‘A few bad apples’ v ‘my culture made me do it’? Comparing narratives of cultural determinism in institutional and racialised gendered violence

Dr Selda Dagistanli

Western Sydney University, s.dagistanli@westernsydney.edu.au

Official and popular commentary, from multiple political perspectives, often seeks to pin down the role of ‘culture’ in explaining incidences of gendered violence and sexual abuse. Yet these narratives rarely, if ever, attempt to define the vague notion of culture or even explain their usage of the term. In cases of gendered violence, the scramble to apportion blame propagates a simplistic binary between absolute free will on the one hand, and cultural determinism on the other. This paper argues that both sides of this binary are troubling. It explains how, when an ethnic, race(d) or religious cultural group is popularly held accountable for instilling an offender with violent attitudes, abuse becomes racialised and whole communities can be subject to racist recriminations. Alternatively, when individual responsibility is solely emphasised cultural frameworks that normalise abusive behaviours are overlooked, the sexual abuse of disadvantaged groups escapes censure, and opportunities for prevention are ignored or, at best, approached superficially. This paper surmises on these themes through a comparative analysis of the official and popular discourses around the racialised sexual abuse cases in Rochdale, UK, and the multiple sexual abuse cases involving Australian Defence Force members that have come to light since the “Skype scandal” of 2011.


Selda Dagistanli is a lecturer in criminology at Western Sydney University. Selda researches in a range of inter-disciplinary areas relating to “cultures of abuse” and the racialisation of gendered violence, multicultural politics and anti-Muslim racism, and cultural diversity and the law through the critical analysis of legal and political discourses. She is currently completing a monograph with Taylor & Francis titled, Trialling Culture, Protecting Women: Racialising Sexual Violence in Legal and Political Discourses. She has recently been a CI on an ARC Discovery Project exploring ‘Sharia in everyday life in Sydney and New York with Professors Possamai, Turner and Voyce.


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