Will children who get sexually abused become sexually abusive as teens or adults?

FAQ Category:
Children's Behaviors

NO. The vast majority of sexual abuse survivors live their lives without ever sexually abusing others.

Although it is true that adults who sexually abuse children are more likely to have been victims of contact sexual abuse as kids when compared to their peers (1), children and teens who have been sexually abused are no more likely to become sexually abusive adults than children who have not experienced abuse (2). In actuality, female children constitute a larger percentage of sexual abuse survivors than males, yet 90% of people who sexually abuse children are male (3). 

But many childhood experiences besides sexual abuse are associated with sexually harmful behavior in youth  and into adulthood, including exposure to violence, lack of emotional connection early in life, and physical abuse.  When a person is exposed to traumas in childhood, it is more likely for them to have difficulties in other areas of their lives – like relationships, safety, decision making, mental health, physical wellbeing – as they grow into adults (4)(5).

Intervention is crucial after a child has been abused. Acknowledging and addressing the distress these children have already faced is a good way to begin ending this abusive cycle. Experts and parents agree that with specialized treatment these children can heal, and do not pose a risk to other children – now or later in life.

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(1) Glasser, M, et al. “Cycle of Child Sexual Abuse: Links between Being a Victim and Becoming a Perpetrator.” The British Journal of Psychiatry: the Journal of Mental Science., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2001, http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/179/6/482.

(2) Widom, C S, and C Massey. “A Prospective Examination of Whether Childhood Sexual Abuse Predicts Subsequent Sexual Offending.” Jama Pediatrics, 5 Jan. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25561042.

(3) Peter, Tracey. “Exploring Taoos: Comparing Male-and Female-Perpetrated Child Sexual Abuse.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 24, no. 7, 13 Aug. 2008, pp. 1111–1128., journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0886260508322194.

(4) Feletti, Vincent J, et al. “Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine, vol. 14, no. 4, 1998, pp. 245–258.

(5) “Violence Prevention: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 Apr. 2016, www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/.