Q: What is sexual abuse?
A:  Sexual abuse includes any sexual or sexually motivated behavior that is done to someone without that person’s consent. This includes a continuum of intrusive behaviors ranging from hands-off offending, such as voyeurism and verbal comments, up to and including sexual penetration with or without violence. The key is that there is no consent.

Q: Who commits sexual crimes?
A:  People who sexually abuse others cross all socioeconomic, educational, gender, age, and cultural lines. There is no typical profile, although most abusers know their victims. Stranger-on-stranger sexual abuse is extremely rare.

Q: Are most perpetrators of sexual abuse males?
A:  Yes. Males account for approximately 90-95% of sexual abusers (Cortoni, Hanson, and Coache, 2010). Both males and females who sexually offend typically abuse from positions of trust or power in families, among circles of friends, or while working with children (Snyder, 2000). Females are more likely than males to target younger children.

Q: Do adolescents commit sexual abuse?
A:  Yes. Adolescents (ages 13-17) account for approximately 35% of all sexual offenses against minors (OJJDP, Juvenile Justice Bulletin, December 2009). Males account for about 90-95% of sexually abusive acts engaged in by adolescents (OJJDP, Juvenile Justice Bulletin, December 2009). The majority of adolescents – approximately 93% – do not continue sexually offending (Caldwell, 2010).

Q: Why do people engage in sexually abusive behavior?
A:  There is no single reason people sexually abuse others. Motivations can include general delinquency and criminal attitudes, anger and antisocial attitudes, intimacy deficits and loneliness, sexual preferences, sexual arousal to violence, hypersexuality, and/or a desire for power and control.

Q: Can minors give consent?
A:  No. No sexual interaction with a minor is consensual. While the age of sexual consent and laws about sexual abuse vary by jurisdiction, minors cannot give consent. Any sexual interaction with a minor is abuse. This ranges from child molestation and sexual abuse of infants, toddlers, and young children to sexual interactions with older children and teenagers.

Q: Is pedophilia the same as child molestation?
A:  No. Child molestation is any behavior that involves sexual activities with minors. Pedophilia is when someone has a primary sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Pedophilic interest is not a choice, and not all individuals with pedophilic interests act on their sexual attraction to children. Being a pedophile is not the same as being a child molester, and does not always lead to child molestation. It also is important to note that not all child molesters are pedophiles. There are a range of motivations to molest a child that do not include sexual attraction, despite the sexual nature of the offense.

Q: Is sexting sexual abuse?
A:  It can be. Because this is a relatively new form of sexual activity, laws vary widely among jurisdictions about whether and when sexting is considered an offense. Most jurisdictions consider taking and/or sharing sexually explicit photos of someone without their consent to be abuse. In addition, sending sexually explicit pictures of a minor, even if it is the minor him- or herself who is sending the photos, can be considered child pornography in some jurisdictions. There also remains a lack of consensus about addressing consensual behaviors between adolescent peers.  

Q: Who are victims of sexual abuse?
A:  Anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse. Just as there is no typical profile of someone who perpetrates sexual abuse, people who are sexually victimized cross all socioeconomic, educational, gender, age, and cultural lines. However, certain groups are at higher risk for victimization. These groups include children, people with disabilities, the elderly, members of LGBTQ communities, and Native Americans and First Peoples (RAINN, Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics; SexAssault.ca, Sexual Assault Statistics in Canada).

Q: Can males be victims of sexual violence?
A:  Yes. Boys and men can be sexually abused by other males and by females. Any time there is no consent to sexual behavior, that is abuse.

Q: How many sexual abusers reoffend?
A:  Individuals who sexually offend have the lowest recidivism rate of all crime types. Data show that, on average, just 5% of individuals adjudicated or convicted of a sexual offense commit another sexual crime (Langan, Schmitt, and Durose, 2003; Sample and Bray, 2003).

Q: Can treatment help prevent individuals convicted of sexual crimes from reoffending?
A:  Yes. The most effective treatment occurs when therapies are designed around risk-needs-responsivity principles. This means matching treatment to the individual’s risk to reoffend; addressing skill-building needs such as prosocial thinking, interpersonal skills, and anger management; and tailoring interventions to the individual’s learning style (responsivity).

Q: Do sex offender registries help lower the sexual re-offense rate?
A:  No. Most registries are based on preventing stranger-on-stranger sexual abuse, which is extremely rare. Instead of reducing sexual abuse, such systems just make it harder for the individual who committed a sexual offense to become a productive member of the community. The impact of such restrictions typically is to increase homelessness and dependency on social services rather than to enable individuals to become independent, employed, tax-paying citizens.