What Puts Someone At-Risk to Sexually Abuse Children?

It can be hard to understand what causes someone to sexually abuse a child. Just as there is no such thing as a “typical sex offender”, there is no one pathway to becoming someone who sexually abuses children.

Treatment providers have said the one thing people who sexually abuse children are most likely to have in common is having experienced some form of childhood abuse themselves -- physical, sexual, or emotional. This doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it does help to explain the behavior. Childhood experiences of child sexual abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence can put aperson at risk of becoming an offender or a victim of abuse as a child or later in life. Understanding this provides a powerful reason for providing children who have experienced any form of abuse with specialized help to work through the impact.

Children learn their ideas of what is right or wrong from their family, community and society. Some experts believe that exposure to media (whether through books, magazines, advertisements, television, or the Internet) that depicts sexually coercive behaviors can impact our beliefs about what others are doing and what is acceptable. When the media sexualizes children through clothing choices, poses, song lyrics, etc. it can be confusing and encourage attitudes and beliefs that encourage or seem to make sexual violence feel common or “normal”.

When we don’t teach children about sexuality and about appropriate sexual expression and behavior, they may act sexually towards another out of ignorance. One of the best things we can do is teach our children what it is not okay for them to do with other children. Explain that while sexual feelings feel good, it is not okay for them to act sexually towards younger, smaller, or less developed children.

There is growing evidence of the connection between drug and alcohol use and sexual abuse. Some people use drugs and alcohol to lower their inhibitions so they can act in ways that they know are wrong or use it as an excuse for their behavior. “I was so drunk, I didn’t know what I was doing.” Some people abuse alcohol or drugs to avoid their bad feelings about what they have done.