Child abuse increases risk for later sexually coercive behavior in some men

October 21, 2008

Boys who experienced childhood physical or sexual abuse are more likely to use sexually coercive behavior against an unwilling female partner when they are adolescents and young adults.

Researchers trying to identify factors that put men at risk for committing sexual coercion have found that being victims of both childhood physical and sexual abuse made them 4 ½ times more likely to engage in sexually coercive behavior than men who were not abused, said Erin Casey, a University of Washington Tacoma assistant professor of social work.

She emphasized that this study focused on sexually coercive behavior, defined in this study as insisting on or making someone have sex when they didn't want to.

"Although there can be physical force involved in sexual coercion, it more often involves such tactics as pressure, persuasion, insistence, manipulation and lying to have sex with an unwilling female partner."

Men who experienced some form of childhood abuse accounted for less than 30 percent of the nearly 5,650 males surveyed, but they accounted for 45 percent of the group reporting sexually coercive behavior, added Casey, the lead author of a new study appearing in the online edition of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Men who experienced only physical abuse were half again as likely to engage in sexual coercion as those who were not victimized. The number of men who experienced only sexual abuse as a child was too small, less than one-half of 1 percent, to make any valid statistical conclusions.

"The higher the frequency of childhood abuse the more likely an adolescent or young adult was to engage in sexually coercive behavior," she said. However, Casey stressed that this study and previous research have found that the majority of child abuse survivors do not use abusive behavior in adulthood.

The study also found that 55 percent of the men who reported coercive behavior did not experience any childhood sexual or physical abuse.

"There is a lot of evidence indicating sexual coercion and aggression is a complex behavior with an array of risk factors. There is this whole group of men for whom we have yet to fully understand what their risk factors are. They are relatively 'average' men without terrible childhood histories, but who engage in this hurtful behavior," Casey said.

UW researchers used data collected in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which is a representative survey of more than 20,000 young people. These youth were interviewed three times over a six-year period, starting when their average age was 16.

For the sexual coercion study, the sample consisted of 5,649 young men surveyed when they were 22 and who reported they had had sex at least once in their lifetimes and were exclusively heterosexual. A total 5.6 percent reported perpetuating sexual coercion with a female intimate partner.

The UW researchers found two other factors – delinquent behavior and the age they first had sex – that, coupled with childhood abuse, were risks for committing later sexual coercion. Men who experienced childhood sexual abuse were more likely to report becoming sexually active at a young age and going on to sexually coercive behavior. Physical abuse in childhood was associated with delinquency among a small number of adolescent boys. Previous research has found that delinquent peer groups may engage in such behaviors as "trash-talking about girls and having impersonal attitudes about sexual relationships," Casey said.

In addition, the study found no link between alcohol problems or the coexistence of drinking and sex in early adolescence and subsequent sexually coercive behavior.

"Although we have prevention programs for general populations, like college students, those programs don't reliably change attitudes, and so far have had very little success in reducing rates of sexual assault. We need to understand more about what allows 'average' guys to use this hurtful behavior in order to enhance our prevention efforts. We really don't have all the data we need to understand the true prevalence of this behavior," she said.

Source: University of Washington

Explore further: What characteristics do school shooters share?

Related Stories

What characteristics do school shooters share?

October 19, 2017
Boys involved in school shootings often struggle to live up to what they perceive as their school's ideals surrounding masculinity. When socially shunned at school, they develop deep-set grudges against their classmates and ...

Doctors urged to make public commitment to talk to patients about guns and gun safety

October 17, 2017
As guardians of health and gatekeepers to the world of medicine, primary care doctors are expected to plunge dauntlessly into the most delicate topics with their patients. Now, in the wake of the worst mass shooting in recent ...

Teens and domestic violence

October 5, 2017
October is recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness month, and although domestic violence is mostly associated with adults, an expert at Baylor College of Medicine says teens too often experience this type of abuse.

Why having the sex talk early and often with your kids is good for them

October 10, 2017
Parents may be uncomfortable initiating "the sex talk," but whether they want to or not, parents teach their kids about sex and sexuality. Kids learn early what a sexual relationship looks like.

Drinking to cope with stress may increase risk of alcohol problems

September 20, 2017
It can be tempting for some to reach for a cold beer after a stressful day, but drinking alcohol to relieve stress could potentially lead to drinking problems down the road, according to Penn State researchers.

Research on substance use among transgender students in California

August 15, 2017
Chapman University has published research on substance abuse among transgender students in California. The research looked at students in middle and high schools in nearly every school district in California. Results showed ...

Recommended for you

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.