Doing gender as an offender: A criminological analysis of offender narratives, and the interrelationship between masculinities and child sexual abuse
Masculinity is a powerful construct that transcends other aspects of male existence and dictates codes of conduct accordingly. Masculinity describes a plurality of roles, norms and expectations that regulate the behaviour of men. Within criminology, many theorists have established an association between threatened masculinity and sexual violence perpetrated against adults. Comparatively little attention has been paid to the relationship between masculinity and sexual violence perpetrated against children. What research there is, suggests that men who sexually abuse children may offend as a way of overcompensating for perceived masculine inadequacies that have arisen as a result of chronic experiences of powerlessness. This thesis is based on semi-structured, in-depth interviews with men who have sexually offended against children. Twenty men were recruited from community-based rehabilitation programmes around New Zealand. Transcripts of these interviews — as well as client records and results of a Q-sort task — were analysed to identify ways in which these men achieve, negotiate or defy normative gender expectations. A mixture of thematic and narrative analysis was used to interpret the data, revealing four prominent themes: powerlessness, entitlement, risk-taking and rigid thinking. Within each broad theme, several other factors were identified. For the theme of powerlessness these were: distorted perception, idealistic or nostalgic views of childhood, previous experience of trauma or abuse, an inability to seek help, experiences of humiliation or rejection, and perceived masculine failings. For the theme of entitlement these were: a propensity for resentment and blame, narratives of nice guys relegated to the friend zone, and valuing of hypermasculinity. For the theme of risk-taking these other factors were: narratives of boredom or addiction, as well as the existence of obsessive or compulsive tendencies. For the theme of rigid thinking these were: inconsistent or illogical cognitive patterns, poor or inappropriate boundary setting, and inflexible or unattainable religious ideals. Overall, the results lend support to current theories of powerlessness and show that men’s sexual offences against children can be interpreted as overcompensatory behaviour occurring within the spectrum of normative masculinities. These findings highlight the need for rehabilitation to consider offenders’ masculine identities as a point of treatment focus. It is argued that society must challenge the rigid and unattainable nature of hegemonic masculinity because of its potentially harmful consequences for men, women and children. It is hoped that the content of this thesis can contribute to academic knowledge about ‘doing gender as an offender’.