The social context of familial child sexual abuse: the mother's perspective

Porter, Janet (1996). The social context of familial child sexual abuse: the mother's perspective PhD Thesis, Faculty of Arts, University of Queensland.

       
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Author Porter, Janet
Thesis Title The social context of familial child sexual abuse: the mother's perspective
School, Centre or Institute Faculty of Arts
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 1996
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Professor John Western
Abstract/Summary This thesis examines the experiences of mothers whose children have been sexually abused by a male adult family member. It explores the relationships between the effect of biographical and social factors on mothers' perceptions and their experiences on learning of their children's sexual abuse. It also includes interrelated aims: a)to identify implications from the research for the development and extension of qualitative research methodology, and b)to develop and extend the understanding of the mothers' role in the sexually abusive situation. The mothers' perspectives and how they experienced the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of their child are central to the study. Historically the mother has been marginal to empirically based research while central to explanations regarding the causes and responsibility for the sexually abusive situation. Increasingly as the extent of sexual abuse as a social problem has been realised, the mother's role has been seen as central in the support of her children after the disclosure. In the literature, however, the lack of empirical research relating to the mother's experiences results in adherence to general prescriptive knowledges about motherhood. The primacy of the mothers' narratives in this study is therefore emphasised. Thirty mothers participated in the study and were a self selecting sample. They were contacted through social workers, self referral through other participants, and a private agency. The study combined quantitative and qualitative approaches. Quantitative approaches allowed the collection of socio-economic, demographic data and characteristics of the sexually abusive situation. This data was used to compare findings within and between cases and between this study and others reported in the literature. The interview guide was used as a prompt sheet rather than a structure of the interview process. The interview data contained the mothers' perceptions of their life experiences and how these affected their responses and reactions to events and relationships before and after disclosure of the abuse. This study, however, differed from much of the previous research in using qualitative approaches and in encouraging mothers to discuss what was of importance to them. The focus throughout the study was on the mothers' subjective realities and how they changed over time, as they attempted to make sense of their role in the establishment and maintenance of the abusive situation. The mothers were able to report their experiences in their own way, and were able to make their own links between ideas and perceptions which were not structured by the research process. The thirty transcripts were sorted and analysed using NUD*IST, a computer software programme for manageing non numerical, unstructured data. From the mothers' narratives four regularities and processes were noted: childhood socialisation in the family of origin, courtship and marriage, relationship to the abuser, and the disclosure of the abuse. Within each of these regularities and processes, similarities and differences were identified in relation to a number of themes and sub themes as the mothers reconstructed their experiences. The study focuses on how they experienced: the disclosure process; their relationship to the abuser, the child and perception of the abuser/child relationship; and who caused and was responsible for the perpetration of the abuse. The mothers' life experiences within different family and social contexts impacted on them in various ways. All the mothers contended, however, that for the abuser to sexually abuse the child in secret required not only the manipulation of the child but also the manipulation of others in the family and social environment. The primacy given to the mothers' experiences gives an alternative perspective to the understanding of the environments and processes involved in the maintenance and establishment of the sexually abusive situation and the mothers' role. Their accounts are local, contextualised and grounded in their life experiences. Their experiences are used as a basis for a critical analysis of family systems theory. A tentative theoretical development has also been presented using concepts from chaos theory and Foucault in a heuristic way. This study has implications for workers in the areas of investigation and therapeutic intervention. The mothers' perspectives challenge views presented in the literature about the culpability or powerlessness of the mother. Their experiences of the sexually abusive environment and processes involved, give insight into the manipulative and controlling strategies of the abusers. While the findings have limited generalisability, the methodological approach, analytical processes and extension of the theoretical understanding could be applied to other areas of social science research.
Keyword child sexual abuse

 
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