Making sense of complicated love: The impact on women when their intimate partners have sexually abused children

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Hanson, Lorna L.
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Child sexual abuse is considered one of the most heinous offences, and the protection of children is a cornerstone value of society. Yet, statistically, we know that many of those who sexually offend against children know, or had some relationship with, their victims. Child sexual abuse is complicated further because of the degree of secrecy, the repugnancy of the acts, the devastation it has on individuals and families, and the tendency of society to criticize and judge all involved. This qualitative study explored the experiences and impact on five mothers whose male intimate partners were found to have sexually abused children. A feminist theory framework was chosen in order to amplify the voices of the women involved; a qualitative research method was used. These theories support listening to and learning from mothers, validating their experiences and placing their responses within society’s social constructs in order to remove stigma and blame (Dominelli & McLeod, 1989; Dominelli, 2002; D’Arcy et al, 2012; Kinser, 2010; Milliken, 2017). Women were asked how they learned about their intimate partners sexual offending, the impact this had on them, and how they made sense of this complicated situation. The mothers who shared their stories described profound and long-lasting impacts the experience had on them. The findings of this study suggest that the women internalize the condemnation, and question their own sense of awareness, behaviour, and caring capacity. The overarching sense of responsibility that mothers accept as their failings are reinforced by family, community and systems designed to intervene and support families. Recommendations for social work practice are made.
Intimate partners of sexual offenders, Mothers, Child sexual abuse