Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Psychology


Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science

First Supervisor

Professor Alfred Allan

Second Supervisor

Dr Ricks Allan


Child sexual abuse (CSA) and its consequences constitute a serious social issue in Aboriginal and other communities throughout the world. As a result, a number of influential psychological theories about sexual offending have been developed. These theories suggest that the early socialisation and developmental experiences of offenders are implicated in the onset, development and maintenance of sexual offending behaviour. While these theories suggest that culture is important for understanding such behaviour, their specific role has largely been ignored in the literature. Given the paucity of research in this area the aim of this study was to understand the perspectives of an Aboriginal community in Western Australia about the role of culture in CSA in their community, how this could inform the cultural dimension in existing psychological theories of sexual offending, and the implications of this for applying these theories with such sex offenders.

During the first stage the researcher undertook semi-structured, in-depth interviews to collect data from 11 Aboriginal adult female and four adult male members from the community. A thematic analysis of the transcribed interview data identified five primary themes: Misusing Power; Surviving the System; Evolving Culture; Fear of Repercussions; and Avoiding Exposure. During the second stage the researcher presented her results to six people at a local Aboriginal community forum for their feedback, insights and refinement of the results. The same, but refined, themes were then presented to a group of five non-Aboriginal people who work with Aboriginal people in child protection and family counselling, for their feedback and insights. On the basis of all the feedback a sixth theme, Holding Aboriginal Law, was added. Aboriginal Law provides specific information, and sets out rules and expectations about Aboriginal people’s lives, kinship structures, cultural traditions, spiritual beliefs, and restricted ceremonial practices, traditional medicine, education and specialised training.

Taken together the results of this study suggest the themes Misusing Power; Surviving the System and Holding Aboriginal Law are relevant to understanding the onset, development, maintenance and response to CSA, that Evolving Culture is relevant to understanding the development and maintenance of CSA, and Fear of Repercussions and Avoiding Exposure make an important contribution to understanding factors that maintain the commission of CSA in this community.

An important finding of this study is that, whilst the misinterpretation of Aboriginal Law plays a role in the onset, development and maintenance of CSA, a sound knowledge of Aboriginal Law can be used to prevent CSA and to respond to it. Policy developers should therefore have a sound knowledge of Aboriginal Law and take it into account when developing policies. They should also consider developing policies that will create opportunities for Aboriginal people to connect with and enhance their understanding of Aboriginal Law. Assessors and professionals working with Aboriginal CSA offenders should likewise have a solid understanding of Aboriginal Law, and consider developing treatment modalities which will challenge Aboriginal offenders’ misconceptions about Aboriginal Law, and provide them with opportunities to develop a sound understanding of its values, principles and practices.


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