sociology at the University of New Hampshire. He has been studying the problems of child victimization, child maltreatment and family violence since 1977. Well known for his conceptual and empirical work on the problem of child sexual abuse, he has developed some of the earliest estimates about the prevalence and characteristic of child sexual abuse. He has also written about child homicide, missing and abducted children, children exposed to domestic and peer violence and other forms of family violence. In his recent work, he has tried to unify and integrate knowledge about all the diverse forms of child victimization in a field he has termed Developmental Victimology. He is editor and author of 10 books and over 75 journal articles and book chapters. He is an associate editor of Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal an official publication of the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. He has received grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, and the US Department of Justice, and a variety of other sources. He has also served on the boards of Prevent Child Abuse America, the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, and the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. In 1994, he was given the Distinguished Child Abuse Professional Award by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.
The clergy abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has left its mark on child protection efforts. It was a major national story about child maltreatment that has dominated the media for more than an entire year. It has prompted discussions about child exploitation issues in countless homes and organizations. But has it helped the cause of child protection? I do not think the answer is a straightforward yes. The controversy has had a complex kind of impact in the United States, both positive and negative.
The scandal certainly kept the child maltreatment topic in the news. The sustaining power of the sexual abuse issue never fails to amaze. Social scientists tend to see public interest in most social problems as reaching some saturation point over the course of a few years and then subsiding. But sexual abuse keeps managing to reincamate itself in new guises, just when one thinks it might expire. Before the clergy scandal, backlash concerns seemed to be the major focus in the media. People sensed a negative tide on this issue. But, then ensued, to almost everybody’s surprise, a year full of the most credible child maltreatment stories. Gone are images of overzealous investigators, mendacious children, and a child protection system threatening the integrity of families. Back are images of fiendish predators, intimidated children and a message that state child protection mandates need to be expanded to penetrate some still recalcitrant corners of our society. Certainly this news helped by keeping the topic of child maltreatment in public view. Certainly it overrode much of a negative press the child maltreatment field was getting. But beyond these superficialities, child abuse professionals need to be cautious and critical and consider what was helpful and what was harmful in the public awareness generated by this scandal.
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