Public and academic concern about the sexualisation of children first emerged in the early 1980s in the US, and has been traced back to the early 1990s in the UK. By contrast, public concern about child sexualisation is relatively new in Irish public discourse. In 2013 in particular, a number of “flashpoint” events occurred in Ireland, prompting both political and media reactions, which set the dominant tone of Irish discourse on this issue. This article examines how the sexualisation of children has come to be specifically framed in Irish media coverage and political debate. It derives from the first ever government funded study on the sexualisation and commercialisation of children in Ireland, which was also conducted by the authors of this article. The section of the study that is addressed here involved a broad qualitative analysis of print media coverage of child sexualisation in the period 2011–2013 and Parliamentary discussions from the first mention of child sexualisation (1998) to the time of analysis (2013). This article thus revisits data collected for the report, and subjects it to further analysis We conclude that the current status of Irish public debate on this issue lacks clarity and complexity, and indicates an urgent need to respond to Duschinsky and Barker’s call for a more sophisticated and nuanced discussion that eschews moral panic responses in favour of listening to the opinions and experiences of young people.
- Sexualisation of children, childhood, child protection, innocence, teenage sexuality, girls