After the offence : the construction of crime and its consequences by families of serious offenders
This thesis examines the experiences of relatives of those accused or convicted of serious offences such as murder, manslaughter, rape and sex offences. Relatives' accounts focus on the discovery of the offence as traumatic and life-changing, comparable in many ways to bereavement. Accounts of life before this point polarised and were either problem-identifying or normalising. Participants passed through several stages after discovering the offence as they began to feel they were coping and as the criminal justice process progressed. Responsibilities within the family were renegotiated and new responsibilities emerged which particularly revolved around the offender and his or her needs. Female relatives, and primarily mothers and wives, tended to take on these new tasks. Relatives experience secondary stigma because of their kin relationship to a serious offender, but this is more than just a stigma by association. Relatives are themselves subject to a 'web of shame' on the basis of contamination and blame. The thesis explores the accounts that relatives construct about the offence and about their own actions. When accounting for the offence, relatives were found to use 'actor adjustments' and 'act adjustments' of various types. Many participants were searching around for reasons and trying to understand why the offence had happened; formulating these accounts was part of that process. The thesis considers why relatives use self-help and what it offers. It is argued that self-help provides a 'collective narrative' for understanding experience which relatives use as a resource along with other sources to understand their circumstances. Most participants in the research were female, as are most participants in self-help services for relatives of offenders, and reasons for this are considered. The thesis is based upon in-depth interviews with 32 relatives of serious offenders and participant observation of a self-help organisation for families of serious offenders over several years.