‘Structurally Imposed Inertia’: Explaining the Iatrogenic Effects of Awareness Raising Interventions Aimed to Prevent Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 11:10
Oral Presentation
Gabe MYTHEN, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
Sam WESTON, University of Keele, United Kingdom
Growing concern about child sexual exploitation (CSE) has been highlighted by recent incidents exposed in the media. Resultant official enquiries, inspections and case reviews have revealed institutional failures. Concomitantly, expanding use of online digital technologies has affected the way in which young people conduct their social relationships, generating moral concerns about the distribution of sexually explicit images.

To address public concerns, calls have been made for proactive pre-emptive action to address CSE. The UK Government’s CSE Action Plan (Department for Education, 2011) proposes that awareness be raised among young people, parents, carers and potential perpetrators prompting a small number of exploratory criminal justice-led initiatives designed to prevent CSE.

Drawing on empirical research involving observations and in-depth interviews with members of a multi-agency team set up to prevent CSE and focus groups with young people, this paper identifies the iatrogenic effects of risk focused interventions. Informed by Beck’s concept of ‘organised irresponsibility’, the findings reveal a ‘structurally imposed inertia’ that restricts the ways in which interventions are delivered and, therefore, the types of messages that are communicated.

A critical assessment of the strategies and techniques used within CSE initiatives suggests that embedded structural and societal problems are reduced down to the aberrant actions of recalcitrant individuals unwilling to accept offers of ‘help and support’. This itself promotes a form of dramaturgical governance that detracts from failures to develop a legislative framework that enables rational discussion and tackles the underlying conditions that give rise to CSE in the first place. Furthermore, distinct binaries between appropriate and inappropriate sexual conduct are reinforced, such that only young people who follow the advice provided by such initiatives are included, and those who do not are silenced, limiting the capacity for agency and consideration of alternative sexual experiences that do not fit the dominant normative framework.