Just as there is no such thing as a typical “sex offender,” there is no such thing as a typical “victim.” How children process the experience of having been sexually abused varies widely and depends on many things, including whether they receive protection, acknowledgement and the help they need to address the harm done to them.
At the same time, having been sexually abused as a child is a risk factor that increases the likelihood that someone will sexually abuse children. Risk factors are not the same as “causes.” For example, being over 40 is a risk factor for getting breast cancer but it doesn’t mean you will automatically get breast cancer. The reason why we focus on risk factors is so that we can increase protective factors (for example, regular mammograms for early detection).
For children who have been abused, being believed and supported by significant people in their lives is one of the most important factors that contribute to their healthy and safe sexual behaviors as they grown into adulthood. It is never too late for you or someone you know to get help for dealing with the impact of sexual abuse. It is never too late to offer support to someone who experienced sexual abuse as a child.
Other factors can increase the risk that someone will sexually abuse children. For example, children who grow up in families where they are exposed to a great deal of violence or neglect are also at- risk to grow up to sexually abuse. Prevention of sexual abuse involves not just treating the child who was harmed but also addressing the family environment.
The majority of children who experience sexual abuse do not go on to sexually abuse others. It is important to be realistic about the fact that having been sexually abused is a risk factor. However, we can add protective factors to support children and help them to have positive behaviors.