University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Public Thursday Seminars, Institute of Criminology > Dr Caroline Lanskey and Ben Jarman, ‘A Poor Prospect Indeed: The State’s Disavowal of Child Abuse Victims in Youth Custody.’

Dr Caroline Lanskey and Ben Jarman, ‘A Poor Prospect Indeed: The State’s Disavowal of Child Abuse Victims in Youth Custody.’

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Dr Caroline Lanskey and Ben Jarman ‘A Poor Prospect Indeed: The State’s Disavowal of Child Abuse Victims in Youth Custody.’

Child abuse in youth custody in England and Wales has received an unprecedented degree of official attention in recent years. Historic allegations of abuse by staff in custodial institutions which held children are now being heard by the courts and by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA); some criminal trials have resulted in convictions. More recent allegations have also been investigated in institutions which hold children today. Two persistent questions these investigations prompt are why the victimisation of children in custody went unrecognised for so long, and why its victims have been denied any form of redress. Drawing on original documentary research, we aim to explain why and how state authorities in England and Wales failed to recognise the victimisation of children held in penal institutions between 1960 and 1990, and argue that this failure constitutes a disavowal of the state’s responsibility. We show that the victims of custodial child abuse were the victims of state crimes by omission, because the state failed to recognise or to uphold a duty of care. We argue further that this was possible because the occupational cultures and custodial practices of penal institutions failed to recognise the specific vulnerabilities of children. Adult staff were granted discretionary power such that they could largely act without effective constraint, defining their actions retrospectively as unproblematic where these were subject to complaint. Our argument has implications for how custodial institutions for children should think about the kinds of abuse which are manifest today.

This talk is part of the Public Thursday Seminars, Institute of Criminology series.

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