Social Constructions of Criminal Victimisation and Traumatic Stress Responses in Relation to Male Victims and Gender

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University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Literature findings suggest that there are differences in male and female trauma exposure patterns (Norris & Slone, 2013). With this background in mind the aim of the study was to analyse the kinds of discursive patterns and themes that are prominent in conversing about male and female victims of crime related trauma and about their responses to being traumatised in this way. This aim was achieved through exploring the contributions of gender related attributions to constructions of victims of crime by university students in response to scenarios presented to them. The element of particular interest in this study was the gendering of victimisation and trauma related responses, focusing especially on male victims. The participants were first year psychology students and data was collected using focus groups in which participants were asked to comment on a vignette describing a fellow student’s victimisation by mugging and their subsequent trauma related responses. Four focus groups were conducted in two of which the victim was portrayed as female and in two of which as male. The discussions from the four groups were transcribed and subject to a thematic analysis and discursive reading of the material focusing particularly on gender related material. Seven core themes emerged which were referred to as: 1) Victim blame, 2) Legitimacy of trauma reactions; 3) Desensitisation, minimising of the nature of the event and related assessment of the responses 4) Victimisation as an identity position, 5) Evaluation of the role of social support and help-seeking, 6) Gender related constructions of victimisation and traumatisation, and 7) Evidence for contestation of gender stereotypes. The participants tended to construct both the male and female victim’s traumatic experience as resulting from irresponsibility, naivety and ignorance. Furthermore, the victim’s traumatic reactions were typed as either normal or abnormal, with intense and more enduring traumatic reactions being considered abnormal and dispositional. The perception of violence and crime as ubiquitous and uncontrollable within the South African context contributed to an underplaying of the significance of the victim’s experiences. There was some indication that perceptions of the victim’s identification with the victim role contributed to an emphasis on the need for self-reliance, control and circumscribed help-seeking in relation to peers. Although there was a degree of difference in response to the gender of the hypothetical victim these differences were less marked than might have been anticipated. While rather critical evaluations of trauma responses were made in respect of both male and female victims, male victims received more censorial responses in general. It was evident that male victims of crime were viewed and constructed somewhat differently from their female counterparts and that reference to patriarchy, gender socialisation, and stereotypic masculinity appeared to play a critical role in the construction of male victims. These findings have implications for the provision of support, care, sympathy and understanding of crime and violence victims generally, and male victims in particular. .
A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts (Clinical Psychology)
Victim blame, Legitimcy of trauma reacions, Trauma exposure patterns, Support care, Victimisation, Desensitisation