The Why, the Who and the Wherefore: Explanations, Self-Change and Social Friction in Men's Narratives of Sexual Violations
Anja Emilie Kruse
In this address, I ask and try to answer the question of what we can learn from the stories that men convicted of sex offenses tell about their sexually violent acts – and the stories they tell about themselves as a person who has committed such acts.
From a narrative criminology approach, the stories told of past harmdoing by those responsible for doing harm may affect their future behavior. This is so because experience is simultaneously represented and (re-)constructed in the telling of narratives, the meaning-making it entails and how storytelling contributes to (dis-)integrate harmdoing into a broader narrative of self, identity and future. The first part of this address will zoom in on the explanations – the why stories – that the 17 men I interviewed for my PhD project (2015-2020) gave in response to questions about how they ended up committing sexual violence.
Social responses to violence – and to stories of violence – may (re-)produce dominant understandings of violence and the harm resulting from it. However, social responses also carry subversive potential to redefine such understandings, potentially recognizing new forms of violence or harm and pushing narratives about selves and acts in new directions.
In the second part of the address, I will discuss the meaning and impact of social responses in and on developing narratives of committing and being convicted for sexual violence. The interpersonal responses that the participants encountered after having committed and been convicted for sex offences turned out to be important factors in the processes they engaged in to make sense of, and come to terms with, their acts and experiences. Some responses were pushing the men to re-evaluate their concepts of violation, violence and consent. Other responses were reinforcing experiences of having been unfairly treated by a victim-centered, over-vigilant justice system, and yet other responses caused stigma, fear and social isolation. Examples of responses and their impact in and on the men’s stories will be discussed in relation to narrative criminological thinking, as well as theorization on what helps or hinders desistance, rehabilitation and reintegration.
Anja Emilia Kruse is a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law, University of Oslo, Norway, and a researcher at the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (NKVTS) in Oslo, Norway.