By David Lee on November 25, 2009 · tagged as , , , , ,

Young people's understanding of responsibility in sexual abuse situations

In the recent article in the journal Young, Norwegian researchers explore young people’s perceptions of responsibility in sexual abuse situations. While the focus of the article examines perceptions of scenarios between an adult male and minor female, the issue of how we address young people’s perceptions of themselves is also important for our rape prevention efforts.

The authors point out that legally there is a clear dividing line between “…children, who cannot consent, and adults, who have an unrestricted capacity to consent.” However, adolescents perceive themselves as having the capacity to make sensible decisions. While recognizing teen agency is respect their our agency, our culture often blames the victim when a young female is seen as “responsible” for putting herself in harms way.

The authors conclude that it would be fruitful for prevention efforts to “deconstruct the simplistic and problematic binary of innocent girls versus responsible young women that so often underscores discussions in this field.”

Here is the full citation and link to the abstract on the journal’s page.

Responsible victims? Young people’s understandings of agency and responsibility in sexual situations involving underage girls.

Smette I, Stefansen K, Mossige S. Young 2009; 17(4): 351-373.

Click here to link to the abstract of the article

(Copyright © 2009, Sage Publications)

Most countries have a legal age of consent, setting the minimum age for the involvement of a young person in sexual relationships. Engaging in a sexual relationship with a person below this age is defined as abuse, even if the minor has consented. At the same time, underage young people often see themselves as knowledgeable agents across a range of situations, including having sexual relations with older persons. Using both quantitative and qualitative data, this article examines the role of the construction of agency in young people’s understanding of different types of sexual situations — from consented sex to situations of physical coercion — involving a minor girl and an adult man. How do constructions of agency affect the labelling of different situations and the attribution of responsibility to the persons involved? The article further discusses how the concept of agency interlinks with gendered sexual scripts in the process of interpretation, thereby reproducing gendered vulnerabilities. The concluding section considers how a contextual approach to youth agency may inform preventive efforts.

David Lee

More Posts by David Lee

David S. Lee, MPH, is the Director of Prevention Services at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault where he provides training and technical assistance on prevention. David manages the national project PreventConnect, an online community of violence against women prevention practitioners, funders, researchers and activists. For over 27 years David has worked in efforts to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

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