Reporting suspected child sexual abuse is everyone's responsibility - whether a
mandated reporter or private citizen. If you suspect a child has been sexually
abused, contact your local child protective services. To locate the child
protective services reporting number in your state, as well as other resources,
call Childhelp at
Permission to copy, disseminate or otherwise use information from this report is
granted as long as Enough Abuse Campaign/Massachusetts Citizens for Children is
identified as the source.
Most people who sexually abuse children look and appear to act just like
everyone else. If they didn’t, we would all have an easier time identifying
them. So what do we know about those who sexually abuse children and how can we
use that knowledge to keep our kids safer?
First, it’s estimated that a third or more of abusers are either immediate
family members (i.e. parents and siblings) or other close relatives (e.g.
uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins). Others in the child’s circle of trust may
also be abusers. These include those with easy access to children because of
their work in schools, child care centers, youth groups, sports teams, religious
organizations, and in other settings where children live and play.
It’s hard to face the fact that someone we know – and even like or love – might
sexually abuse a child. But the truth is that in 90% of cases, the child knows
and trusts the person who commits the abuse.
According to actual reports received by law enforcement, 96% of offenders are
male. Studies show, however, that women may account for 20 - 30% of cases of
child sexual abuse. Fewer than 5% of abusers have an identifiable mental illness
- about the same for the general population.
Those who offend represent every ethnic group and the vast majority is
heterosexual. When compared to other American males, those who abuse look nearly
the same in terms of whether they are high school graduates, have some college
education, are married or formerly married, and even the degree to which they
self-identify as being religious. More than half of abusers report committing
their first offense before the age of 18.
Anyone who abuses a child is a pedophile.
False. While the media often refers to any sexual abuser as a “pedophile,” the
truth is that many who sexually abuse children do not meet the criteria for
“pedophilia,”a recognized mental illness. A pedophile is defined as an
individual who fantasizes about, is sexually aroused by, or experiences sexual
urges toward prepubescent children (generally younger than 13 years of age) for
a period of at least six months.
Pedophiles are also referred to as “preferential abusers” because they often
target children specifically because of the child’s gender, age, appearance,
hair color, etc. While the percentage of these abusers is relatively small
within the general population, their compulsive behavior makes them a great risk
to children. Pedophiles on average commit 10 times more sexual acts against
children than other types of child abusers. They remain the most difficult group
of abusers to treat and manage.
The largest group of sexual abusers is referred to as “situational abusers.”
For these abusers, the child’s age, gender and appearance may be less important
than their availability. The behavior of these abusers may be impulsive rather
than compulsive. They may not be socially comfortable with adults and may
indicate that stress played a part in triggering their behavior, e.g. loss of a
job, unavailability of a spouse, etc. This group, which include those who commit
incest, are the most likely to benefit from sex_offender-specific treatment.
With monitoring and support, many can often be managed and their threat to pubic
safety can be reduced.
Another category of is the “sociopathic or psychopathic abuser”. These
individuals have personalities which lead them to feel entitled to their
behavior. While fortunately, they also represent a small percentage of abusers
their lack of empathy and accountability for their victims can result in some of
the most heinous acts, including kidnapping, torture and murder.
While there are different types of sexual abusers and different theories about
the causes of these behaviors, one thing experts agree on is that sexual abusers
represent a diverse group of individuals who commit a wide spectrum of different
acts for a broad range of different reasons. One thing parents agree on is that
sexual abusers of any type must be identified and stopped from hurting our
children any longer.
In our next conversation, we’ll be discussing the tactics sexual abusers use to
gain the trust of children, their parents, families, schools and communities and
how parents and other adults can challenge them at their own game.
Meanwhile, until our next conversation, keep doing these three things;
1. Speak to your spouse or partner and to other family members and friends
about what you have learned
2. Take the conversation to the water cooler or lunch room and test the
knowledge of your colleagues. Do they think all child abusers are pedophiles?
Discuss the facts.
3. Encourage others to “Join the Movement” so together you can continue the
conversation about how to prevent child sexual abuse in your community.