Chapter Three Research Methodology
Introduction and Overview
Chapter Three deals with the methodology utilised in this research to answer the research question about mental health service provision in South Africa and adult females who sexually abuse children. The chapter comments on the theoretical framework underpinning this research, and it discusses the research paradigm, research design, and the research question, as well as the research population, participant selection, sampling, and data management in detail (i.e. data collection method, transcription of interviews, and the data analysis process). The chapter also discusses trustworthiness, and the concept of authenticity briefly, as well as generalisability in research, the ethical considerations, and the limitations and delimitations of this research. The chapter begins with the theoretical framework, and it concludes with one or two remarks.
Descriptive Model of Female Sexual Offending (DMFSO)
The theoretical framework underpinning a research project is the lens through which the researcher will look at his or her research, and this lens needs to be motivated and discussed during the research proposal phase. I struggled with this concept, however. By locking oneself into a particular theoretical lens before one has conducted the research, one is almost forced to make the evidence fit the theory: In the case of scientific enquiry, the evidence is the interpretation of the data that comes after the research has been conducted, and it cannot be known beforehand, particularly in research such as the present one. For me, a theoretical lens through which to view one’s research differs from the ethos of a research project, which is the “distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding belief” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary online).
In this research, the ethos was my wish to explore the topic from the psychology of healing rather than from the psychology of wrongdoing. Psychology, in general, is not in the realm of criminal justice that concentrates on criminal behaviours and actions, and seeks restitution for wrongdoing, with the focus being on arresting an individual, putting the individual on trial, picking apart testimony, and possibly incarcerating the individual. Instead, psychology (from the ancient Greek for psyche—soul, mind—and logia—study, account) concerns itself with mental processes, how we have them, and what they tell us about the machinery of our minds (Collin et al., 2012, p. 10)—that produces the behaviours and actions sometimes dealt with by the criminal justice environment.
Nevertheless, the process of deciding upon a theoretical framework for this research evolved in various ways. First, after a reasonable amount of investigation, I could find only one female-specific theory for sexual offending, the DMFSO, which in addition viewed the phenomenon holistically, as mentioned in Chapter One. This view resonated deeply with me. I am of the opinion that as human beings, we are multi-faceted, and our entire existence cannot be captured by just one defining moment—all of us walked a path of some description to get to a particular point. The DMFSO’s emphasis on pathways to offending thus appealed to me, in particular, the considerable weight it places on taking into account an individual’s background.
Furthermore, according to Udo-Akang (2012), theories that are driven by research are directly relevant to practice and are of benefit to the field of study. The DMFSO focuses on female sex offenders, not on men who sexually abuse children, or on children who do so. Gannon et al. (2008) formulated their theory based on research with populations of adult female sex offenders. Thus, this research had a theoretical basis from which to explore mental health service provision in South Africa for adult females who sexually abuse children and to ascertain where their paths lead them.
Second, none of the other theories instinctively resonated with me, unscientific as this comment might sound. A scientific basis for this comment could, however, come from what cognitive psychologist Gigerenzer purportedly refers to as “fast and frugal” (Gladwell, 2006, Location 206). This is a strategy where not every conceivable strand of evidence is weighed; instead, one part of one’s brain does a series of instant calculations and produces a feeling before any conscious thought takes place. Alternatively, from Hodgkinson, Langan-Fox, and Sadler-Smith’s (2008) article that refers to intuition as a “fundamental bridging construct in the behavioural sciences” (p. 1). Hodgkinson et al. (2008, pp. 5–6) offered numerous definitions of intuition, for example: “A psychological function that unconsciously yet meaningfully transmits perceptions, explores the unknown, and senses possibilities which may not be readily apparent”, and “Intuition is a capacity for attaining direct knowledge or understanding without the apparent intrusion of rational thought or logical inference.”
Third, I understood that the issue of female-perpetrated child sexual violations and mental health service provision for this subpopulation could not be uncomplicated and
straightforward. If it were, there would have been considerable research and literature on the topic, and several treatment interventions. I hold the view that a woman—and indeed a man—does not suddenly decide she (or he) will commit a crime without precipitating factors, some pathway to any decision, any action, any behaviour even if it is not always in her (or his) conscious awareness.
With this research, I was interested in exploring the extent and the nature of mental health service provision in South Africa for women who were led, in some way, to cause a certain level of harm to a child. During this research, I became interested equally in what leads people to join the ranks of the helping professions as opposed to, say, becoming mathematicians, and hearing their accounts about their experiences and thoughts regarding female child sex offenders. The broad concept of ‘pathways’ therefore was of interest. What we would learn about service provision as it stands, and as it should be, could give us an indication of the present level of priority in providing care for various subpopulations in South Africa, and the paths we need to walk to facilitate healing and support for these subpopulations. At the end of the research phase, I was satisfied that I had chosen an appropriate theoretical framework that took into account a woman’s pathway that ultimately became a topic of research interest.
While the focus of this research did not deviate from mental health service provision for adult female perpetrators of child sexual abuse in its original conception, after completing two-thirds of the fieldwork I felt a need to modify the terminology related to this research. I felt it was correct not to lose sight of the woman while we focus our attention, often exclusively, on the female criminal perpetrating offences. Also, it was more accurate to consider a broader range of harmful behaviours that might wittingly or unwittingly not be perceived as child sexual abuse, as per the definition, and in these cases, there would be no ‘perpetrator’ per se, as per the definition.
Thus, the final title of the thesis reflects women’s sexual violations against children, referred to generically as child sexual abuse in the literature and utilised in the thesis when referring to the field of child abuse and sexual abuse, or others’ work and terminology. The term ‘abuse’ is, also, the one closest to the broad phenomenon of child abuse even if one also understands the concept of ‘violation’, of one’s personal boundaries in some form, for example.
The Informed Consent Form and the Interview Schedule appended to the thesis (Appendices 3 and 4, respectively), however, still reflect the original, preliminary title of Mental Health Service Provision in South Africa for Adult Female Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse, for the sake of rigour. Similarly, the original research question remains intact: “How is the phenomenon of adult female perpetrators of child sexual abuse dealt with in the mental health services environment in South Africa?” for the sake of consistency with the Interview Schedule and the Informed Consent Form.
Satisfying an enquiry about the phenomenon mentioned above would be accomplished by seeking answers through participants’ accounts relating to the following:
the question of prevalence of female-perpetrated child sexual violations; the nature and effect of child sexual violations committed by women; and the mental health services environment in relation to:
o support and psychotherapeutic interventions offered to women who sexually violate children, and
o the knowledge and experiences of relevant professionals involved in treating women who sexually violate children.
The role played by the field of psychology in relation to
o behaviours and actions of women who sexually violate children, the effects on the child victims, and the effects on the broader community;
o mental health service provision and mental health service providers;
o the therapeutic professions, vis-à-vis creating new treatment modalities, and new theories to deal with this phenomenon.
The intention is to endeavour to circulate the findings and recommendations to relevant stakeholders in South Africa, which includes the participants, and to stakeholders abroad to encourage sharing of information and knowledge, and to provide opportunities for healing for women who sexually violate children.
A research paradigm determines how individuals view the world, what they define as reality, and what they perceive as truth and knowledge (Archer, 2015, July, p. 5). According to Terre Blanche and Durrheim (2006, p. 6), research paradigms are all-inclusive systems of interconnected practice and thought processes. They allow researchers to define the nature of their enquiry according to three dimensions as follows:
Ontology: the reality to be studied;
Epistemology: the relationship between the researcher (who ‘knows’) and participants’ knowledge and experience (that which can be ‘known’);
Methodology: the manner in which the researcher proceeds to research a topic. Qualitative approaches (and quantitative approaches) are based on philosophical customs with different ontological and epistemological assumptions (Cohen & Crabtree, 2006, July): ontological assumptions are concerned with ‘what is’—that is, what constitutes reality; epistemological assumptions involve knowledge—how it can be created, how it can be acquired, and how it can be communicated; and methodological assumptions relate to data—the why, what, when, and how data are collected and analysed, and from where they are collected (Scotland, 2012, p. 9).
There are various research paradigms, such as the Positivist paradigm, the Constructionist/Interpretivist paradigm (e.g. Holloway & Wheeler, 2002, p. 4; Levers, 2013); the Critical/Emancipatory paradigm (Archer, 2015, July, pp. 6–8); and the Feminist paradigms (Cohen & Crabtree, 2006, July). Each paradigm contains its own ontological and epistemological assumptions that hold inherently different views from other paradigms regarding the assumptions of reality and knowledge on which their research approach is based. These differing assumptions are reflected in their methodology (Scotland, 2012, p. 9).
In this research, the topic that was explored consisted of personal accounts and subjective experiences shared with me by the participants, and it relied on my ability as the researcher to interpret the subjective experience and meanings that arose from the analysis of the data. The paradigm applicable to this research, therefore, is the Interpretivist paradigm, with its multiple subjective realities that are at once constructed—and interpreted (ontology). Events are understood through interpretation, and in turn, are influenced by the social context in which they occur (epistemology). The manner in which the research is conducted is through interpreting and understanding a subjective context (methodology) (Archer, 2015, July, p. 7).
The Interpretivist paradigm. The methodology of the interpretive/descriptive paradigm is centred on the way in which individuals make sense of their subjective reality and the meaning they attach to it, whereby people do not exist in a vacuum and instead explore the world from their life context. Interpretivists assert the importance not only of focusing on explaining, predicting, and controlling but also on the interpretive, empathetic understanding of human experiences by reconstruction and interpretation of the actions of other individuals (Holloway & Wheeler, 2002, p. 7).
Weber, who influenced writers such as Denzin and others (Holloway & Wheeler, 2002, p. 7), held that those who are being studied ought to be treated “as if they were human beings” (Holloway & Wheeler, 2002, p. 7), and that by listening to them and observing them one could gain access to their experiences and perceptions. I respectfully submit that despite the cognitive dissonance that may be caused by the very idea of female-perpetrated child sexual violation, those researching any aspect of child sexual violations could endeavour to consider Weber’s statement. This suggestion is consistent with the ethos of this research that wished to explore the topic from the psychology of healing rather than from the psychology of wrongdoing.
Cohen and Crabtree (2006, July) add that by proposing that reality cannot be separated from our knowledge about the world around us, the Interpretivist paradigm asserts that the values of those undertaking research are intrinsic to all stages of the qualitative research process. Findings emerge through dialogue between researcher and participant, while interpretation is located in a particular context and given time—“a particular moment”—and is open not only to re-interpretation, but also to negotiation through dialogue (Cohen & Crabtree, 2006, July, para. 2).
Dimensions. Exploring the inner reality of the subjective experiences of the service providers participating in this research included the interaction between the researcher (me) and the participant, and my level of involvement in the research process: I did not just send them a survey to be completed anonymously without us having contact beyond the perfunctory. Rapport began being established from my first communication to invite their participation in this research. I was present in the moment with—I trust— empathy and observer subjectivity when they shared their experiences and knowledge with me in person during the interviews. I did not engage a third party to transcribe the interviews, and I analysed the data without the use of technology. Once the thesis has been examined, I will share the findings of this research with them as a means of acknowledging the contribution they made not only to this research, but also to the broader community involved in aspects of female-perpetrated child sexual violations.
The aims of this research were accomplished by employing a qualitative method of enquiry that explores the subjective experiences of research participants (Flick, 2009). The qualitative method of enquiry describes a given situation to facilitate an understanding of individuals and their perception of their situations (Bell, 2010) and it focuses on the manner in which people experience and make sense of their world (Holloway & Wheeler, 2002). According to Holloway and Wheeler (2002, p. 3), the basis of qualitative research is positioned in an interpretive approach to social reality, and the lived experiences of individuals. A qualitative interpretive method of enquiry coupled with an exploratory, descriptive approach to this research utilising individual semi-structured interviews yielded thick and rich data that were analysed and interpreted, and which produced and described a cohesive account of the participants’ knowledge and experiences.
Exploratory research involves an initial idea of a phenomenon that one wishes to understand. It can result in a new topic being researched or a new angle on a subject being studied (Kowalczyk, n.d.). Typically, it lays the groundwork for further exploration that leads to descriptive research whereby one attempts to explore a topic and explain what has been found by, also, filling in the gaps and providing further information (Kowalczyk, n.d.).
In this research, I followed an exploratory, descriptive approach whereby research concentrated on the exploration and description of the participants’ knowledge about women who sexually violate children and their experiences and knowledge regarding support and psychotherapeutic interventions for these women. The research outline that was required by the University of South Africa (Unisa), before the research proposal, was the exploratory research, whereby the subpopulation of adult females who sexually abuse children was the topic, but my wish was to explore the topic from a different angle, namely mental health service provision. Because of this research, there is now additional information both about these women and about mental health services for them. Also, there is a better understanding of the topic, with all its constituent parts, that forms the basis for recommendations for practice emanating from the findings.
Studies utilising an exploratory approach. Various related studies employed an exploratory approach, for example:
Banyard, Williams, and Siegel (2001)—in their study involving 174 women and the impact of their childhood sexual abuse experiences that included other abuses in their life cycle but not specifically by female perpetrators. Note: Owing to references to the majority of the population being African American, and the authors acknowledging the support of National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect [in the US], Recovery from Sexual Abuse, and Adult Memories and Consequences of Child Abuse, with US telephone numbers, one could conclude that the study took place in the US.
Beech, Parrett, Ward, and Fisher (2009)—in their study exploring the cognitions and motivations of 15 incarcerated female child sex offenders that made up 50% of the UK female sex offender prison population. This figure may be compared with 30% of the female sex offender population in two female correctional facilities in South Africa according to Kramer (2010).
Deering and Mellor (2011)—in their qualitative study in Australia on the self-reported impact of female-perpetrated child sexual abuse, in which they found that for the most part, the impact of female-perpetrated child sexual abuse was the same as the impact involving male perpetrators. Nevertheless, they asserted that the consequences of female-perpetrated sexual abuse are nonetheless serious and require further research.
Faller, Birdsall, Henry, Vandervort, and Silverschanz (2006)—in their study in Michigan (US) examining the correlates of the confessions of child sex offenders relating to their conduct, in which they found four variables associated with child sex offender confessions. These are the younger age of a suspect, more serious abuse, having state police manage the law enforcement section of the investigation, and having a court-appointed attorney (compared with having a privately funded attorney).
Table of Contents
Poem and Drawing (All the Ugly Voices)
Acronyms and Abbreviations
Chapter One: Introduction and Orientation
Existing Body of Knowledge—Overview
Rationale and Context
Research Problem, Aim and Purpose, and Significance
Scope of the Research
Writing Style and Utilisation of Language
Theoretical Framework—Descriptive Model of Female Sexual Offending
(DMFSO) – Overview
Overview of the Remaining Chapters
Chapter Two: Literature Review
Introduction and Overview
Synopsis of the Existing Body of Knowledge
Child Sexual Abuse
Mental Healthcare Environment
Chapter Three: Research Methodology
Introduction and Overview
Descriptive Model of Female Sexual Offending (DMFSO)
Research Population and Participant Selection
Access to Public Sector Environments
Trustworthiness and Generalisability
Limitations and Delimitations
Chapter Four: Report on Findings
Introduction and Overview
Presentation of Thematic Networks
[Drawing—The Kind and Friendly Owl]
Chapter Five: Discussion and Integration
Chapter Six: Conclusion
Weaknesses and Strengths
Criteria for Exceptional Qualitative Research
Criteria for Good Research from an Interpretivist Perspective
Sources of Bias
Choice of Theoretical Framework and Ethos
Call to Action
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