Why do people sexually abuse?

Sexual abuse is any sexual behaviour between two or more persons where:

  • the relationship is not equal because of age, intellectual abilities, status or role
  • the sexual behaviour  is unwanted and without consent
  • where force or pressure of some sort is used
  • sexual abuse may include touching, sexual penetration, exposure, obscene telephone calls or computer facilitated sexual behaviour (e.g. use of child pornography)

 Why does sexual abuse occur?

  • This question is not easily answered. There are a number of theories that provide some insight but there is no universally accepted answer to this question. What we do know is:
    • Sexual abuse is more widespread in our society than is generally appreciated. A recent Christchurch Health and Development survey followed 1000 children from birth and found that 7.3% of the girls and 3.4% of the boys reported being sexually abused before their 16th birthday
    • Reports of sexual abuse should be treated as true and fully investigated
    • People who sexually abuse often have many victims and rarely initially disclose the full extent of their abusive behaviour
    • People who sexually abuse are extremely resourceful in the ways that they can put blame onto victims and minimise their behaviour.
    • All sexually abusive behaviour is a matter of choice and people who sexual sexually abuse choose to abuse
    • Some people may be sexually attracted to children and if they act out their feelings of sexual attraction toward children that is sexual abuse
    • Some people may be generally sexually attracted to other adults but may sexually approach children when they are under a lot of stress, like losing a job or getting a divorce
    • Some people who sexually abuse were victims of abuse or neglect as children. It’s not an excuse, just a fact. But many victims of sexual abuse live their lives without ever becoming sexual perpetrators themselves
    • Some people sexually abuse children so that they can feel the power and control they don’t feel in their relationships with other adults or in their life.
    • These are just some of the reasons why someone may chose to sexually abuse a child. None of these reasons excuse or justify sex between an adult and a child. No matter what the reason for the abuse, the effects on children are severe and can last a lifetime.  Claims such as, it was an “isolated incident”, that it was “due to alcohol”, or that the person who sexually abused was “frustrated” are often used to deny responsibility
    • Sexual abuse is always the responsibility of the person who sexually abused
    • In four out of five situations where children are abused it is by people who the children know. The abuser may be a parent, a grandparent, a caregiver, brother, sister, neighbour, teacher, doctor, church leader and so on. Often the person who sexually abused is in a position of trust and can take advantage of the opportunities that being trusted provides in order to sexually abuse
    • Many victims of sexual abuse are fearful of disclosing the abuse and can become experts at covering up what has taken place
    • Just because an abuser is discovered and gives a solemn promise that it won’t happen again, does not mean that he is safe and that no further action is necessary. Sexual abuse can cause huge pain and long term difficulties for survivors, their families, and their friends. This is why preventing sexual abusing/offending is so important
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