The Mobilisation of Masculinities in Legal and Social Narratives Around Intrafamilial Sexual Abuse
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Psychology and Social Science
This paper is distilled primarily from the author’s PhD thesis and current research on the socio-legal and psycho-social response to sexually victimized children within the family unit. Historically, society has never been more aware of child sexual abuse. Despite this realization, societal attitudes continue to identify the contentious nature of child abuse as a social problem. Amid increasing police reports and media attention on child sexual abuse, underreporting of sexual victimization and low prosecution rates for such offences reveal ongoing tensions for both victims and the services, including law, that are called to deal effectively with child abuse. Set in an Australian context, this paper discusses significant findings from the author’s research on the socio-legal construction of child complainants in intrafamilial sexual abuse trials in the mid and latter parts of the 1990’s. Of specific interest is the mobilization of hegemonic masculinities on child sexual abuse deployed in such trials. The absorption into legal discourse and praxis of long established masculinist theoretical paradigms that portray women and children around discriminatory stereotypes, and sexist assumptions about female sexuality and characteristics, continue to play a pivotal role in contemporary sexual offence proceedings. Contemporary analyses of law as a site where dominant stories are told and retold in order to benefit a particular group or class of people has elucidated how law, as a locus of social control, can be used to reaffirm a dominant social order, and counter challenges from marginalized and disenfranchised individuals and groups. This paper identifies the use of ‘stock-story’ narratives that are not only mobilized in sexual offence proceedings but are enshrined in law and often enacted with the complicity of the judiciary. The paper ends with a brief discussion about some of the social implications wrought from the legally and socially sanctioned ‘construction’ of child sexual abuse victims in contemporary society.