Why would an adult sexually abuse a child?

There is no "usual" pathway to someone sexually abusing a child. Each person who sexually abuses a child is motivated by issues unique to that individual. Some adults who sexually abuse children recognize that it is wrong and are deeply unhappy about what they are doing. Other adults believe their behavior is okay and that what they do shows their love for children.

Some adults sexually abuse a child to feel the power and control they don’t feel in their relationships with other adults. Sometimes, adults who have intimate sexual relationships with other adults may sexually abuse children in moments of unusual stress, such as after the loss a job or during a divorce. Some adults are primarily sexually attracted to children, and some never act on those feelings. Some adults act impulsively when presented with an unexpected opportunity to sexually abuse a child. Other people, particularly youth with high social status or with social or emotional delays, may not even fully understand the harmful impact of their actions.

Knowing why people sexually abuse children does not excuse their behavior, but it may help us understand what is happening. Effective treatment programs are available to help stop the abusive behavior. No matter what the reason for the abuse, the effects on children may be severe and may last a lifetime.

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