Sexual abuse among young people: problem or panic?

Wednesday 19 October, 19.30 - 21.00 , The Friends' Meeting House, Ship Street, Brighton UK satellite events

While public awareness of sexual abuse is ever increasing, an understanding of its causes, how it can be prevented, and even its definitions lag behind. Some assume that sexual offences are largely committed by adult men on women and children, yet there has been increasing concern over so-called peer-to-peer sexual abuse, with seemingly more common and visible cases involving young people, both as victims and as offenders.

The rise of sexting, ubiquitous online pornography and a hyper-sexualised society are often blamed, and it is now regularly argued that many young people don’t understand the concept of sexual consent.  On the other hand, some are concerned there is a danger that the increased scrutiny of the sex lives of young people and expanded definitions of what constitutes sexual violence, could be stoking a moral panic, conflating isolated incidents of serious abuse with the clumsy sexual encounters many teenagers go through.

If more young people are seen to be sexual offenders, there is further controversy about whether treatment and rehabilitation are possible and whether or how young people who sexually offend can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.

How might sexual harm among young people be prevented from happening in the first place? Is there a need for more sex education, lessons in consent, harsher punishments for offenders, new types of professional interventions or increased monitoring of what young people get up to online? Is there a danger of conflating the awkward fumbling of teenagers with serious criminal offences? And where do we draw the line between legitimate concern for the welfare of young people, and harmful intrusion into their private lives?