A multi-contextual examination of factors associated with the perpetration and lack of reporting of intrafamilial child sexual abuse as identified by victims

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Copyright: Burton, Melanie
Most studies examining child sexual abuse (CSA) involve samples of ‘detected’ perpetrators in criminal justice and/or psychiatric settings. As a result, there is very little information available about ‘undetected’ CSA, calling to question the generalisability of existing research to CSA that remains undetected. Intrafamilial CSA in particular, is characterised by significant underreporting by victims, possibly more so than other types of CSA. It is therefore unclear, whether and to what extent the perpetration of intrafamilial CSA is adequately captured in the existing CSA literature. This thesis aims to examine factors associated with undetected intrafamilial CSA, as identified by their victims. The findings generated will then be compared to the findings about these issues from previous studies conducted with detected perpetrators Twenty-six semi-structured interviews with adult survivors of intrafamilial CSA provided important qualitative insight into the ‘dark figure’ of intrafamilial CSA, providing detailed descriptions of perpetrators, CSA experiences, victim characteristics and familial contexts of CSA. While some overarching findings were consistent with what has been previously been reported in detected contexts, participants also provided information that: gave further insight into the factors that may be associated with the perpetration of intrafamilial CSA across multiple contexts; shown how the significance of these factors differ based on perpetrator type (e.g., sibling vs. paternal vs. external-family member) and; provided a conceptual framework to help explain the lack of disclosure of undetected intrafamilial CSA. Using an inductive methodology, factors that may be associated with undetected intrafamilial CSA were derived from participant descriptions and conceptualised within five contexts (community, family, perpetrator, victim & perpetration) using a multi-level ecological based framework. Factors found within the different contexts where CSA is perpetrated, appear to be associated with the maintenance of undetected intrafamilial CSA, contributing to the prevention of disclosure, reporting and the discovery of CSA. The extent to which these factors are associated with the onset of CSA requires future empirical investigation. Implications are made for prevention strategies at multiple points of intervention within the community, family, and individual contexts. Recommendations for future research into undetected CSA using larger longitudinal and corroborative samples are made.
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Burton, Melanie
Cossins, Anne
Cale, Jesse
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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