23 June 2012


'Child sexual abuse and subsequent offending and victimisation: A 45 year follow-up study (AIC Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice) by James Ogloff, Margaret Cutajar, Emily Mann & Paul Mullen notes that "up to 30 percent of children experience childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and whether this impacts re-victimisation or offending as an adult has been the subject of numerous studies".

The new research
 investigates whether a disproportionate number of CSA victims subsequently perpetrate offences and experience future victimisation compared with people who have not been sexually abused. In a sample of 2,759 CSA victims who were abused between 1964 and 1995, it was found CSA victims were almost five times more likely than the general population to be charged with any offence than their non-abused counterparts, with strongest associations found for sexual and violent offences. CSA victims were also more likely to have been victims of crime, particularly crimes of a sexual or violent nature. This research highlights the need for therapeutic interventions targeted at adolescent male CSA victims, particularly with regard to offender treatment programs, where many programs currently do not allow for exploration of offenders’ own sexual victimisation. 
... this is the largest prospective study to demonstrate with confidence that the majority of victims sexually abused during childhood do not perpetuate the cycle of violence by becoming an offender or by the ongoing victimisation of violence. However, relative to members of the general population, both male and female CSA victims are at an increased risk for committing or experiencing a range of offences, in particular those of a sexual or violent nature. This study also indicates that adolescent males who experience serious sexual abuse form a high-risk group for those who subsequently commit sexual offences and require active intervention and follow up. 
 The authors argue that
 Overcoming many limitations of previous studies, this study revealed that, in general, CSA victims were 1.4 times more likely to have some form of contact with the police for any matter compared with other members of the general community. Although most (77%) CSA victims did not have an official criminal record, CSA victims were almost five times more likely than others to be charged with any offence, with the strongest associations yielded for sexual and violent offences and breach of orders. It was contact with the police for being a victim of crime that accounted for a large proportion of all contacts. Nonetheless both male and female CSA victims were significantly more likely than non-abused people to be charged all types of offences, in particular violence and sexual offences. Not only were CSA victims more likely than others to offend, they had a greater number of charges, a higher proportion of charges resulting in a guilty verdict, more custodial sentences and they continued offending to an older age. These findings suggest that offences committed by sexual abuse victims are not isolated to sexual offences or being male (Benoit & Kennedy 1992). 
While the majority (99%) of male and female victims of CSA were not charged for a sexual offence, CSA victims were 7.6 times more likely to be charged with sexual offences than the general population. Moreover, as the results show, a surprisingly high percentage of male victims were subsequently convicted of a sexual offence (5% of all male victims and 9.25 of those aged 12 years and above at the time of their victimisation). Some other research has found no association between childhood victims of sexual abuse and future sexual offending; however, this may be due to the small sample size of CSA victims and the fact that the samples comprised mostly females (Widom 1989a, 1989b). In a meta-analysis of factors related to recidivism in sex offenders, Hanson and Bussiere (1998) did not find a relationship between sexual abuse victimisation and subsequent sexual offending. This is, of course, due to the nature of the studies included in the meta-analysis, which have largely relied on self-report and retrospective methodology. 
As expected, male CSA victims were largely responsible for the increased rate of sexual offences, in particular those boys abused at 12 years or older. Given that almost one in 10 boys who were sexually abused in this age group subsequently were convicted of a sexual offence, sexual victimisation may be an important risk factor for this population (but not for females). The hallmark feature of this period is psychosexual development, where heightened sexual arousal may be paired with cognitive distortion/implicit theories relating to sexual relations (Ward 2000) and aberrant sexual urges, which may develop and underlie sexual offending. Possible explanations for the phenomenon were not examined in this study, but should be investigated in subsequent studies. 
Surprisingly, four CSA cases committed homicide compared with no control cases. Applying statistics from the wider Australian population, two or three murders per 100,000 persons would be expected— not anywhere near the 145 murders per 100,000 CSA victims revealed here. Findings also showed female victims were as likely as male victims to be charged with homicide. These findings must be interpreted cautiously given the limited sample size. 
This study extends upon and lends further support to the association between CSA and re-victimisation. With the exception of theft and bad public behaviour, CSA cases were more often victims of crime than non-abused comparisons, with highest associations found for sexual offences (5x more likely), threats of violence (4x) and violent offences (3x). On average, CSA cases reported more separate victimisation incidents than the general population; however, there was no difference in the number of separate incidents relating to sexual assault. This is the first prospective study to demonstrate that male victims of CSA were significantly more likely than males in the general population, but significantly less likely than their female abused counterparts, to be a victim of a subsequent sexual assault. 
These findings have a number of implications for clinical, policing and judicial practices. One clear implication is the need for therapeutic interventions targeted at adolescent male CSA victims with a focus on positive sexuality in attempt to reduce their heightened risk of committing a sexual offence. The benefits of psychological treatment for trauma, addressing victims’ mental health problems and preventing or addressing criminogenic risk factors such as low education and employment attainment, substance abuse and negative supports, in the aftermath of sexual abuse to both male and female victims is also likely to reduce the risks of offending in general and violent offences in particular. Legal and judicial representatives, as well as forensic psychologists and psychiatrists who may assess offenders, should take into consideration the complex interplay between history of CSA, mental illness and offending. Offender treatment programs in the community or custodial settings may need to be adapted to consider the role of childhood abuse in attempts to reduce recidivism. Many now do not allow for the discussion of offenders’ own sexual victimisation.