Developmental trajectories: Sexual aggression and childhood sexuality
Thesis DisciplineSocial Work
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis is centrally concerned with the development of knowledge-building research and practice-building research within the context of child protection social work with sexually aggressive children and their families. Child protection social work requires a range of knowledge that extends across many areas of violence practice. Generic knowledge about the complex relationships surrounding sexually aggressive children is necessary to both the therapeutic treatment and statutory management of children at risk. This study contributes both knowledge-building research and practice-building research to this subject. Using quantitative and qualitative methods it makes a contribution to contextual knowledge-building by increasing understanding of the child/family/environment matrix with respect to childhood sexuality and sexually aggressive children in Aotearoa New Zealand. With respect to practice-building knowledge, it also uses qualitative findings to help delineate processes within practice, illustrating how practice is inevitably shaped by the dimensions of the actors within it. The thesis, therefore, moves from the general to the increasingly specific. Beginning with a quantitative study involving a large number of participants, it moves on to the qualitative study, and through a series of analyses that become increasingly focused. The research follows a two-phase design within which a quantitative and qualitative study is undertaken within the one project. Both phases address the first major theme of the thesis: the building of the child protection social worker's knowledge about the sexually aggressive child. The quantitative study uses a questionnaire that was administered to three criminal groups: child molesters, rapists, and nonsexual offenders, and explores the links between adult offending and exploitative sexual experiences during childhood. The findings are also used to develop offender specific profiles of the men within the sample. The qualitative study provides phase two of the research. This focuses on the family experiences, and particularly the childhood sexual experiences, of a smaller number of men who have sexually offended against children. A thematic analysis has been undertaken with the qualitative interviews which groups together the common experiences of the men and explores its impact on pathways toward offending. These interviews are then used more specifically to include an ecological analysis of the developmental trajectories of three of the men. Phase two of the research – the qualitative study - also addresses the second major theme of the thesis: practice-building research that broadens understanding of social work praxeology within the abuse field. Praxeology - the study of professional conduct in practice - within the child abuse area is underdeveloped in the literature. However, it is of central importance if we are to understand how social work influences the processes of change. Responding to this imperative, data from the qualitative interviews is then used to demonstrate, firstly a process of reflexivity in practice, followed by an action and reflection interpretation of the client-in-situation. Finally, the thesis provides a synthesis of the issues emerging from both phases of the study by using an ecological systems analysis to explore the contributions of knowledge-building and practice-building research within a micro, meso, and macro practice system framework.