Q: Who commits sexual abuse?
A: There is no typical profile of someone who commits sexual abuse. People who sexually offend cross all socioeconomic, educational, gender, age, and cultural lines (Knight, 2010; Knight and King, 2012). Although 90-95% of abusers are males (Cortoni, Hanson, and Coache, 2010), females also commit sexual abuse. One regard in which females who sexually abuse others differ from males is that females are more likely than males to abuse younger children.
Q: Are most cases of child molestation committed by strangers?
A: No. Most people who molest children know their victims and abuse from a position of trust or power within families, among circles of friends, or while working with children (Snyder, 2000). Stranger-on-stranger child molestation is extremely rare.
Q: Do adolescents commit sexual abuse?
A: Yes. Adolescents (ages 13-17) account for approximately 35% of all sexual offenses against minors (Finkelhor, Ormrod, and Chaffin, 2009). Males account for 90-95% of sexually abusive acts engaged in by adolescents (Finkelhor, Ormrod, and Chaffin, 2009). Data show that the majority of these youth do not continue sexually offending into adulthood (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: How many people who sexually abuse others were themselves sexually abused?
A: Most people who are victimized do not go on to abuse others. Studies have found that approximately one-third of perpetrators were themselves sexually abused (Becker and Murphy, 1998; Glasser, Kolvin, Campbell, Glasser, Leitch, and Farrelly, 2001). While some perpetrators of sexual abuse were victims of abuse, most were not.
Q: How many sexual abusers reoffend?
A: Contrary to popular belief, very few people who commit a sexual offense reoffend. As a group, sexual offenders 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: Are medications effective for preventing sexual abuse?
A: Sexual-offense-specific treatment can involve a variety of therapeutic techniques and pharmacological interventions. Treatment with drugs may be effective at reducing the risk of sexually offending or reoffending for some individuals, but pharmacological treatments should not be used as stand-alone interventions. If medications are used, they should be administered in combination with other therapeutic and management techniques.
Q: Do sex offender registries and residency restrictions 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.