Is it really true that in some families child sexual abuse can go through more than one generation?

Dear Stop It Now!
I have a friend whose brother was sexually abused as a child by a family member. He has now been accused of molesting his nephew. Is this usual? Does child sexual abuse happen in different generations of the same family?

Dear Concerned Friend,

There is a popular myth that most people who have been sexually abused as children go on to become offenders. This is not true and is not supported by facts. 

Most children who have been abused never go on to offend others. When children who have been abused, although forever changed, receive loving support from adults in their lives combined with appropriate treatment, they can and have gone on to live safe, happy and healthy lives. 

Yes, in some circumstances, it can happen that someone who was abused in childhood may proceed to offend others. When child sexual abuse is not acknowledged or responded to, children who have been abused can react to their abuse by sexually harming others. Families are very complicated and there are many factors that might contribute to child sexual abuse continuing from one generation to another.

In families where abuse continues through a generation or more, it is often because there has been no outside intervention, especially from professionals such as child protective authorities and therapists or other treatment providers. You may be interested in reading Are children who get sexually abused more likely to become sexually abusive as teens or adults from our FAQs. In addition, many people who have abused who are held accountable, accept responsibility for what they’ve done, and who dedicate themselves to treatment and changing their behavior, can and have also gone on to live abuse-free lives.

The possibility of abuse affecting generations is one more extremely important reason why adults need to speak up as soon as they see concerning behaviors. Intervention, accountability and treatment are key in stopping abuse and in moving all family members who were impacted by the abuse on to a path of recovery and healing.  

Take care,
Stop It Now!

Resource: From Generation to Generation by Ann Stirling Hastings, Ph.D.

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Last edited on: January 3rd, 2012