Cycle of Sexual Abuse:

Research Inconclusive About Whether Child Victims Become Adult Abusers

GGD-96-178: Published: Sep 13, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 13, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed research studies regarding the cycle of sexual abuse, focusing on the likelihood that individuals who are victims of sexual abuse as children will become sexual abusers of children in adulthood.

GAO found that: (1) there was no consensus among the 23 retrospective and 2 prospective studies reviewed that childhood sexual abuse led directly to the victim becoming an adult sexual abuser; (2) the retrospective studies, which sought to determine whether a sample of known sex offenders had been sexually abused as children, differed considerably in the types of offenders studied, use of control or comparison groups, and definition and reporting of childhood sexual abuse; (3) although some of the retrospective studies concluded that childhood sexual abuse may increase the risk that victims will commit sexual abuse later, most of the studies noted that the majority of sex offenders had not been sexually abused as children; (4) the prospective studies, which tracked sexually abused children into adulthood to determine how many became sex offenders, studied sample populations that may not be representative of the entire population of childhood sexual abuse victims; and (5) the prospective studies found that victims of childhood sexual abuse were not more likely than nonvictims to be arrested for sex offenses.

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