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Risk factors for a New Zealand sample of sexually abusive children and adolescents

S Lightfoot, I M Evans
Child Abuse & Neglect 2000, 24 (9): 1185-98

OBJECTIVE: The aim was to understand variables contributing to the occurrence of sexual offending in children and adolescents.

METHOD: Twenty youngsters who had engaged in coercive sexual behavior involving other children were compared to a matched group of clinic-referred youngsters with conduct disorders. Assessments included family histories, interviews, and psychometric measures.

RESULTS: There was no group difference in the frequency of experiencing sexual abuse. However, sexually abusive youngsters were more often exposed to adult caregivers with known histories of being sexually abusive. These children had been subjected to multiple distortions of adult attachment, tended to internalize distress, and failed to use available social supports. They were likely to have experienced physical and verbal abuse; children with behavior disorders were more likely to have a parent with a psychiatric illness and to have experienced parental conflict.

CONCLUSION: Severely disrupted attachment, in conjunction with family experiences of inappropriate sexual expression, place children and adolescents at risk for sexual offending. Sexually abusive youngsters had less social supports and their offending occurred after a negative emotional experience, when there was opportunity in the form of younger victims. The study suggests an interaction among developmental pathways, coping skills, and immediate proximal variables for the perpetration of sexual abuse by young people.


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