Disturbing Facts about Sexual Abuse

From research by economists J.J. Prescott and Jonah Rockoff, here are a few current statistics on sex offenses reported to the police:

1) 25 percent of victims are 10-14 years old; 23 percent are nine or younger.

2) 22.5 percent of the offenders are family members. Only 8 percent are strangers.

3) 25 percent of sex offenses reported to the police lead to an arrest.

And these are only the offenses reported to the police. Stranger sex offenses must be much more likely to be reported to the police than family abuse.

Using this data, I estimate that six out of every 1,000 10- to 14-year-old girls are victims of sex offenses which are reported to the police each year. The actual victimization rate is surely much higher.


I've always been fascinated by the concept of repression of childhood abuse leading to adult behavior dysfunction- I wonder how much of homosexuality and sexual dysfunction is explained by a repressed sexual abuse


Wait, when they're not family members or strangers


Boy, frankenduf, that seems really, really off topic. The first two questions I came up with when I read this post were:

1) If only 8 percent of reported offenses are committed by strangers, why are we, as a society, so terrified of letting our kids out of sight for even a minute? Nobody in my area lets their kids walk to school unattended anymore, for example. (And neither do I, to be honest.) Sounds as if we should all relax a bit, and watch out more for those odd relatives.

2) If 8 percent are committed by strangers, and 22.5 percent by family, that leaves 69.5% committed by friends and acquaintances. And *that's* just creepy.

Nope, wondering if the sexual abuse victims might turn out gay didn't even cross my mind. Seems irrelevant.


22% offenders family members
8 % offenders strangers

70 % offenders (the rest) are what? space aliens ????



I think many homosexuals would your comment incredibly offensive.

Also, you are insinuating homosexuality is on par with "sexual dysfunction."


frankenduf--Homsexuality is inborn, not developed. I'm of the opinion that we are over-criminalizing a lot of sexual exploration behaviors as abuse. Not to say that abuse doesn't happen--I know it does. But sometimes the system spends so much time telling someone they are a victim until they start believing it. That and our society's overly puritanical attitude toward sex...that may be the root of dysfunction.


What disturbs me is that if these figures are correct, or even under reported (and I notice you didn't include boys in your estimate) then what are the chances that we either work with, are friends with, or are related to a child molestor? I don't want to be paranoid, but it's hard to trust anyone when you see these type statistics.


What I think of is the fact that many of us worry incredibly when our kids are out of our sight, but not so much when they are with people we trust.

I think that this really highlights the need to communicate with your kids. If you make sure to do this, you have a better chance that they will tell you when that friend or family member starts acting creepy. Hopefully before it becomes abuse.


Not to offend anyone, but I have to disagree that homosexuality is always inborn. In many people it probably is (although I don't think there has been any scientific proof either way, and I like scientific proof) but I know at least one person who only identified as gay after a sexual assault when he was a teenager, after he'd already been through puberty and started dating girls. If he believes it caused his leanings, who am I to argue?

It's just as narrow-minded to say that all homosexuality is inborn as it is to say that it is always environmental, or that it is always a "choice".


I'm not sure this is an appropriate post, but I can tell you this and perhaps it will help to quantify your claim: When I was nine or so, sleeping over at my best friend's house, I woke up in the middle of the night with his father's hand down my pants. I've never told a soul, other than an ex-girlfriend, and now, of course, the people who read this blog. (I am anonymous, and it is still a hard thing to share but I like you guys!)

Needless to say, I stopped sleeping over at my friend's house; we moved to another state shortly after and I broke ties all together.

I've churned the event over and over in my head, to a point where I've been able to separate (perhaps abscond) from the little nine-year-old boy. Looking back, my reasoning for keeping quiet was as follows:

1. I was embarrassed and the experience left me feeling weak and vulnerable. I remember thinking (at nine) of how I should have punched him or threatened him. Instead, I just turned on my side and groaned until he left.

2. I didn't feel the “abuse” warranted the trouble it would cause my friend or his family if I was to make a stink. I figured it wasn't that bad – I'll live and it would be much worse on my friend if it came out that his father was sticking his hands down the pants of sleeping nine-year-old boys.

Today, I wonder if I made a mistake. I wonder if that man did things to other boys, or, even worse, to his own son. I wonder if I should have reported him and risked breaking up a family (that I'm sure was, underneath the surface, already in turmoil). This was nearly twenty years ago and I still think about it. It's not a painful memory, just a regretful one.

Keep up the good work guys. I loved your book and the blog is great... and here I thought economics was boring!



jroxz, mike:

I'd assumed the missing percentage were acquaintances/friends/friends of the family/etc.



malisa--Your point is well taken. Thank you.



Why do you assume the victims are girls, in your last paragraph?

Ryan Holiday

The first comment might not be PC but that doesn't mean it isn't valid. Be offended sure, but it's not up for debate--traumatic life experiences are common causes for sexual behavior, whether it be a child who was molest and became a homosexual or a divorced woman of 45 who became a lesbian.

But I don't think that was his real point. The issue he was trying to raise was simple: What are the social effects of having such high molestation rates? We know that such acts dramatically alter development so what does that ultimately mean for our day to day social interaction?


And note please, that "the guy my mom's shacking up with this month" is considered a friend or acquaintance instead of a family member.

Malisa, I too know a man who, for years, had sex with many men. He too traces it back to sexual abuse by an older boy that began when he was quite young (about five or six).

I doubt that he would tell you now that he ever "was" a gay man as a matter of identity or inborn nature or anything else. Sexual abuse (of any kind) commonly screws up sexual behaviors later. He describes himself primarily as having had a screwed up sex life due to being abused. I actually think the promiscuity bothers him more than the gay part of his previous behaviors.

After a lot of (very normal kinds of) talk therapy, he seems to have mostly made peace with his life and entirely gone back to the heterosexual tendencies that he was quite probably born with. (For example, he has been married to a lovely woman for about twenty years, and seems quite satisfied by it.)

I kind of hate to be putting this story out there, because I worry that it will provide false hope to some struggling parents. I doubt that it's a common story -- but as you say, it does happen.



To those who have posted in contrast to first post and homosexuality: thank you. It is pleasant to see people draw lines and who are aware that homosexuality isn't a 'dysfunction.'

This isn't the place for a lengthy debate of the subject, but I did want to add a little a the general conversation.

First, yes I am a gay man, so my thoughts on this are likely biased in that direction. Regarding homosexuality as inborn or not: This is a debate for the ages. Being gay I personally suspect it is a combination of genetic tendency and life experiences that develops a persons sexuality. I don't believe in Kinsey 0's or 6's. We are all somewhere in a gradient, and I think we do ourselves and our culture a disservice when we make flat statements that are unproven (such as 'homosexuality is inborn' or 'homosexuality is a choice'). I think the reality is far more complex and we should treat it as such. Personally, I view my sexuality as a choice, because I like the person I am, and I choose to accept my sexuality without questioning it.

I haven't had time to peruse the entire research paper yet, but I too find the numbers interesting, and a little alarming. I agree with a previous poster that it is possible we are overclassifying 'abusive' behavior. I don't think two young-teens playing doctor is 'abuse' but I've heard many people refer to it as such. I think abuse needs a few factors 1) damage to the abusee, 2) a power or authority dynamic (real or imagined) that enables the abuse. I'd be interested in learning what the criteria of an abuse complaint in the NIBRS is. It may make the data more meaningful to me.

It appears that 1) we do need to show our concern for our children, educate them, and help them to be safe and 2) provide better research into the signs of abuse, and ways to provide therapy. That said, I also worry about children who are raised to be afraid of the world.

If we teach a child that they aren't safe, and that they must always be afraid, are we preparing them to function in the world as adults? And are we giving them the life experiences or tools they need to do so?



@ HTB (#15) -- Don't worry about giving stories of things that have happened. I think it far better to have real life experiences to comprehend, then to speculate and talk about theories with people who don't know what it's like to be a part of the gay community, or to grow up experiencing prejudice and abuse at the hands of their society.

The story you share is relatively uncommon, but the important part of it, is that the gentleman you know came to these conclusions, made adjustments to his life, and entered into a healthy lifestyle of his own volition (with I would hope, the support of therapy, family, and friends.) -- People's sexual preferences and styles change all the time. I firmly believe this is natural, and certainly can at times be linked to specific experiences (abusive or otherwise) in their past.

The caution I would place to those parents who are looking for 'hope' is to realize that it is NOT THEIR CHOICE. Your son or daughter needs to learn who and what he or she is for him or herself. Do not hope that they will be straight, gay, or other. Hope that they can be happy, and give them the support and tools they need to do so. Above all, if they think they might be different in some way, Support their choices and enable them to make healthy ones. Do Not try to destroy them with reparative therapy etc. Let them choose who they are.


Shawn Smith

Not family members, but not strangers = people known to the victim but not family (teachers, priests, counselors, etc.)

Not all that hard to figure out. Come on people.

Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

#10, your post is very relevant and I'm sure many people who read it will feel less ashamed to know that others have endured similar travesties.

Sexual abuse is terrible, no doubt about it. I must add, however, that the way the offenders are often treated by the legal and psychological systems of this country (offenders can be very young, as well) can be wretched. The New York Times, sunday magazine had an excellent, recent article about this. Since many offenders are family members, I think that knowledge of how such treatment of the offenders might be abusive, itself (and the offenders made public, which, in this day and age of the internet, is another horror) might, in many cases, lead to keeping the abuse a secret so as not to cause further trauma to the family (including the victim).


As someone who was sexually abused as a child, and did report it to the police as an adult (19), I can tell you my experience was that numerous other people, male and female, came forward with the fact that he had abused them as well when they were children. None of them had reported it to the police, and none of their information was used to pursue additional charges (though he was convicted in my instance). It is far more widespread that most can ever imagine. So sad.