Looking Forward, Looking Back: Adult Survivors Colonize Children’s Abuse.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Gerald CRADOCK, University of Windsor, Canada
Beginning in the early 1970s, a series of public inquiries into child fatalities began in the U.K. and later found its way to Canada. In general, these inquiries focused on individual children known to child protective systems. By the early 1990s however, these inquiries were augmented by inquiries into abuse within institutions. Mt. Cashel may have been the first, but it was soon joined by others.

These inquiries were concerned with recent abuse to children. However, in the new millennium, inquiries into historical child abuse began to proliferate in Europe, Australia, and Canada. These inquiries no longer concerned themselves with children, but with adults who were children when they were abused. Thus, though an important rhetorical device used by inquirers into contemporary abuse was to ‘speak for’ children – especially those that had died – these later inquiries are dominated by the rhetoric of adult ‘survivors’ demanding recognition for past abuses.

This paper will argue that the discursive shift from abused child to adult survivor has had two major consequences. First, the purpose of inquiries has shifted from preventing the further abuse of children toward providing compensation to adults for historical harms. Second, the proliferation of adult voices has tended to drown out the voices of children. In other words, an unintended consequence of enlarging attention to adult survivors has been to place child abuse in the past, and reconceive victims as adults rather than children. Effectively, child abuse has been colonized by adults. Thus, while a generation of adult migrants in Australia is arguing for compensation, present-day child migrants are tortured in Australian transit camps. And, while Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has drawn unprecedented attention to survivors of the residential schools, indigenous children’s right to adequate child welfare provision continues to be denied.