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Cycle of child sexual abuse: Links between being a victim and becoming a perpetrator

  • M. Glasser (a1), I. Kolvin (a1), D. Campbell (a2), A. Glasser (a2), I. Leitch (a2) and S. Farrelly (a2)...
Abstract
Background

There is widespread belief in a ‘cycle’ of child sexual abuse, but little empirical evidence for this belief.

Aims

To identify perpetrators of such abuse who had been victims of paedophilia and/or incest, in order to: ascertain whether subjects who had been victims become perpetrators of such abuse; compare characteristics of those who had and had not been victims; and review psychodynamic ideas thought to underlie the behaviour of perpetrators.

Method

Retrospective clinical case note review of 843 subjects attending a specialist forensic psychotherapy centre.

Results

Among 747 males the risk of being a perpetrator was positively correlated with reported sexual abuse victim experiences. The overall rate of having been a victim was 35% for perpetrators and 11 % for non-perpetrators. Of the 96 females, 43% had been victims but only one was a perpetrator. A high percentage of male subjects abused in childhood by a female relative became perpetrators. Having been a victim was a strong predictor of becoming a perpetrator, as was an index of parental loss in childhood.

Conclusions

The data support the notion of a victim-to-victimiser cycle in a minority of male perpetrators but not among the female victims studied. Sexual abuse by a female in childhood may be a risk factor for a cycle of abuse in males.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Professor I. Kolvin, Tavistock Centre, 120 Belsize Lane, London NW3 5BA, UK
Footnotes
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See invited commentaries, pp. 495–497, this issue.

Declaration of interest

None. Funding detailed in Acknowledgements.

Footnotes
References
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Cycle of child sexual abuse: Links between being a victim and becoming a perpetrator

  • M. Glasser (a1), I. Kolvin (a1), D. Campbell (a2), A. Glasser (a2), I. Leitch (a2) and S. Farrelly (a2)...
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