How do abusers get access to children? Researchers have asked people who have experienced abuse and, over the years, a pretty consistent picture has emerged. On average the majority of abusers are people known to the family; neighbours, acquaintances and people in authority. The next largest group is family members, including step-family, followed by a smaller percentage of strangers. The percentages change from study to study but average around the following number ranges; acquaintances – 60-74%, family – 18-44% and strangers 11-26% (1).
There are lots of areas to discuss further, for example, gender and age differences in both perpetrator and victim, but for this blog I want to look at perpetrators who put themselves in positions of power. One shocking study I read looked at the rates of child sexual abuse experienced by children with disabilities. Sobsey and Doe found that 96% of abused disabled children knew their abuser (2). 44% reported that their abuser was from disability support services, so the child would not have come into contact with their abuser if they did not have a disability.
This study relates to recent articles about abuse in football, the clergy and by United Nations international aid workers. People with an interest in children are going to seek out opportunities to be with children and ways to have power over them. Obviously in many cases employees working with children are subject to criminal record checks but with the extremely low rate of abuse convictions there must be many offenders without a criminal record.
Personally I think that another approach is the education of parents and children. The website Dare2Care has good resources available. The NSPCC underwear campaign is an excellent way of teaching young children that their body belongs to them and that they can say no. I’m not suggesting it is children’s responsibility to stop abuse (abusers are responsible for abuse) but more that knowing that they can talk to someone if something makes them uncomfortable can be really useful. At the moment most abuse is not disclosed to anyone until the victim is an adult, so we need to encourage children to feel safe to speak up.
References (Again apologies for those articles not available online)
Finkelhor, D., 1980. Risk Factors in the Sexual Victimization of Children. Child Abuse & Neglect, 4, pp.265–273.
Russell, D.E.H., 1983. The Incidence and Prevalence of Intrafamilial and Extrafamilial Sexual Abuse of Female Children. Child Abuse & Neglect, 7, pp.133–146.
Finkelhor, D. et al., 2014. The lifetime prevalence of child sexual abuse and sexual assault assessed in late adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 55(3), pp.329–333. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.12.026.
Sobsey, D. & Doe, T., 1991. Patterns of sexual abuse and assault. Sexuality and Disability, 9 (3), pp.243–259.