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Title: The child as participating victim
Author(s): Matti Virkkunen
Affiliation: Psychiatric Clinic, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
Citation: Virkkunen, M., “The child as participating victim,” in Cook, M. & Howells, K. (eds.), Adult sexual interest in children, London: Academic Press, 1981, pp. 121-134.


The author writes that since the 1970s, increasing efforts have been made to study every aspect of the criminal situation rather than concentrating on only the criminal or the crime itself. The relationships between the offender and the victim has been investigated and special attention given to the part played by the victim in initiating and cooperating with the crime. This has occurred in the study of sex crimes as well as other types of crime.

Feminists, especially those in the United States, have expressed anxiety at the possible over-emphasis of these aspects, noting that men perceive the participation of victims, especially in sex crimes, more often than do women. However, the author writes that clarification of the victimological aspects and a thorough investigation of all circumstances in sexual crimes could provide a more objective and complete picture of these crimes, and possibly help to prevent them in the future.

Many investigators in the area of victimology have formulated various ways of classifying victims. The one that is perhaps most suitable for describing child victims of sexual crimes consists of five categories:

  1. Non-participating victims do not contribute to the offense, and they have an attitude of repulsion toward the offense and the offender.
  2. Latent or predisposed victims have particular predispositions or traits which make them more vulnerable for victimization.
  3. Provocative victims incite the offense, or create or foster a situation likely to lead to it.
  4. Participating victims adopt a passive attitude, make the crime possible or easier, or assist the offender.
  5. False victims are not victims at all, or they are victims of their own actions.

The author writes that studies have found many male victims of sex crimes against children are in group 3 or 4. These studies have found that the boys' degree of participation ranges from compliance to actual solicitation of sexual advances. The most definitive work on sex offenders, published in 1965 by U.S. researchers led by Gebhard, found that official records indicated that in 70% of sex offenses by men against boys, the boy encouraged the sexual advance, or had been passive. In 27% of the cases, the boys resisted, and in the remaining 3%, the boy initially accepted the sexual activity, but then resisted. Physical force was rare.

This has been confirmed by studies from other countries finding that the boy was usually passive or took the initiative by coming to the man, sometimes bringing friends. In the minority of cases, 25-33%, the boys resisted. This occurred only when the boy was afraid of the offender’s threats. One study found that in 48% of the offenses, the boy visited the adult on his own initiative and took some kind of initiative in the sexual activity. It also found that 64% of the boys returned to the adult for more sexual activity. In such cases, the offender never behaved aggressively.

In 95% of the offenses where the boy was a non-participant or latent/predisposed, he resisted the offender. In these cases, the offender usually exhibited antisocial tendencies and non-sexual criminal behavior. In the cases where the boy encouraged or participated in the offense, the offender tended more often to have had fewer relationships with the opposite sex, was happier in the company of minors, and was more often shy and timid.

In the majority of sex crimes against children, the victim and the offender know each other. Sometimes bribery is used to induce the boy into such behavior.

It is important to realize that in spite of their initiative, the boys do not necessarily view sexual activity in the same way as the men do. For the boys, it may be something exciting, the expression of stimulus-seeking behavior, or a way of establishing a relationship with an adult. It may provide him with gratification and pleasure he is unable to get elsewhere.

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