Public & professional perceptions of child sexual abuse

McKay, Euan Stuart (1997) Public & professional perceptions of child sexual abuse. MLitt(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In recent years a significant amount of research has been carried out into child sexual abuse. As a result, much information is now available about the sexual abuse of children. However, there are still some aspects of the problem about which very little is known. One such aspect is the sexual abuse of boys. Previous research has either tended to concentrate on the abuse of girls or ignored gender differences altogether. It was the present dearth of empirical research into the abuse of boys which provided the impetus for the study described in this thesis.

The study was specifically about public and professional perceptions of child sexual abuse. The main aim was to explore whether the sexual abuse of boys was perceived differently from that of girls.

The research consisted of two surveys. The first attempted to estimate the prevalence of child sexual abuse amongst the student population living in Glasgow and the second was an exploration into public perceptions of child sexual abuse. In the case of the first study, self-completion questionnaires were completed by samples of students attending university/college in the Glasgow area. The second study utilised the relatively innovative method of the vignette technique. Using a self-completion questionnaire (different from the questionnaire used in the first study), members of ± e general public were asked to comment on six vignettes. Each of these vignettes described an incident which might be labelled as child sexual abuse. Since the study was also interested in exploring professional perceptions of child sexual abuse, a small number of professionals completed a different version of the questionnaire.

The thesis outlines a number of problems associated with the use of the vignette technique in social research. Of all the possible criticisms of the technique, the most relevant in terms of the present study is the fact that it is impossible to know how accurately the responses elicited by the vignettes represent the behaviour of the respondents in real life situations. Despite the problems associated with the use of the technique, this study appeared to demonstrate the value of using vignettes to research a topic of an extremely sensitive nature.

The prevalence study found that 7.5% of the sample reported possible abuse. This applied to 12% of females and 2.5% of males.

The main study found that the majority of the public were likely to take action about most of the incidents described in the questionnaire. Because the questionnaire which was completed by the professionals was not identical to the questionnaire used with the public, it is not possible to make direct comparisons between the responses elicited from the two groups. However, the overall impression was that the public was not quite as ready as professionals to label a situation as child sexual abuse. More than 60% of the public said that it was likely they would tell someone about five of the six incidents. Overall, even higher proportions of professionals thought it important that someone was told. A number of possible suggestions are made as to why professionals are more likely than the public to suspect that an incident involves sexual abuse.

While the literature suggests that a possible case of child sexual abuse will be treated less seriously if it involves a boy victim rather than a girl, the findings described in this thesis provide no general support for this hypothesis. Although the gender of the young person involved did seem to make a difference to the way in which the public perceived some incidents, it made no such difference in others. This thesis identifies the kind of situations where these gender differences are likely to be present, and discusses some of the implications of these findings. While the gender of the young person involved did appeal* to make some difference to the way in which the public perceive possible cases of child sexual abuse, the gender of the victim made no difference at all to the perceptions of professionals in this study.

The results of the present study are located within the findings of other studies of public and/or professional perceptions of child sexual abuse.

Item Type: Thesis (MLitt(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Social Work
Supervisor's Name: Hill, Professor Malcolm and Taylor, Professor Rex
Date of Award: 1997
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1997-82562
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2021 16:03
Last Modified: 10 Nov 2021 16:03
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82562

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