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Most Abuse Survivors Don't Molest Others
According to a British study from a forensic therapy clinic
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"I have been dx with Borderline Personality Disorder as well as major depression recurrent, PTSD, and been told I dissociate. I am currently working on the issue of sexual abuse. I have noticed that when I go into this subject I become very child like. There are times I become very aggressive and insist on being called by a different name. I don't feel I am a true DID. But I feel that these characters are getting in the way of my getting well.
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A summary of the research from the British Journal of Psychiatry

Most of us have heard about the "cycle of child abuse."  Clinical observations and some past studies have found that many child abusers were themselves abused as children.    This "cycle of abuse" pattern appears to be particularly true for males, but a recent study suggests that many child abuse survivors will not grow up to become abusers themselves. 

A group of clinicians and researchers from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London examined the cases of 843 participants in "specialist forensic psychotherapy centre."  They found the following:

  • Male perpetrators of child sexual abuse were more likely to have been abused as children than male subjects who were not perpetrators.  35% of male perpetrators of sexual abuse had been victims of such abuse, while 11% of males who had not perpetrated abuse had been victims of child sexual abuse.  This finding is based on a population of 747 males.
  • 79% of men molested by a female became perpetrators (19 out of 24), while only 54% of men molested by males became perpetrators (60 of 111); suggesting that victimization by a female may contribute more to a male becoming an sexual abuser than victimization by a male.
  • The sample of females was much smaller - a total of only 96 women.  43% of these women had been victims of child sexual abuse, while only one of the women perpetrated such abuse on children.
  • Heterosexual men and men who were not transvestites were significantly more likely to be perpetrators than homosexual men and transvestites. The researchers found no significant associations between status as a child molester and voyeurism, fetishism, obscene phone calls or similar acts.

This study is a good example of clinical research that contributes to our knowledge about childhood sexual abuse.  Studies conducted in clinical settings are essential in this field, since tightly-controlled experimental research would be unethical.  We cannot randomly assign children to either be sexually abused or not be abused and then see how they grow up.  We can learn from those unfortunate enough to have child abuse as a part of their history. 

Reference: The British Journal of Psychiatry (2001) 179: 482-494

Leonard Holmes, Ph.D.                      http://mentalhealth.about.com

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