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Moral panics and the aftermath: a study of incest

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A 'moral panic' about child sexual abuse in Britain in the 1980s culminated in 'the Cleveland affair' that produced the challenge of widespread incest and sexual abuse within families. This paper considers the aftermath of this 'moral panic'. The main focus is on the offenders convicted of incest during the years 1988-96 inclusive, with comparative data from an earlier 1973 cohort. A shift in the incest offender profile is demonstrated. The aftermath of this 'moral panic'seems to have been to the detriment of incest victims who now seem less likely to speak or be heard. The findings are considered in the light of recent recommendations on changing the law on incest in the Home Office consultation paper, 'Setting the Boundaries: reforming the law on sex offences' (2000). The authors endorse the view that the offence of incest should be revised, but are concerned whether the use of the criminal justice system will be any more successful when a sexual activity which is currently narrowly proscribed is more widely proscribed.

Keywords: child abuse; incest; moral panic

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Applied Social Science, Lancaster University 2: Centre for Applied Statistics, Lancaster University

Publication date: 2002-02-01

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