Shipman, Helen R. (2016) Exploring local understandings of child sexual abuse: voices from an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Since the emergence of the global child rights movement in the late 1990s, there has been a notable increase in research and policy focusing on child sexual abuse (CSA) in African settings (Mildred & Plummer, 2009). My thesis contributes to this field by using a case study approach to examine how residents of an informal settlement define and respond to CSA. Studies in Tanzanian settings have started to explore communities’ perceptions of CSA (Abeid, Muganyizi, Olsson, Darj, & Axemo, 2014; Kisanga, Nystrom, Hogan, & Emmelin, 2011). However, the thesis moves beyond questioning what types of sexual acts are understood to constitute CSA, instead asking why some acts are considered abusive and others not. Recognizing the culturally constructed nature of abuse, it examines how living within the informal settlement context affects residents’ understandings of two prominent themes: consent and harm.

The thesis also examines local protective mechanisms for preventing and responding to acts of CSA. When considering CSA prevention, it notes that local prevention strategies typically utilize a risk avoidance approach; there is consequently inadequate emphasis on addressing social, economic and infrastructural factors perpetuating the risk of CSA within informal settlements. Moreover, in a research setting where statutory and community-based normative frameworks co-exist, the thesis analyses the impact of legal pluralism on decision-making relating to access to justice. Drawing on Moore’s (1973) concept of semi-autonomous social fields, it argues that the co-existence of multiple systems allows for a high level of choice over which interventions to pursue. However, adults typically make decisions on victims’ behalf, potentially choosing interventions that meet their own interests, rather than prioritizing the child’s. The choice offered by co-existing normative systems can therefore disadvantage victims of CSA in their pursuit of justice.

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