This is the 2nd of

10 conversations

about preventing

child sexual abuse.







Next Conversation:

#3  Possible Behavior Signs of Abusers?

Grooming tactics used by sexual abusers. 










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 






















Thank you for your commitment to

protecting children.










© 2011, Massachusetts Citizens for Children Inc.


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.