Article ID: CBB194549875

Children, Sexual Abuse and the Emotions of the Community Health Practitioner in England and Wales, 1970-2000 (2023)


A survivor of child sexual abuse felt that doctors missed opportunities to notice her distress when, at fourteen, she had an unexplained illness that lasted for a year. The cause, she wrote, was “explained by Doctors as psychological, but nobody questioned further. WHY??? … If adults don’t listen[,] then we have no one to turn to.” For decades, community health practitioners have been identified as an important group in protecting children from maltreatment, but survivor testimony and agency statistics demonstrate that they rarely receive verbal disclosures or recognize the physical or behavioural warning signs of sexual abuse. The accounts we have of the 1980s tell of swiftly heightening professional awareness, followed by a visceral backlash in the latter part of the decade that discouraged practitioners from acting on their concerns. This article uses trade and professional journals, training materials, textbooks, and new oral histories to consider why community-based doctors and nurses have struggled to notice and respond to the sexually abused child. It will argue that the conceptual model of child sexual abuse that community health practitioners encountered in the workplace encouraged a mechanical and procedural response to suspicions of abuse. In a highly gendered and contested workplace, practitioners’ feelings about how survivors, non-abusing family members, and perpetrators should be understood were rarely debated in training or in practice. The emotional cost to the practitioners of engagement with sexual abuse, and their need for spaces of reflexivity and structures of support, were ignored.

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Article Jacob D Moses; Agnes Arnold-Forster; Samuel V Schotland (2023) Introduction: Healthcare Practitioners’ Emotions and the Politics of Well-Being in Twentieth Century Anglo-America. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (pp. 341-351). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Allen, Robert C.
Angel, Katherine
Berridge, Virginia
Bower, David I.
Brunton, Deborah C.
Chappells, Heather
Economic History Review
Social History of Medicine
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
History of Psychiatry
Journal of Historical Geography
Medical History
Boydell & Brewer
Edwin Mellen Press
Oxford University Press
Palgrave Macmillan
University of Chicago Press
David I. Bower
Mental disorders and diseases
Public health
Social class
Ogilby, John
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
17th century
14th century
Great Britain
United States
Royal Edinburgh Asylum

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