Testing the ‘sexually abused-abuser hypothesis’ in adolescents: A population-based study.


A long-standing belief in the literature on sex offenders is that sexually victimized youths are at increased risk of becoming sex offenders themselves. The present study tested the link between past sexual abuse, either with or without contact, and sexually offending behavior in a representative sample of male and female adolescents while controlling for other types of abuse, mental health problems, substance use, and non-sexual violent behaviors. Self-reported data were collected from a nationally representative sample of 6,628 students attending 9th grade public school in Switzerland (3,434 males, 3,194 females, mean age = 15.50 years, SD = 0.66 years). Exposure to contact and non-contact types of sexual abuse was assessed using the Child Sexual Abuse Questionnaire and sexually offending behavior by the presence of any of three behaviors indicating sexual coercion. Two-hundred-forty-five males (7.1 %) and 40 females (1.2 %) reported having sexually coerced another person. After controlling for non-sexual abuse, low parent education, urban versus rural living, mental health problems, substance use, and non-sexual violent behavior, male adolescents who were victims of contact sexual abuse and non-contact sexual abuse were significantly more likely to report coercive sexual behaviors. Females who experienced contact or non-contact sexual abuse were also found at increased risk of committing sexual coercion after controlling for covariates. The present findings demonstrate a strong relationship between past sexual abuse, with and without physical contact, and sexual-offending behavior in male and female adolescents. Reducing exposure to non-contact sexual abuse (like Internet-based sexual exploitation) should become a new area of sexual violence prevention in youths.