Personal narratives, public risk: using Foucault’s ‘confessional’ to examine adult retrospective disclosures of childhood abuse
(2023) Health, Risk and Society, .
Disclosure of childhood sexual abuse is a process that is often laden with boundary testing, decision-making and, at times, risk. Disclosures tend to be delayed, often into adulthood and later life, with disclosures to authorities remaining relatively low. In the Republic of Ireland adults who disclose experiences of childhood sexual abuse are directed towards child protection services due to an interplay between jurisprudence, child protection policy design, and mandatory reporting obligations, requiring social work practitioners to balance the social and the legal.
This article compares Foucault’s concept of the confessional to current social work practices of engaging with adult victims and survivors of abuse. It is argued that thinking about these interactions as a confessional-like system highlights a process of knowledge creation that is taking place when a personal narrative of abuse is shared, willingly or via mandated reporting, with a child protection agency under the auspices of a modern state. This ‘confessional-lens’ helps us identify a tipping of the balance in this area of social work practice, away from provision of care and person-centredness, across a boundary, to legalistic practice. Narratives of childhood abuse are transformed into knowledge deemed necessary to assess current risk to children. A process that places the adult on the periphery, leading to a potential for harm and re-traumatisation. © 2023 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
child protection; Disclosure; Foucault; risk; sexual abuse; social work
adult, adulthood, article, child, child protection, child sexual abuse, controlled study, decision making, female, human, human experiment, Ireland, jurisprudence, male, mandatory reporting, narrative, physician, risk assessment, sexual abuse, social work practice, survivor, thinking, victim