Judicial Constructions of the Seriousness of Child Sexual Abuse

MacMartin, Clare
January 2004
Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science;Jan2004, Vol. 36 Issue 1, p66
Academic Journal
Past research has suggested that the characteristics of sexual abuse have been used in the Canadian criminal justice system to discount the seriousness of sexual offences against children. Two such characteristics are the typical absence of physical harm to victims and the frequently close, often familial relationships existing between offenders and victims. The present discourse-analytic study used discursive social psychology to explore whether and how these two characteristics were evaluated in 74 written sentencing decisions involving child sexual abuse offences in Ontario from 1993 to 1997. Judicial descriptions tended to denounce sexual abuse and censure offenders on the basis of the frequent psychological harm visited upon victims and of breach of trust concerns (e.g., using metaphors such as "psychic scarring" and the "robbery" of childhood innocence). I discuss these findings in relation to the evolution of judicial discourse about child sexual abuse.


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