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Child Abuse Negl. 2008 May;32(5):529-48. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2007.08.005. Epub 2008 May 29.

Risk factors for the perpetration of child sexual abuse: a review and meta-analysis.

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  • 1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, USA.



Since the late 1980s, there has been a strong theoretical focus on psychological and social influences of perpetration of child sexual abuse. This paper presents the results of a review and meta-analysis of studies examining risk factors for perpetration of child sexual abuse published since 1990.


Eighty-nine studies published between 1990 and April of 2003 were reviewed. Risk factors were classified into one of the following six broad categories: family factors, externalizing behaviors, internalizing behaviors, social deficits, sexual problems, and attitudes/beliefs. Sex offenders against children (SOC) were compared to three comparison groups identified within the 89 studies: sex offenders who perpetrated against adults (SOA), non-sex offenders, and non-offenders with no history of criminal or sexual behavior problems.


Results for the six major categories showed that SOC were not different from SOA (all d between -.02 and .14) other than showing lower externalizing behaviors (d=-.25). Sex offenders against children were somewhat different from non-sex offenders, especially with regard to sexual problems and attitudes (d=.83 and .51). Sex offenders against children showed substantial differences from non-offenders with medium sized effects in all six major categories (d's range from .39 to .58).


Child sex offenders are different from non-sex offenders and non-offenders but not from sex offenders against adults.


This study suggests that the presence of general risk factors may lead to a variety of negative behavioral outcomes, including the perpetration of child sexual offending. Family factors were strongly related to the perpetration of child sex offending (vs. non-sexual offending or non-offending) and may be valuable intervention points for interrupting the development of child sex offending, as well as other negative behaviors. Other potential points for intervention may focus on the development of appropriate social and emotional skills that contribute to sexual offending.

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