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Sexual abuse in Jordan: Children and young people speaking up and breaking the silence

All children and young people have the right to live free from being victims of child sexual abuse and from carrying out harmful sexual behaviour (United Nations, 1989). It is now more than three decades since the United Nations published the Conventions on the rights of the Child. Internationally it was recognised that the problem of sexual abuse of children and young people needed to be targeted through practices and policies for their care and protection. Many countries continue to address the crime of sexual abuse of children and young people; however, there is still more work that needs to be done. Studies demonstrate that, in Jordan, children and young people are exposed to various forms of violence, which includes sexual abuse. This thesis argues that disclosing sexual abuse is an essential step in setting children and young people free from the harms of sexual abuse. If children and young people are provided with the opportunity to speak up safely, they can receive justice and care, and the perpetrator can be held accountable and prevented from committing further crimes on other children and young people. This qualitative study focuses on the moments when children and young people disclose abuse and in whom they choose to place their trust. It examines the ways in which children and young people break their silence and how their families respond to learning about the abuse. This study explores how the victims’ experiences of speaking up are affected by the particular sociocultural context of Jordan. In order to present a holistic understanding of Jordanian children’s and young people’s experiences of disclosing sexual abuse, this study focuses on the ecological systems in which children and young people are embedded. Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory is pivotal to this thesis as it highlights the dynamic interaction between each layer of the system: each layer influences and is affected by the others. This thesis therefore pays close attention to the supportive policies, legislation and agencies available in Jordan that focus on the care and protection of children and young people. This study utilises data generated from semi-structured interviews with people involved in the children’s and young people’s ecological systems: five senior policy makers and managers, five social workers and two psychologists, four non-offending parents, and, significantly, nine children and young people who have been sexually abused. Of the nine children and young people, six were girls/young women and three were boys/young men. A narrative analysis was carried out of the research materials from each group of participants – that is, each layer of the ecological system. The analysis revealed five major findings: Sexual abuse affected both victims and families, causing them to suffer after the abuse occurred. Honour-killing is a persistent problem that families still practise and threaten to practice. Girls who have been subject to sexual abuse lose opportunities to access further education and to choose whom to marry. Parenting practices have a significant effect on the likelihood of a child or young person disclosing abuse, with child-affirming practices shaping the safest environment in which children and young people can speak up and be both heard and supported. Finally, providing sex education in schools and raising public awareness of sexual abuse can have a strong influence on the willingness of children and young people to disclose abuse, and on parents’ responses to disclosures. This study contributes to the field of sexual abuse studies in Jordan and other Arab countries. It is unique in including understandings from children and young people themselves, through qualitative semi-structured interviews. The particular value of this study largely comes from its potential to create awareness in Jordanian society about how children and young people have raised their voices and broken the silence surrounding sexual abuse and the consequential impacts on them and their families. Although the study was undertaken through an English-speaking university and in an English-speaking country, the data were generated in Jordan and most of the literature accessed was in Arabic. The findings will be of international interest, contributing to understandings of child sexual abuse in Jordan and similar ethno-cultural countries with collective societies and traditional practices.
Type of thesis
Burhoum, H. I. (2021). Sexual abuse in Jordan: Children and young people speaking up and breaking the silence (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14538
The University of Waikato
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