What causes sexual abuse of a child?

Howard Fradkin, PhD

Perpetrators of sexual abuse of children are men and women who are struggling with meeting their own needs with other adults, so they turn to children to get those needs met.  Oftentimes, these are men or women who have themselves experienced a history of sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse, and have never gotten help.  Many professionals today believe that some of these perpetrators are hard wired to feel sexually attracted toward children or teenagers.  Perpetrators of such violence and betrayal are usually known to the child, and often to his family. They engage in a process called grooming, where they offer special interest and gifts and attention to the child.  Perpetrators are attuned to pick victims who appear to be vulnerable-they may appear different, they may come from a troubled family or an impoverished background.  They may come from a family where there is little love available to them.  

What is important to know is that it is never a child's responsibility for being abused.  It is never a child's responsiblity to end abuse, and oftentimes, because of the grooming, it is difficult for the child to code what is being done to him or her as abuse, as the perpetrator has told them that he or she cares about them.

So it is very confusing, to be told you are cared about, and then to be treated in a way that is hurtful and uncomfortable.  

It is also important to know that any child who is abused sexually can fully heal and recover, with proper support, professional help, and connecting with other survivors.  

Even those who perpetrate or who feel tempted to perpetrate can get help.  Just because they are hard-wired or are struggling does not mean that help is not available to them to learn how to manage their feelings and attractions. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.