For Parents

Child sexual abuse – who abuses children?

The thought of people sexually abusing children is terrifying and inevitably we sometimes wonder who would do such a thing and why. We don’t even want to think about it too much and often prefer not to know who these people might be, we close our eyes and keep in the corner of our minds the idea that this danger is far from us, that the people who do this are not close to us, but belong to a category that has no access to us.

Well, that’s not quite the case. Studies show that, in reality, most child sex abusers are people known to children and their families. They may be parents, siblings, uncles or other family members, carers, friends, acquaintances, other children or teenagers, or people in positions of authority and trust towards children: spiritual leaders, teachers, doctors, sports coaches, etc. Strangers are also among the abusers, but in a much smaller proportion.

In terms of gender differences, it is men who perpetrate the majority of child sexual abuse, and most victims are female. There are also women who sexually abuse children – in which case the victims are male – but due to cultural attitudes and lack of information, which prevent these events from being identified as sexual abuse, many such cases are not even reported. These experiences are often seen as opportunities for sexual experimentation – according to gender roles – rather than as sexual abuse.

Children or teenagers can also sexually abuse other children. Rejection from their peers and lack of close relationships can drive them to seek privacy and autonomy by abusing younger children or lead them to use authority to satisfy their sexual desires. They use a variety of ways to reach victims, such as intimidation, physical force, blackmail (toys, food, etc.), threats. Many use alcohol and/or drugs and use them to lure children before abusing them. Most use grooming techniques – approaching them, overwhelming them with gifts, cigarettes, toys, sweets, money, alcohol, drugs before initiating sexual abuse. Others are violent and hurt or threaten them if they refuse to engage in sexual acts.

There are several factors that can influence people to sexually abuse children:


  • sexual pleasure;
  • control over someone and feeling powerful;
  • acting out, dealing with difficult emotions;
  • gaining status in front of others;
  • hurting someone out of pleasure;
  • feeling of closeness.

2. Cognitive distortions:

(Self-belief that what they are doing is okay)

  • they are more important than the child;
  • abuse is not harmful;
  • they deserve or are entitled to it;
  • it’s part of being a man to be sexually dominant;
  • the child consented;
  • it’s okay, because what they’re doing shows love for the children.

3. Psychological problems

  • Emotional control problems;
  • aggressive, violent behaviour;
  • anger, hostility;
  • substance use;
  • paranoid tendencies, mistrust;
  • antisocial personality;
  • sex obsession, increased libido, deviant interests related to sex;
  • difficulty empathising with others and understanding social rules;
  • anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, external locus of control;
  • reduced social skills, loneliness, difficulties in intimate relationships, lack of secure attachment;
  • extreme stress (e.g. job loss or divorce).

4. Life experiences

  • history of sexual abuse (perpetuation of the victim-offender cycle);
  • severe discipline and attachment problems in childhood.

5. Social and cultural influences

(Social and cultural messages that influence the way these individuals think and through which they find justification for their abusive behaviour):

  • Sexualisation of people, especially women and adolescents, who come to be seen as sex objects;
  • crossing boundaries – intended to show respect for the other person – is seen as sexual:

sexualisation of power and aggression through the media, pornographic scenarios including manipulation, coercion and persuasion;

  • treating victims with doubt.

6. Supporting friends

  • These people surround themselves with like-minded people who encourage abuse or make it seem normal;
  • Group dynamics can lead to extreme abuse for status.

7. Opportunities

  • Abuse cannot happen if the person does not have the opportunity to be alone with the child or if they think they will be caught.



Child sexual abuse: male and female perpetrators:

Why would an adult sexually abuse a child? | Stop It Now