Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Psychology

Faculty/School

Faculty of Science

First Contributor

Geoffrey Nelson

Contributor Role

Thesis Supervisor

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to modify primary prevention models in child sexual abuse by incorporating the perceptions of men who sexually offended against children. In open-ended, conversational style interviews I asked 10 men, who are/were involved in self-help community based treatment groups at Community Justice Initiatives (CJI), Waterloo Region, to convey their understanding of how sexual abuse could have been prevented in their own lives, and can be prevented in our communities. The participants shared their views about prevention based on their experiences, and their interpretations of these experiences. I based the research results on the stories I was told and paid particular attention to factors which research participants believed to have significantly contributed to the abuse. In essence the research was a life cycle study. Participants shared experiences from their early childhood, marriage, the time preceding and following the abuse, the time around the disclosure, and their involvement at CJI.

I analyzed the results qualitatively in terms of thematic content, by keeping close to the original interview transcripts. The emerging themes became the topics for focus groups during a workshop organized by interview participants, CJI volunteers and staff, and myself. During this workshop, service providers and consumers were asked to make recommendations for changes at individual, family, social, and cultural levels of intervention. I summarized these recommendations and reflected upon them in terms of (1) a model for primary prevention in child sexual abuse, and (2) primary prevention action research generally. Workshop participants jointly endorsed the utilization of results.

The family of origin was a key point of discussion throughout the interviews. Experiences of neglect and abuse were shared by many of the participants and were described as greatly inhibiting future abilities to accept fully others’ rights and one’s own responsibilities when placed in a care-giving role. Many of the participants emphasized that as children they had their experiences denied and invalidated and how this silence put them at risk of justifying and minimizing their own abusive behaviour as adults. The effects of having one’s pain denied was often not actively felt until the onset of adolescence and early adulthood, when dating relationships and friendships became more significant than relationships in the family of origin.

However, abused children do not inevitably become abusive parents. Cultural, communal, and social expectations and actions affect families’ approaches to child rearing. Parents are particularly at risk of perpetrating abuse if expression of emotion is and was discouraged in the family context. Traditionally boys are more likely to experience this limitation.

Workshop participants highlighted two primary prevention action plans. (1) for parents to raise their children to reach their emotional, cognitive, physical, social and spiritual potential, they need to be aware of and able to access community support which fosters their own growth in these areas; and (2) communities have a responsibility to model a child friendly environment which actively recognizes children's rights for a life characterized by nurturing and age appropriate expectations, Lastly, workshop participants expressed that healthy sexuality, in the holistic sense of the term, can only become a reality in communities which are willing to discuss sexual expression. Definitions of sexuality in terms of the prohibition of sexual transgression, such as the incest taboo, are negative in focus and inadequate when it comes to setting a sound social and moral climate. Throughout the research a critique of systemic failures was cited by research and workshop participants alike as a critical need in primary prevention work.

What began as a research interest on my part soon became a starting point for future social events initiated through CJI. The research process is action in itself and can gain a momentum well beyond its own original narrow focus. An agenda towards an increased and shared sense of empowerment can aid to establish community change if built on the capacity of all parties involved. A phenomenological approach, which is inclusive of the multitude of realities in any situation, lends itself to increasing our understanding beyond the narrow confines of officially sanctioned knowledge. The reality of sexual abuse as it emerged from the research exposed this "private" act as something which is embedded in silence. This silence was and is actively and sometimes violently enforced in many families and finally the community at large.

Convocation Year

1994

Convocation Season

Fall