Differences between journalistic and academic accounts of child sexual abuse in Australia

Australia and New Zealand Communication Association
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Australian Journal of Communication, 2008, 36 (2), pp. 96 - 110
Issue Date:
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This paper uses qualitative textual analysis to compare journalistic and academic accounts of child sexual abuse. There are seven main differences. Academic accounts suggest higher levels of neglect, emotional abuse, and physical abuse than sexual abuse in Australia; by contrast, journalistic accounts highlight sexual abuse. Academic accounts suggest that child sexual abuse in Australia is decreasing; journalistic accounts suggest that it is increasing. Academic accounts suggest that the majority of cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by family members; journalistic accounts focus on abuse by institutional figures (teachers, priests) or by strangers. Academic accounts have shown that innocent sexual playis a normal part of childhood development; journalistic accounts suggest that any sexual play is either a sign of abuse, or in itself constitutes sexual abuse. Academic accounts suggest that one of the best ways to prevent sexual abuse is for children to receive sex education; journalistic accounts suggest that children finding out about sex leads to sexual abuse. Academic accounts can gather data from the victims; journalistic accounts are excluded from doing so. Academic researchers talk to abusers in order to understand how child sexual abuse can be prevented; journalistic accounts exclude the voices of child sexual abusers.
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