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The Perpetrator in One-quarter of Child Sexual Abuse Cases is a Stranger

22 October 2012 University of Gothenburg

Child sexual abuse is committed by strangers more than one-quarter of the time. Researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden reviewed the records of 196 men who had been convicted of child sexual abuse in Western Sweden. The study also found that only 8% of the perpetrators had been referred to a major forensic investigation.

The typical victim is a girl age 15 or younger who has been abused by a relative or acquaintance. Researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy reviewed the records of 196 people who had been convicted of child sexual abuse in Västra Götaland County in Western Sweden. 

Anita Carlstedt and her team studied the relationship between the perpetrator and victim in each case. In order to generate sociodemographic, offender characteristic and mental disease data, the researchers also reviewed the records of 185 people who had been examined by a forensic psychiatrist after being convicted of child sexual abuse during the same period.

The studies found that the perpetrator in 27 percent of the cases was a stranger to the child.

“The majority of these cases did not involve physical contact,” says Anita Carlstedt. “Among the most common offenses were indecent exposure, masturbation and sexual harassment.”

Other results shows that:

• Eighty-five percent of the victims were girls, 12 percent boys and 3 percent girls and boys at the same time
• Most of the offenses were violent, penetration being the most frequent act
• Only 8 percent of the perpetrators were examined by a forensic psychiatrist before or during the trial
• The sentences were generally mild
• Perpetrators born abroad received stiffer sentences for the same offenses
• Between 10 and 14 percent of perpetrators went on to become recidivists

“One key conclusion is that the risk of recidivism is generally low,” says Anita Carlstedt. “But the risk was somewhat higher when the perpetrator was not a relative or acquaintance of the child.”

The reason for the study is that previous research on child sexual abuse has suffered from major defects, primarily because so many cases go unreported and it is often difficult to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The purpose of the thesis was to contribute to our knowledge about sex offenders, the nature of the offenses they commit and the types of sentences they receive.

“Learning more about sex offenders is vitally important if we are to treat them in a constructive manner and improve the results of forensic psychiatrists,” says Anita Carlstedt.

Link to thesis:

http://hdl.handle.net/2077/29705

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