"Let's Talk About Sex": Conversations between Female Social Workers and Young Male Clients

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Education and Social Work


Social Work practice entails working with vulnerable children and young people including those in the context of possible child sexual abuse (CSA), child sexual exploitation (CSE) and harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) concerns. Research has consistently identified concerns about the quality of social work communication and engagement with children (Lefevre, 2015). This is noted to be a particular difficulty when having to converse about sensitive topics such as sex and sexuality. There are numerous factors which likely influence the nature and quality of these conversations. This research is interested in the prevailing gender narratives in respect of sexual abuse and social work practice which serve as a backdrop to these conversations. Social work is a 'female majority profession' (McPhail 2004) and as such, the majority of conversations with male young people about CSA, CSE and HSB in social work practice are undertaken by female practitioners. Alongside this, the majority of perpetrators of CSE/CSA/HSB are male children and adults (Hackett, 2014). Given this context, this research will provide an in-depth exploration of how do female social workers and adolescent males negotiate and experience conversations in the context of possible CSA, CSE and HSB concerns? This research will employ a qualitative longitudinal approach combining participatory interviews with ethnography in order to gain a rich picture of how communication and engagement is facilitated or impeded between female social workers and young male clients in these exchanges. The intention of this research is to provide analysis of a contested and complex area of social work practice with the hope of learning what helps shape whether these conversations are successful or not. The approach will be exploratory and inductive in nature, given the lack of prior research on this topic. It is anticipated that a body of knowledge will be generated and theorised, allowing for further empirical research within the practice domain with consideration being given to how future social work practice could be best improved.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P00072X/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2259152 Studentship ES/P00072X/1 23/09/2019 30/09/2023 Anna Hutchings