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Few abuse victims become paedophiles

The study challenges perceptions about sexual abuse

7 February 2003, BBC News

Most men who were sexually abused as boys do not go on to abuse children themselves, a study suggests. Researchers at the Institute of Child Health in London have found evidence to suggest that just one in eight continues the cycle of abuse.

They said the finding indicate that the risks of victims becoming abusers is much less than previously thought.

The risk of childhood victims of sexual abusers becoming abusers themselves is lower than previously thought.

Researchers found that other factors play an important role in determining who is most likely to go on to abuse.

Professor David Skuse and colleagues identified 224 men who had been sexually abused as children.

Sex offences

They examined their medical and social services notes and also any criminal record files.

They found that 26 of the 224 former victims went on to commit sexual offences.

In almost all cases, these involved children outside their family. The average age at which they began to abuse others was 14.

The researchers discovered that a number of key factors appeared to increase the chances of a former victim becoming an abuser:

Little supervision during childhood

Abuse by a female

Violence within the family

In addition, one in three of those who went on to abuse had a history of being cruel to animals when they were younger.

This compares to just one in 20 of victims who did not go on to abuse children themselves.

Writing in The Lancet, the researchers said:

"Our results show that the risk of childhood victims of sexual abusers becoming abusers themselves is lower than previously thought.

"Public concern about paedophilia is rising. Our results suggest that other early life experiences can substantially increase the risk of behaviour, above and beyond the fact of sexual victimisation."

New treatments

They suggested that the findings could be used to develop new treatments for victims of child abuse to prevent them becoming abusers.

"Our findings are of potential importance to a wide range of medical and other specialists who become professionally involved with both the victims and perpetrators of child sexual abuse," they said.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr Paul Bouvier from Service de Sante de la Jeunesse - a child protection agency in Geneva, called for further research to examine why some victims did not become abusers.

He said:

"How did these individuals manage to get out of the circle of repetition of the abuse, to avoid other risks, and to develop a meaningful life in spite of their terrible history.

"There is much to be learnt from resilient individuals."

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