Can norm theory explain the effects of victim age and level of physical maturity on perceptions of child sexual abuse?

Paul Rogers, Michelle Davies, Irina Anderson, Anita Potton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study examines the effects of victim age, victim physical maturity, and respondent gender on attributions toward victims, perpetrator, and the nonoffending members of the victim’s family in a hypothetical child sexual abuse (CSA) case. Participants read a brief CSA vignette in which the male perpetrator (a school caretaker) sexually abuses a student in the school changing rooms. The victim was depicted as either a 12- or 15-year-old girl who, in terms of physical maturity, was either pre- or postpubescent. Separate 2 × 2 × 2 ANOVAs were performed on the dependent variables. Results conformed broadly to the study’s predictions with younger victims being viewed more negatively than older victims and the victim’s physical appearance being viewed as more encouraging of CSA for the younger than for the older girl. Female participants were more likely to endorse the belief that the younger victim should have fought back and that the prepubescent 15-year-old victim should have fought back more than her postpubescent counterpart. While attributions toward the perpetrator and victim’s family did not differ across conditions for women, men tended to blame the perpetrator more when victims were younger and the family more when victims were less physically mature. Findings are discussed in relation to norm theory principles, just world theory, and the defensive attribution hypothesis. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1911-1933
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2011


  • norm theories
  • victim age effects
  • physical maturity
  • child sexual abuse
  • perpetrators
  • victim family
  • victim attribution
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual
  • Child Behavior
  • Crime Victims
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception
  • Psychological Theory
  • Puberty
  • Public Opinion
  • Schools
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Perception
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Students
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult
  • Child Abuse
  • Physical Maturity
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Social Norms
  • Victimization
  • Age Discrimination
  • Attribution
  • Family
  • Perpetrators


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