Attributions of Blame in a Hypothetical Child Sexual Abuse Case: Roles of Behavior Problems and Frequency of Abuse

Kate Theimer, David J. Hansen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Youth who are blamed for their sexual abuse may experience increased negative outcomes, such as amplified self-blame. Similarly, blaming nonoffending parents can impede their ability to support their child following disclosure. Understanding the factors that influence how people perceive victim, caregiver, and perpetrator responsibility is imperative for the protection and treatment of families who have experienced sexual abuse. Little research has explored victim and abuse characteristics that influence the perception of sexual abuse. As such, the purpose of this study was to examine the roles of behavior problems and frequency of abuse in the attribution of blame in a hypothetical sexual abuse case. In addition, the relationship between several respondent characteristics and assignment of responsibility were explored as secondary aims. The study used a two (behavior problems: three suspensions in one school semester vs. no mention of behavior problems) by two (one abuse occurrence vs. five abuse occurrences) between-subjects design. Seven hundred forty-two participants read one of the four child sexual abuse (CSA) vignettes and completed measures related to responsibility. ANOVAs revealed those who read a vignette where the youth experienced multiple abuse incidents rated the victim as more responsible regardless of whether or not the youth was described as having behavior problems. Results indicate that respondents may have attributed more blame to the victim due to the belief that she could have done something to stop the abuse after the first incident. The abuse frequency manipulation when combined with the behavior manipulation appeared to relate to how respondents perceived the victim’s parents. Males and younger respondents attributed more blame to the victim; however, sexual abuse or assault history did not associate with victim responsibility ratings. Clinical and research implications were discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2142-2163
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • abuse frequency
  • attributions
  • behavior problems
  • blame
  • child sexual abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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