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Title: Speaking about the unspeakable : women who sexually abuse children
Author: Harris, Lucy
ISNI:       0000 0004 2701 5325
Awarding Body: University of East London
Current Institution: University of East London
Date of Award: 2010
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'Women who sexually abuse children' is a topic that has historically been silenced within society, including within the discipline of clinical psychology (Denov, 2003). The current study aimed to explore this silence, through the question 'how do we talk about women who sexually abuse children?' Through the analysis of newspaper articles (documenting the case of Vanessa George) and focus group data, this study paid particular attention to the culturally shared sense-making practices available regarding the study topic. Drawing on principles of membership categorisation (Sacks, 1995) and discursive psychology (Edwards & Potter, 1992), the moral and accountable nature of 'description' was demonstrated. The analysis showed that there are aspects of the study topic we are able to talk about, such as the construction of victims, and category memberships that define protective adults and those who are a risk to children. The notion that women might pose a (sexual) risk to children, however, was much more challenging to describe. The moral dilemma posed by the study topic was defined in the analysis as a 'category puzzle'. Participants attempted to construct explanations for this phenomenon, but it is argued that no satisfactory 'solution' was reached. The difficulty in resolving the 'puzzle' presented by this study was understood through a redefinition of the challenge, posed as a 'puzzling category puzzle'. This enabled us to see just how challenging a female who sexually abuses children is, not only to 'what we know' about women, or even to dominant and trusted institutions, but to society as a whole. In the end, we are left with a woman who is constructed as outside of our usual, ordinary and moral reality and therefore one that we do not have a moral obligation to engage with. Implications of the 'difficulty with talking' demonstrated throughout the study and the resulting de-humanisation of women who sexually abuse children are discussed in some detail. I have made suggestions as to how, at various levels, we can try to 'keep talking' about the study topic. I argue that this is essential if we are to construct women who sexually abuse as 'real' and if we are to offer as a discipline (and society) support to those affected by such occurrences.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.Clin.Psych.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available