chain of sexual abuse
November 24, 2006 10:29 PM   Subscribe

How often do the sexually abused become abusers?

What I'd specifically like to know: What percentage of child sexual abusers were themselves abused as children, and what percentage of child sexual abuse victims end up abusing other children (as teens or as adults)?

I'd prefer studies and research to guesses, hunches, and speculation. Thanks.
posted by underwater to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Percentages aren't going to be useful for this.

Self-reported numbers won't help much. Any estimates are going to tend to be high or low depending on who's estimating -- and still be based of self-reported experiences of abuse.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 10:33 PM on November 24, 2006

Well, hmm. This is anecdotal.

I was on an airplane in 2003, I was 23 at the time, returning from a wedding in Fairbanks. On changing planes in Anchorage for Seattle, I sat down next to a striking 54-year-old Puget Sound woman named G. G was a single woman who lived on a boat, was a stockbroker, and was trying to write a book. I learned all of this after I made the huge mistake of telling her I was a journalist (I now say I am a mathematical historian). I asked her what she was writing and she described to me a story of a husband and wife who care for their niece on the weekends and then travel long-distance by car; befriend a local, single woman; go back to her house; drug her; tie her to a piece of furniture; and then systematically rape and molest the woman while making the niece (who is a child) watch.

G told me that she had had similar experiences when she was growing up and described, with a mixture of excitement and sorrow (perhaps that it ended), the thrill of her being 'kidnapped' every weekend for journeys with her aunt and uncle.

It immediately popped into my mind that I could probably write a great piece for a magazine about pedophile woman, and when I landed I gave her my e-mail.

I spent the night in the Seattle airport, but when I returned to San Francisco, where I was living with my parents, I found about a dozen e-mails with long, confessional stories and memoirs of G seeking and finding young girls to take/'kidnap' for adventures, and the lamentation of not being able to find a man with whom to share the journey.

In 2005, when I was in England working for a radio station, I got an e-mail announcing she was coming to England and would I like to see her in London. I did not respond.
posted by parmanparman at 11:33 PM on November 24, 2006 [4 favorites]

There are no hard statistics. There are, however, studies which show statistically significant trends:
375 subjects were given a Childhood History Questionnaire (CHQ) and the Child Abuse Potential (CAP) Inventory. The CHQ contained a series of questions about the presence and frequency of various abusive behaviors and associated sequelae that were received and/or observed before and/or after puberty. The CAP Inventory was used to measure adult physical child abuse potential. As expected, a childhood history of physical abuse was significantly related to adult physical child abuse potential; and, as chronicity increased, so did abuse potential. The experience of physical abuse prior to puberty produced higher abuse scores than the experience of physical abuse after puberty. The study provides preliminary data indicating the childhood experience of a caring adult and / or caring friend moderates adult child abuse potential.
posted by Jairus at 6:10 AM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

You haven't defined the scope of 'abuse'. I bet (I realize you don't want hunches, but hear me out) that there are plenty of sexually abused people out there who never sexually abuse others but are trapped, whether they realize it or not, in a cycle of emotional (perhaps, sometimes, physical) abuse of themselves and others.
posted by kimota at 7:51 AM on November 25, 2006

It would help if you tell us what you mean by "sexual abuse," what makes it abuse, and why you're focusing on sexual abuse.
posted by davy at 9:50 AM on November 25, 2006

Response by poster: I guess I don't have an exact definition, but in general I'm thinking of older teens and adults that molest children under 12. By molest, I mean have sex with, genitally touch, or force the child to genitally touch them. (This is just what sort of thing I was thinking of--please no posts telling me that I am a bad person for not also considering X activity to be sexual abuse).

I am focusing on sexual abuse because that's the topic I'm researching.

Based on the response, I guess that this is not an answerable question?
posted by underwater at 9:56 AM on November 25, 2006

As others have pointed out, it might be hard to find the information you're looking for, simply because it's hard to know exactly how many people have been sexually abused, which in turn makes reliable scientific studies hard to conduct.

This article is a summary of an apparently widely cited study on the criminality of sexual abuse victims. Its conclusion is that while victims of sexual abuse are at a higher risk of criminal behavior (including sexual offenses), the vast majority of victims seem to avoid becoming criminals. (The actual study is cited in the footnotes, you can probably find the journal in which it was published at most university libraries.)

With regard to what percentage of sex offenders were themselves abused, there appears to be more information available. This site (about three-quaters of the way down) claims that two-thirds of convicted sex offenders in prison were abused themselves. This site (scroll down to "Cycle of Violence") and this Canadian site (scroll down to "The Abuser") claim the number is closer to forty percent.

As general resources, you may also want to poke around the publications sections of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice's websites; as well as the Bureau of Justice Statistics website (particularly "Crime & victims" and "Criminal Offenders"). I would imagine government studies would be at least somewhat reliable.

Additionally, if you find any studies or articles that are even somewhat on-point, check the citations. There's a good chance there will be something listed there that will be of use to you.
posted by AV at 10:26 AM on November 25, 2006

It's apparently difficult to talk about this stuff without censorship and moderation affecting the terms of the discussion. I added a small note to the Kurt Cobain thread concerning The Who's Pete Townshend's "similar responsibilities" and his current status as a registered sex offender. It was an allusion to "why do we need reasons" when he have heroin? Anyway, Townshend's explanation for why he was trawling child porn sites was that he had apparently suffered child abuse during his youth and he now felt that he should do something. This something consisted of him checking out child porn, and he has written about he felt it had addictive qualities and was a 'slippery slope'.

The comment was deleted by a moderator, which is very much in keeping with the current lack of discussion of his status during the current Who tour. His behaviour sheds light on some of the early and relatively innocuous behaviour of adults during the early stages of the fetishisation of children. Many never progress beyond a voyeuristic or repressed stage of fascination.

But one important thing to take away is that pathological behaviours and events during childhood seem to be able to frame and constrain the behaviour of adults into paraphiliac activities echoing or recapitulating their experiences during childhood. I don;t think there's any question that if you take a group of people who have been exposed to such events during childhood then there is a greater statistical liklihood that a higher percentage of people within that group will exhibit some unusual and commensal behaviour during the course of their adult lives (relative to a control group). I'd be very surprised if there was a negative correlation, or a null effect.
posted by meehawl at 2:08 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you have access to a good library that has memberships to things like EBSCOHost\Academic Search Premier and similar places that have indexes of peer-reviewed journals and articles, you can try using one of those services to search for keywords to get this kind of information. When doing some research into recidivism rates a few months back, I found an index called "Psychology: A SAGE Full-Text Collection" that contained a huge wealth of information that I found useful.

This particular group is very difficult to get reliable data on, so if you're serious about it, take the study methods into strong consideration, and be very critical of anything that attempts to hide the nuances of the particular data you are reading. An example of this is that the time period over which a study is conducted has a HUGE effect on the results of the study. Also be aware that this topic has often been sensationalized, and that many groups have an interest in skewing the data in one particular direction.
posted by !Jim at 11:15 AM on November 27, 2006

My mother, a psychotherapist who often works with sexually abused children, has done a lot of research into this topic. She gets really upset when people talk about how "everyone who was sexual abused goes on to abuse others." The fact is, apparently, that only one tenth of sexual abuse survivors repeat the abuse.

The "chain of abuse" doesn't exist in that sense, but unless survivors of abuse get therapy or some sort of emotional healing, they will have some sort of emotional problem, which could affect their parenting ability, and produce some messed-up kids still.
posted by joshers13 at 7:13 PM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

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