Trotman Jemmott, Ena (2012) A Grounded Theory to Understanding Police Officers’ and Child Care Officers’ Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Barbados. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The complexities inherent in managing child sexual abuse stem from the intersection of micro factors (e.g., personal values, histories of learning and trauma in some cases), exo level factors (such as agency mandates and professional codes) and macro factors (e.g., socio-economic and societal attitudes). Professionals in Barbados who deal with gender-based violence (including sexual exploitation) have a key role to play in addressing this problem. The ways in which they respond, through their criminal investigations, child protection assessments and interventions, are critical in assisting with the amelioration of the effects of CSA and reducing its prevalence.

This study furthers our understanding and expands knowledge on the subject by examining professional behaviours in responding to child sexual abuse. Factors such as professional identity and codes of ethics, together with institutional regulations and cultural mores, determine how professionals are likely to respond. A grounded theory approach was employed, in an interpretative constructionist manner, to explore the responses of twenty one (21) participants, comprising ten police officers, eight child care officers and focus group members comprising three new participants and four others previously interviewed individually.

Two theoretical paradigms were employed as conceptual lenses to assist data exploration and analysis of emerged meanings. These were the socio-cultural theory of ‘community of practice’, and the feminist perspective, which helped to inform how gender and power might impact on responses. Sitting alongside these approaches is the ecological systems theory, which I have used to ensure that the problem (child sexual abuse) has been located within its wider socio-cultural context.

The grounded theory to emerge from the study is that professional responses to CSA result in, and from, multisystem actions within hierarchies of power and status, which validate particular narratives of abuse and minimise others. Professionals are embedded within these systems and, therefore, often find it difficult to respond to CSA in ways that address root causes and provide justice to its victims. The study highlights the need for the training of police officers and social workers to facilitate a greater level of reflection on issues such as power and gender inequality, and to create opportunities for collaborative practice.

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