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What percent of adults have sexually abused a minor?
February 4, 2014 12:57 PM   Subscribe

There's a lot of statistics online about how many children are sexually abused, but not much about how many adults are doing the abusing. I did read one article that mentioned in passing that about 1 in 20 men and 1 in 3300 women have sexually abused a child, but I think that was referring to only prepubescent children, not minors in general. The article was pretty old too, and there was no source for where they got that information. If anyone knows where I can find a reliable statistic regarding the percent of adults that sexually abuse children then I would appreciate it.

Also, if this info is actually quite easy to find online, then any advice on how to use search engines more effectively would be appreciated.
posted by sam_harms to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
David Lisak has done a lot of research on this and is respected as a leading expert. I couldn't find the exact stats you were looking for with a quick search, but his work should lead you to the answer.
posted by ohisee at 1:12 PM on February 4


Also, I found this sheet, which might be helpful: http://pages.uoregon.edu/dynamic/jjf/istss06issd06/bbffISTSS06.pdf
posted by ohisee at 1:20 PM on February 4


I'm using Google Scholar and searching "child molestor prevalence" (after trying several other search terms that didn't work very well), and I'm still not finding much, but a couple of interesting statistics:

From A Profile of Pedophilia: Definition, Characteristics of Offenders, Recidivism, Treatment Outcomes, and Forensic Issues (pdf): [The article uses "heterosexual" to mean someone who abuses children of the opposite sex, "bisexual" to mean someone who abuses both male and female children, and "homosexual" to mean someone who abuses children of the same sex as themselves; not as a way of indicating their attraction to adults.] "Heterosexual pedophiles, in self-report studies, have on average abused 5.2 children and committed an average of 34 sexual acts vs homosexual pedophiles who have on average abused 10.7 children and committed an average of 52 acts. Bisexual offenders have on average abused 27.3 children and committed more than 120 acts. A study by Abel et al of 377 nonincarcerated, non–incest-related pedophiles, whose legal situations had been resolved and who were surveyed using an anonymous self-report questionnaire, found that heterosexual pedophiles on average reported abusing 19.8 children and committing 23.2 acts, whereas homosexual pedophiles had abused 150.2 children and committed 281.7 acts. These studies confirm law enforcement reports about the serial nature of the crime, the large number of children abused by each pedophile, and the underreporting of assaults. Studies that used self-reports and polygraphs show that pedophiles currently in treatment underreport their current interest in children and past behaviors."

From the abstract of Sexual Interest in Children Among an Online Sample of Men and Women: Prevalence and Correlates: "The purpose of the present study was to explore the extent to which men and women in the general population report sexual interest in children and to examine distinct developmental experiences associated with self-reported sexual interest. Participants (262 females and 173 males) were recruited online and completed a questionnaire assessing sexual interest and adverse childhood experiences. Among men, 6% indicated some likelihood of having sex with a child if they were guaranteed they would not be caught or punished, as did 2% of women. Nine percent of males and 3% of females indicated some likelihood of viewing child pornography on the Internet. Overall, nearly 10% of males and 4% of females reported some likelihood of having sex with children or viewing child pornography."

Obviously, viewing child porn and having sex with children are different categories of offense, and those numbers don't measure people who necessarily have molested anyone, just those who would consider it.
posted by jaguar at 2:28 PM on February 4


You're also going to run into definitional issues with regard to offender age -- if someone was accused of statutory rape as a 15-year-old, for example, for sleeping with his 13-year-old girlfriend, and he's now an adult, would you count him among "adults who have sexually abused a minor"? Or are you looking only for numbers of people who were adults when they molested a minor?
posted by jaguar at 2:39 PM on February 4


Our stats for victimization are better than those for perpetrators because no one is going to admit to abusing a child. Most likely stats are built off of conviction rates which isn't exactly a good measure.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:07 PM on February 4


Sometime between 2003-2005, I was at a presentation given by an expert from the Portland metro area. While I can't provide reference or documentation or even lay hand on those handouts at the moment, the numbers absolutely stuck in my head... especially because I'd learned not very long before that one of my closest friends was a child molester. (But that's a story for another time, perhaps.)

The numbers given were 1 in 10 adults, aka, 10 of 100. The number of females among them were 1 in 100 - extremely low.

Pretty scary numbers. Ever since, I've just operated on the assumption that there's a least one among every ten men I know... and have been *much* more vigilant than I ever imagined I'd need to be. (It just now occurs to me that perhaps I should have been assuming more along the lines of 1 in 5 men... but I can't afford that rabbit-trail of anxiety today.)

The purpose of the gathering was to educate parents about signs, realities, etc, but touched on a great many things - pretty in-depth, given the nature of the expert. I remember that both he and his wife were in the same practice - both working with child sex offenders. They had a son, and from the time he was small, how to protect himself, among other things, was common dinnertime conversation.

He said that's pretty typical for children whose parents are in that sort of employment - the children tend to be as prepared as it's possible for them to be, and that parent knows what to look for, no question about that. He spoke about one of his colleagues, who also had a son. A son that played on a team sport. A son that was abused by his coach. Despite his parent's knowledge, despite being taught all the right things, despite hyper-awareness and vigilance.

Despite everything, it still happens.

A video was also shown of a man and child in a meeting with a social worker, unaware they were being videotaped. The man was able to abuse the child right in front of the social worker, who was unaware of what was happening. He was caught because the camera angle could see.

That was another takeaway. Many times, they really *are* that good at not getting caught.

I spent an awful lot of years as a single mom with my kids after that... the potential consequences of the wrong choice were just too much to make it worth it.
posted by stormyteal at 3:55 PM on February 4


Yeah, I figured it would be the sort of thing that people would not readily admit to doing, but I know victims have a hard time admitting to it as well, yet researchers still find ways of estimating from the numbers that do admit. I don't know what methods they use to estimate though.

1 in 10 is indeed a pretty scary number. I wonder where they got that.

I'm looking forward to reading the linked articles and checking out the work of David Lisak. Also looking forward to checking out any other resources that might shed light on this issue.
posted by sam_harms at 4:59 PM on February 4


Somewhat orthogonal to your question, but there are 747,008 registered sex offenders total in the US. That includes sex offenders who did not commit crimes against children.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:02 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


Despite the goofy mascot, the resources on this page seem worthwhile. Dr. Gene Abel estimates that about 1-5% of "our population" have molested children. It's unclear whether this number counts juveniles who assault other juveniles.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:05 PM on February 4


The Straight Dope has a good answer to this question as well. From the article: "A 1991 study found 3 percent of some 600 college men reported having had a sexual experience with a child when they were 16 years or older." Of course, aside from the unreliability of self-reporting to begin with, that's just college men, but also the general numbers have gone down since 1991.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:09 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


That includes sex offenders who did not commit crimes against children.

It also includes a lot of offenders who have not committed what most of us would consider to be "sexual abuse". Get caught having consensual sex with your 17-year old girlfriend when you're 20? Get busted with possession of child porn without ever having actually touched a child directly? Either could result in permanent registration as a sex offender. While neither is particularly pleasant, whether either of them counts as "sexual abuse" for the purposes of your question is something about which reasonable minds may differ.

Having spent several years tangentially dealing with sexual misconduct in my professional life,* I think it's fairly safe to say that the statistics here fall somewhere between "more than you think" and "less than you fear."

*I'm a criminal defense lawyer, and I've worked in insurance, part of which involved fairly detailed analysis of over a decade's worth of sexual misconduct claims. Which was No Fun at All.
posted by valkyryn at 7:27 PM on February 4 [3 favorites]


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