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Childhood History of Sexual Abuse

Childhood History of Sexual Abuse Several different theories have been advanced to explain the phenomenon of male victims who grow up to sexually abuse, although the themes “can be loosely categorized as either cognitive-behavioral or psychodynamic’’ (Garland & Dougher, 1990, p. 489). Cognitive-behavioral formulations suggest that conditioning or modeling processes are involved. Conditioning might occur through masturbatory fantasies in which early sexual experiences are paired with orgasm. Through processes such as memory distortion, these fantasies may evolve over time into sexual arousal of children through, for example, fantasizing oneself as the adult. This conditioning, in turn, may lead to sexual precociousness and increased sexual behavior. Modeling also occurs as the sexually abused child learns that adults can sexually interact with children and that the experience may be rewarding. Psychodynamic formulations view the abused-abuser process as an attempt at mastery or as identification with the aggressor. By identifying with the older partner, the child may be predisposed to later becoming involved with a child. “Such an individual may identify with young males as the recipients of his affection and can therefore easily rationalize his behavior” (Garland & Dougher, 1990, p. 491). In turn, by identifying with the aggressor and becoming the active participant instead of the passive victim, the person attempts to gain mastery over the childhood experience. Of this abused-abuser hypothesis, Hanson and Slater (1988) state, “The intuitive appeal of such a relationship is so strong that many clinicians have accepted it as an article of faith” (p. 487). A number of studies have analyzed the offender’s history of child sexual abuse, yet few employ control groups and methodological difficulties abound. At least two reviews of these studies have been done (Garland & Dougher, 1990; Hanson & Slater, 1988). Hanson and Slater combined totals for all studies reviewed to determine overall levels of childhood victimization rates among different types of perpetrators. Because of their more rigorous methodology, only their study is reviewed. Studies were included only if sexual offenses against children were clearly delineated, the number of offenders who had sexually abused children was reported, and sample size was reported (Hanson & Slater, 1988). Overall, 18 studies involving 1,717 perpetrators were found. Using a broad definition that included noncontact abuse, 33% of these perpetrators had been sexually abused as children; using a narrower definition of contact abuse, 23% were abused. Of the perpetrators who abused females, 18% had been abused as children; of the perpetrators who abused males, 35% had been abused as children. When perpetrators abused both males and females, 67% had been abused as children. Finally, 27% of incest perpetrators, 24% of extrafamilial perpetrators, and 31% of mixed (or unknown type) perpetrators were abused as children. In another study, Bagley et al. (1994) randomly sampled a cohort of males ages 18 to 27. Males were divided into three groups: (a) no unwanted sexual contact during childhood; (b) one instance of unwanted contact; and (c) multiple events. Overall, 16% of males experienced at least one instance of unwanted sexual contact during childhood. These groups were then compared based upon current (i.e., after the age of 18) sexual interest in or contact with a child. Of those males who had not been victimized as children, 6% had some sexual contact with a child when they were adults. Of those with a single childhood victimization incident, 12% had sexual contact with a child. Of those with multiple childhood experiences, 37% had sexual contact with a child. Male victims of childhood sexual abuse were two times more likely to abuse a child if they were sexually abused once and six times more likely to abuse a child if they were abused multiple times. There were also differences in the gender of the victims to whom the males were attracted. Ninety-five percent of offenders (those who had sexual contact with a child) with no childhood victimization abused females, as compared to 75% of offenders with one incident in childhood, and 26% of offenders with multiple victimization episodes in childhood. Taken as a group, these studies suggest that males sexually victimized as children are at somewhat increased risk to abuse a child. The risk may be greatest for those abused multiple times, and those males may be especially likely to target male victims or both male and female victims. As important, some men not abused in childhood do offend. Females appear to be at greater risk of abuse by males who were not abused or who were abused only one time during childhood, whereas males appear to be at greater risk for abuse by males who themselves were victimized multiple times during childhood. As concluded by others, however, a history of sexual abuse does not presuppose the offending behavior. Most victimized males do not grow up to offend. As Hanson and Slater (1988) conclude, “Child sexual victimization appears to be neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for becoming a child sexual abuser”.

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