Victim, Perpetrator, or What Else?: Volume 25

Cover of Victim, Perpetrator, or What Else?

Generational and Gender Perspectives on Children, Youth, and Violence


Table of contents

(13 chapters)


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Part I Perceptions and Definitions


This paper analyses how social workers in the German child protection system rhetorically frame their cases, and how their rhetoric defines its categorical labels corresponding to positions of gender and generation: to what degree are mothers considered as perpetrators and children as victims? Seventy case narrations of social workers on the frontline are analysed regarding the rhetorical idioms they applied. The results show that violence is an irrelevant interpretive framework for the social problems at work in child protection. Instead, irresponsible mothers and their limited agencies are staged front and centre. Categories of limited agency serve as rhetorical devices for the social workers to justify diverse decisions ranging from implementing interventions to terminating the professional-client relationship due to the labelling of the mother as mentally ill. As the rhetorical idiom of unreason does not operate with categories of perpetration and victimization, equivalences for the labels of the practical objectives of victimization are analysed. Consequently, the responsibility of the mother is deflected as her limited agency is seen as a product of troubling conditions. In turn, children are either ignored as victims or even treated as a troubling condition for the mothers’ limited agency. This may lead to the blacking out of the adverse consequences of child abuse and neglect as well as of possible resources for the children to avoid or prevent violent situations. In this way, child protection helps the reproduction of the generational order, which is the basis for child abuse and neglect.


Approximately 1,750–2,000 children die in the United States annually because of child abuse or neglect. Official statistics show that women are more often the perpetrators of abuse and neglect-related deaths, even though child welfare professionals largely attribute these deaths to men. Either acting alone or with another individual, mothers are responsible for roughly 60% of deaths and either together or alone, fathers are responsible for roughly 40% of deaths. Despite the consistency of this information, it is not widely accepted by child welfare workers – the professional group whose job it is to identify risk factors and to protect children from harm. Previous research shows that workers are more likely to believe that men are responsible for children’s deaths and that deaths are perpetrated by non-family members. In this chapter, we explore the potential explanations for workers’ misperceptions including the role of gender norms, ideology, confusion concerning how children die, and also which kinds of cases result in criminal charges and thus, shape the public’s understanding of fatal child maltreatment. Incomplete and inadequate information about the perpetration of maltreatment deaths potentially puts children at risk for future fatalities. Implications for child welfare and social service professionals, their training, and practice are discussed.


Both research and child protection practice are still far away from having uniform definitions of violence against children. The different disciplines involved in the sectors of national child protection systems rely on separate discourses and terms; definitions are sometimes rather general or implicit, and operationalizations of important elements are rare. The various terms in use – child maltreatment, child abuse and neglect, child endangerment, children at risk, children in need, etc. – speak of the variety, not only of concepts, but also of practices. With respect to the latter, definitional issues are also issues of the scope and thresholds of intervention. This chapter provides an overview of major terms and definitional approaches to violence against children and identifies eminent differences between them. Findings from several studies on the Swiss child protection system, including the first multi-sectorial national survey on agency responses to child maltreatment, illustrate how professionals use definitions and the consequences of having multiple definitional concepts for documenting reported cases. We conclude by advocating for a consensus-based interdisciplinary process of developing shared definitions of violence against children.


Definitions of domestic homicide shape data collection and prevention efforts and, consequentially, our understanding of these crimes. This chapter explores issues related to defining domestic homicide in the context of our work with the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative with Vulnerable Populations (CDHPIVP). We discuss selected case studies to demonstrate what cases are included and excluded in this work and to highlight the importance of understanding our narrower, project-based definition in relation to the larger context of domestic violence-related homicides and deaths. By considering how victims and perpetrators are identified when defining domestic violence, we illustrate how undercounting of domestic homicide may occur, contributing to the “dark figure” of domestic homicide. Furthermore, we argue that cases from certain groups, such as Indigenous women in Canada, may be systematically excluded from definitions of domestic homicide. In reflecting on these issues and cases, our aim is to advance calls for consistency and transparency in definitions to allow for stronger research across jurisdictions (Fairbairn, Jaffe, & Dawson, 2017; Jaffe et al., 2017), as well as to support efforts of initiatives such as domestic violence death review committees (DVDRCs) in their work to prevent domestic homicides.

Part II Institutional Reactions


This chapter examines the differing ways in which the criminal responsibility of children has been understood in English and Australian common law. The doctrine of “doli incapax” has for many centuries worked to establish a presumption in law that children between the ages of around 10 and 14 are incapable of forming criminal intent, unless it can be shown that they are capable of ‘guilty knowledge’ about their actions. In this approach, children are presumed to be ‘naughty’ until it can be shown that they are ‘bad’. However, events such as the murder of James Bulger in 1993 have led to the abolition of the doctrine in the UK, and its questioning in Australia. The chapter will outline how and why the law’s distinction between adults and children in relation to crime has become unstable, and explain the implications of the legal conception of childhood for the sociology of childhood more broadly. It will also explore how a closer look at the history of the doli incapax presumption sheds considerable light on the central and active role played by the judiciary and the legal profession, as opposed to other social and professional groups, in the development of a particular legal construction of childhood.


This is a study on perceptions of child abuse and interventions in cases of abuse in the Family and Childhood Support Centres in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It raises the following questions: what is the divergence between the level of abuse experienced by a child and that recognized by adults? What are the conditions for recognition of the child as a victim of abuse by social workers? What interventions will the family and the child receive when the child recognized as a victim? To answer these questions, we conducted qualitative interviews with children and parents along with the social workers supporting them. The study confirms that children face abuse much more often than is recognized by adults. The child is more likely to be recognized as a victim if the parent reported the abuse, the abuse led to physical injury, or if it happened in the family. The child may be recognized as a victim if the child’s entry point into the system is through runaway or delinquent behaviour. However, in these cases, the child would more likely be treated as deviant than victimized. The child is less likely to be recognized as a victim in cases of corporal punishment within the family or abuse outside of the family (i.e., school bullying). Intervention into a case of abuse is usually focused on the mother of the child and involves enhanced supervision and social control of both the mother and the child.

Part III Conditions of Change – Global, National, and Local


There is a growing recognition that social norms play a key role in perpetuating gender- and age-based violence, and that tackling social norms must be an integral component of prevention and response interventions to ensure meaningful progress towards the ambitious targets of eliminating gender-based violence (Sustainable Development Goal [SDG] Target 5.2) and violence against children (SDG 16.2) by 2030. However, existing research often fails to adequately capture life-course and context-specific complexities. To explore these challenges, this chapter focuses on adolescents’ vulnerabilities to violence in Afar, one of the Ethiopia’s most disadvantaged regions. Drawing on findings from the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) mixed-methods 2018 baseline research, and using a socio-ecological framework, the chapter highlights that while the patterning of violence experienced by adolescent girls and boys is shifting across generations at the micro-level, gender- and age-related social norms remain deeply entrenched in both migrating and settled pastoralist communities. At the meso-level, institutional barriers to addressing adolescents’ experiences of violence include a lack of basic infrastructure, a dearth of confidential reporting spaces, limited adolescent- and gender-friendly personnel within the police and justice sectors, and poor coordination. At the macro-level, the chapter underscores the significant disconnect between Ethiopia’s progressive national policies and adolescents’ experiences of violence, reflected in the availability and quality of prevention and response services. The chapter concludes that to adequately tailor services to local realities and tackle adolescents’ specific vulnerabilities, a fine-grained analysis of the gendered and generational experiences of violence in its diverse forms is critical.


This chapter will portray the long and up-hill battle to abolish child marriage in India. It will focus on a few key moments of changing discourses on child marriage. While being categorized as a legitimate customary cultural practice over the centuries, there was a crucial generational shift towards addressing it as a violation of human rights within the past decade/s. For portraying these shifts, the metaphor of an up-hill battle has been chosen mainly for two reasons. On the one hand, it explicitly asks for investigating into the two parties (armies) involved in the violent “battle” over territory and/or ideas. On the other hand, it requests an understanding about the (metaphorical) landscape, with its slopes and pitfalls, reflecting the socio-cultural and political “landscape” where the battle is set.

At the global level, the United Nations has consistently advanced the agenda of addressing and safeguarding human rights, specifically for children. In India, successive governments have contributed to improving the protection of young girls, and boys, and tackling child marriage has been a crucial step to doing so. Thus, global conventions have been translated not only into national policies, but also into comprehensive legislation/s. Above all, the current Modi government strongly endeavours to (re-)brand India as a rapidly emerging digital global economy, rather than one characterized by violations of human rights, such as child marriage. Conceptually, the chapter will portray child marriage as a form of structural violence, where governance mechanisms fail to protect children from falling victim to human right abuses.


This chapter explores the institutional processes addressing child marriage in contemporary Kyrgyzstan with the focus on the operation of state-sponsored institutions of secondary education and their management strategies deployed when a child marriage comes under their purview. Drawing on 32 child marriage cases, the study documents contradictions between the recently emerging nationally recognized commitment to combatting violence against school children in Kyrgyzstan and the actual work done to protect schoolgirls from child marriage. Administrative practices used by educational managers construct married schoolgirls as “unfit for schooling” and act in accordance with these constructions. Using D. E. Smith’s feminist-inspired alternative sociology approach, institutional ethnography, as a conceptual framework, I argue that what happens is much more complex and nuanced than what is typically seen as a “mere” lack of acceptance, concealment, or acquiescence. My study describes, maps, and analyzes this institutional system to “reach beyond the locally observable and discoverable into the translocal social relations and organizations that permeate and control the local” (Smith, 2005, p. 65). Inquiring from the married girls’ standpoint, I discover that their exclusion is articulated by the state system of schools’ appraisal and monitoring, organized both politically and administratively as an extension of government and its efforts to reform the national comprehensive education system and ensure national security and peace. I discover that, in this system, the concept of “child bride” is treated with striking ambivalence in the institutional and public discourses, and the notion of “violence” is applied to child marriage in an inconsistent manner.


Child marriage, or marriage between two individuals when one or both are under the age of 18, is legal and practiced in 48 US states. Despite this, child marriage is commonly understood as only occurring in the Global South. Child marriage laws shed light on the paradoxical policies that most US states enforce regarding young people’s sexual agency. By legalizing sex between adults and minors within the institution of marriage, child marriage provides exception to statutory rape laws, which classify sex between minors and adults as sexual violence. In this chapter, I draw on feminist and queer theories to critically examine the racialized and gendered effects of these contradictory state policies. First, I analyze US age of consent laws’ reliance on an adult/child binary that constructs adults and minors as essentially and radically different. Second, I explore efforts to challenge the adult/child binary, looking at how frameworks for understanding sexual violence that are rooted in an adult/child binary can exacerbate young people’s vulnerability to sexual violence. Third, I discuss feminist efforts to theorize sexual violence outside of binary logics and their implications for research on child marriage. I conclude by discussing areas for future research on child marriage that attend to the racialized and gendered inequalities that undergird the state regulation of youth sexualities.


Pages 207-215
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Cover of Victim, Perpetrator, or What Else?
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Sociological Studies of Children and Youth
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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