A cautionary tale regarding ‘believing’ allegations of historical child abuse

Mark Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Allegations of sexual abuse made against the former BBC entertainer, Jimmy Savile by former pupils of a girls’ residential school attracted worldwide publicity when they were reported in a TV programme in 2012. The Savile case has had major political and cultural reverberations, with the establishment of official inquiries across the countries of the UK to investigate claims of historical abuse. Responses reinforce what has become a default position in respect of allegations of historical abuse - that we should believe those telling such stories. This article presents a case study, which introduces an element of caution in that regard. Accounts of the past are constructed in particular social and cultural contexts and cannot be regarded as necessarily reflecting any wider, objective reality. Moreover, unquestioning ‘belief’ is not in the interests of those who claim abuse, of those accused of such abuse or of any wider conception of natural or social justice. The article begins to address some of the ethical issues raised when professionals encounter stories of historical abuse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-76
Number of pages15
JournalEthics and Social Welfare
Issue number1
Early online date21 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • residential care
  • historical abuse
  • stories
  • victims
  • allegations


Dive into the research topics of 'A cautionary tale regarding ‘believing’ allegations of historical child abuse'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this