Victim Voices: Analysing Child Discourse in Online Sexual Grooming Interactions – Ruth Mullineux-Morgan

For an enlarged version, click on the poster or download the file:

Abstracts page

Bios page


1.This study proposes to draw on Appraisal and Impoliteness theories to explore early findings that suggest a need to gain a deeper understanding of power dynamics between the (adult) groomer and child victim. What is the view of the audience about using these theories alongside each other? What are the possible affordances or challenges?

2.One of the key objectives of this research is to apply findings to inform practice recommendations for professionals and support OCSG preventive technology development -is the audience aware of routes or opportunities to help realise this objective?


  • Keighley Perkins

    Hi Ruth,

    Great poster! I’m looking forward to hearing more about your results!

  • Kate Barber

    Hi Ruth
    This is such an interesting project. I’m really interested to see how it progresses and what your research reveals. As you say, it’s so important to amplify the victims’ voices and your project will definitely fill an important gap in the research in this area. I was interested to know more about the focus groups you’re planning to carry out with the helpline professionals and how these will link into the linguistic analysis you’re carrying out.

  • Lucy Chrispin

    Hi Ruth,
    Thanks for your poster! This is really interesting research, especially from the child perspective. I was wondering if you could expand on the analysis process slightly – do you have any expectations in regard to the impoliteness / appraisal analysis, and do you feel either will be more revealing in your data? Also, how will you handle the analysis – will you be using a particular tool (i.e. UAM corpus tool) for the appraisal and impoliteness analysis or will this be manual?

  • David Griffin

    Hi Ruth! This is a really cool project. In regards to your second question, I belive Dr. Tim Grant from Aston and Dr. Nicci MacLeod from Northumbria have been working with the National Crime Agency on some related subjects; it might be worth reaching out to them.

  • Kate Steel

    Hi Ruth, I find this project fascinating, especially with its focus on child discourse. I look forward to learning more about your findings in the future. Are you able to give some more detail or an example of how you’ll be applying im/politeness theory to examine the discourses of submission and refusal?

  • Kate Kavanagh

    Hi Ruth, welcome to Cardiff ;) Great project, and good to have someone else to chat APPRAISAL with (I already absconded from the conference to have a look at the Benítez-Castro paper you mention, very helpful!). I’m not familiar with Impoliteness theories I’m afraid, but I wonder how you plan to extrapolate power dynamics from the AFFECT analysis? Or is it more about revealing how different power dynamics make the victims feel within this context? Cheers, Kate

  • Gerard O'Grady

    Hi Ruth, It’s nice to see how much this project has come along since I read the proposal a while back. One thought I had when reading your proposal to do with Appraisal is that as a social semiotic theory it regards language as immanent; we can only grasp the external through semioticising or meaning making. Therefore everything is internal to language and there is no place for pragmatic theories – see chapter 2 in the Routledge handbook of SFL by John Bateman. So aligning these theories will be tricky. Also impoliteness theory as I understand it is concerned with norms but are there norms in these interactions? And a final and minor point is the Appraisal theory is concerned with evaluating targets in order to position audiences. But is there any audience here? If so who?
    Good luck with this and look forward to hearing more about the project.

  • Ellie Bristow

    Hi Ruth, this project is fascinating! It’s so good and so important that you’re focussing on children’s voices. I’m really interested to learn more about what your data reveals. I was just wondering if you think there may be any issues/challenges with using the counselling session chat-logs and police data in terms of children being asked leading/closed questions which determines their discourse? I know very little about this topic so apologies if I’ve missed something that means that won’t be the case! Best of luck as you continue on your journey with this! Ellie

  • Amanda Potts

    Hi Ruth! This is the first time I’ve seen this work and it looks both fascinating and very worthwhile. I think the poster is quite ambitious and it would have helped me to see some of the data to help understand the coding. Having the percentages in findings was fabulous but also unexpected. For your questions:
    1) Both impoliteness and appraisal are enormous frameworks. I think you could easily justify just using specific branches/features of these.
    2) Yes, Nicci MacLeod and I believe also Nuria Lorenzo-Dus have experience in this.
    Best of luck with this important work!

  • Aurora Goodwin

    Hi Ruth,

    Your work is very interesting and very important! Good on you for undertaking something so necessary and under-researched.

    I was just wondering in terms of anonymisation, (if you’re able to discuss) what kind of anonymisation you plan to take? Will this be the changing of names? Or slight changes in the content so that abusers cannot recognise their own behaviour being analysed? Or will the data set itself not be published at all in order to maintain anonymity?

    Sorry if these questions are completely off the mark, it’s just that I too have had internal battles about how best to approach ethical considerations and so would be interested to know how you’re navigating it.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Ruth Mullineux-Morgan

    Thanks everyone for all the positive encouragement, feedback and suggestions – very gratefully received and extremely helpful at this stage of my analysis. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my poster and to leave comments.

    I would love to continue to engage and present my findings to this group when I am further along with my analysis. I’m going to try to take questions in order but if I miss anything or if there is anything you would like to discuss further please feel free to get in touch.

    Kate Barber: Focus groups – , thanks for this question, it’s something I’m still considering. I’m interested in what the group interviews might reveal about wider discourses amongst professionals that the children’s discourse might be ‘received into’ and therefore impact on how they are heard, which may in turn impact on the effectiveness of the response/intervention or how well it resonates with the child or young person. As part of the objective of my research is to try to influence policy and practice I intend to use elements of a deliberative inquiry approach (Burchardt, 2014) whereby I inject stimulus in the form of a presentation of a selection of my findings and foster deliberation to observe points of collective view or disparity. I’m hoping such an approach may be revealing. How/whether this will be analysed linguistically will be informed by what comes out of those sessions.

    Lucy: I am using NVivo and coding manually but I will check out the UAM corpus tool you mention

    Use of Appraisal (AFFECT & Judgement) and Im-politeness
    I really appreciate all the comments, thought-provoking suggestions and challenge – lots to consider and think through. Some of the comments cover similar issues (interesting for me to note and reflect on) so I’m going to try to group my responses if that’s ok. Gerard: It’s really interesting to note your reservations about the immanence of language and the place of pragmatic approaches in analysing them as a result, thank you. I will certainly follow up the suggested reference and give this some more thought. With regards to questions about reconciling the two theories I’m hoping they will each provide a different frame for analysing the child’s discourse about their experience of OCSG.

    Amanda: In answer to your question, yes I am planning to select specific elements/branches of the theories to elucidate the findings in my data – I agree they are huge and complex theories. In terms of impoliteness theory I’m looking at adopting a discursive approach to im-politeness (Eelen 2001; Mills 2003; Watts 2003, 2008; Locher and Watts 2005) to examine how child victims of OCSG evaluate particular groomer discursive behaviours. So far analysis seems to show children are identifying a range of discursive behaviours by the groomer along a politeness-impoliteness continuum. Identified behaviours aligned to politeness include: seeking agreement, asserting common ground, offering/promising, assuming/asserting reciprocity and giving gifts (goods, sympathy understanding) (Brown and Levinson 1987). Behaviours associated to impoliteness seem to cover different types of coercion (e.g. threats, blackmail, harassment).

    To answer Kate Steel’s question I’m currently coding for utterances indicating submission (i.e.complying with the range of groomer strategies or adhering to requests/demands)/refusal (blocking, reporting, disclosing etc) in each transcript, once I have these coded I will be looking more closely at what impoliteness theory may be able to add to support a more detailed analysis of how these utterances are expressed by children and how effective they are as a result- so a work in progress but I’d be happy to share more when I am at that stage of analysis. Early findings seem to indicate the presence of a number of references to both submission and refusal in each transcript and a real tension between the two in the children’s discourse. This seems to suggest how challenging it is for a child to make sense of – and reconcile – the two poles (polite/impolite) of groomer behaviour, either at the time of grooming or when reflecting upon it subsequently. I’m exploring Appraisal Theory as one way of trying to understand how the child attempts this process of making sense of their experience by analysing how they linguistically evaluate it i.e their feelings and emotions (AFFECT) and their opinions (Judgement) about their experience; the groomer; themselves and others around them. The Benitez-Castro & Hidalgo-Tenorio (2019) modifications to the AFFECT system attract me in part because of their psychologically-inspired approach to the linguistic expression of emotion and thus, emphasis on goal as the foundation of all emotion types. I’m also interested in the framework as a way to map the emotions expressed (and see if there are any patterns across the sample(s)) and the more granular breakdown it provides than other proposed iterations of the framework (Martin & White, 2005; Bednarek, 2008) for capturing utterances of security/insecurity/attraction/repulsion/happiness/unhappiness that seem to be emerging from my data.

    Kate Kavanagh: To answer your point, yes it’s about trying to explore how the power dynamics are making children feel both at the time of the OSCG interaction and retrospectively (Kate, I’d be happy to discuss Appraisal theory more as both of our research develops – would be good to have a mutual sounding board!).

    The emphasis on goals of Benitez-Castro & Hidalgo-Tenorio’s (2019) modifications of AFFECT also hold potential as a really interesting site for discussion in the context of the communicative coercion and power dynamics that seem to be emerging thus far from my data. So rather than combine these two approaches to analysis I’m hoping to use them as frameworks to layer alongside each other to provide different angles to try to understand distinct elements of children’s communication about and within OCSG. Gerard: With regards to your final point about Appraisal theory being concerned with evaluating targets to position audiences, again I will definitely consider this further. It is potentially interesting to see the emotions and opinions expressed in a counselling context when talking about grooming retrospectively and those expressed in the midst of a grooming interaction – so potentially two different and very distinct ‘audiences’ – which comes back to my earlier points about thinking through the ‘goal-driven’ emphasis in Benitez-Castro & Hidalgo-Tenorio’s (2019) proposed revision of AFFECT.

    David: Thanks for the references to Tim Grant and Nicci Macloed, I’m familiar with their work along with that of Emily Chiang which has fed into my literature review and will be referred to in the discussion of my findings. I’ve also got their recently published book on order from the library. Prof Nuria Lorenzo-Dus is my supervisor and this work is part of a wider research project looking at extending and developing work which linguistically analyses offender communication and now, with my research, is starting to explore the child’s side of these interactions.

    Ellie’s question is important, thank you. Considering the types of questions asked and how far this shapes the discourse will need to be dealt with in my methodology chapter and could be a potential limitation that needs to be considered and discussed.

    Aurora: Thank you for your question. All data is fully anonymised before it reaches me in accordance with the data sharing agreements with the organisations providing data. So no names, or any identifying data (such as location, contact details, references to other people etc) in the body of the texts. I may include quotations in my thesis where it helps to illustrate my findings but care will be taken to ensure they are fully anonymised and examples selected to ensure they are not in any way-identifiable. Agreement for their use will be sought from the organisations providing the data prior to submission or any publication. Happy to chat about this more.

    Thanks once again everyone – I’ve really enjoyed participating in this event


  • Chris Heffer

    Hi Ruth
    Very interesting work, thanks. You may not pick this up now as you have already replied to everyone, but briefly:
    (1) Pragmatic theories should prove very useful since you are focussing on interaction in context rather than linguistic representation or construction. As you describe your use of Appraisal above, that does seem to be a micro-context of representation rather than interaction and so should be fine;
    (2) This might betray my ignorance of current work, but I thought Culpeper’s impoliteness theory was just an offshoot of mainstream Brown & Levinson politeness theory. Also, Culpeper developed his model to account for contexts where speakers want to give offence rather than be polite but I can’t see why pedophiles would want to give offence given that they are trying to seduce the child.
    Anyway, this is very exciting work and the poster was clear.

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