Addressing the Victim to Offender Cycle

Throughout this semester in our class discussions, I have spoken in fragments about my experience working with child victims of sexual abuse. In one particular post, I spoke with another classmate about the unfortunate cycle of victim to perpetrator, which I would like to address later in this post. To first provide some background on my experience, a few summers ago I interned with my prosecutor’s office special victims unit. As this was during the height of COVID, my responsibilities as an intern were unconventional. My primary responsibility was to help digitize old case files from previous years. As a result, I spent a lot of time handling files of cases from years prior. During this assignment, I came to the frightening realization of how commonplace these occurrences are. To that extent, my entire worldview began to shift when I realized I was in one county, of one city, of one state, of an unfathomably large world. 

As a second responsibility, I was tasked with sitting in on victim interviews. To be more specific, while an SVU detective would interview a victim, I and one or two other staff would sit in another room that provided a live visual and auditory feed of the interview. I was charged with taking notes and documenting body language or subtle cues that the detective may have missed. As I sat in on these interviews and heard in real time these emotional and unsettling testimonies from children, a callous and apathetic outlook of offenders began to form. 

I have often heard and echoed the notion that children, boys in particular, who are the victims of sexual assault, are now at a greater risk of committing the same act. Upon further research into the subject, I have learned that this sentiment actually does more harm than good to survivors of sexual abuse. The “victim to offender cycle” is complex and can not be simplified to such a degree. To understand the complexity and nuances of the cycle, we must review the research on sexual offending. First, the gender of the offender: males commit roughly 80% of offenses among boys and 96% of offenses among girls (2018). Second, risk factors of adults who have offended, these individuals tend to: 

“Show greater aggression and violence, non-violent criminality, anger/hostility, substance abuse, paranoia/mistrust, and have diagnosable antisocial personality disorders… Be more likely to show anxiety, depression, low self-esteem… Generally have more problematic sexual patterns (including fantasies and sexualized coping strategies)… Have low social skills/competence… Have poorer histories of family functioning, including more harsh discipline, poorer attachment or bonding, and generally worse functioning of their family of origin, including physical abuse, and sexual abuse…” (2018). 

The reality is, there are many factors at play regarding sexual offending. Significantly, research suggests that most men who have committed an offense were not sexually abused previously. Therefore, an important distinction must be emphasized between “risk” and “causation” — for those who are at a “higher risk” for later offending does not mean their victimization will be the one and only “cause”. A study in the UK that examined future offending in boys who were sexually abused found that 88% did not go until commit any sexual offenses (2018). 

The streamlined ideology of “victims are now likely to be offenders later in life” is ubiquitous in our society. This creates a stigma for survivors. If you are the victim of abuse, in speaking about your experience, you may also be labeled as “someone who is likely to offend”. As a result, a victim might refrain from disclosing their abuse due to the fear of being viewed as a potential offender (2018). This ideology can also generate thoughts and feelings in survivors of being “contaminated” or the “vampire effect”. Specifically, boys and young men may feel the need to be hyper-vigilant of their own thoughts or feelings for fear that they may become “possessed” (2018). Besides being victimized, this dread of later offending has interpersonal ramifications such as “developing intimate relationships, marrying, having children, becoming fully involved in parenting, bathing or changing the nappy of their children, playing with or coming into contact with children, from relaxing, and from trusting in themselves” (2018). 

As I mentioned previously, I too have contributed to this misconception. Unfortunately, it is a widely uncontested and accepted notion. However, the propagation of this idea does harm to actual survivors. This idea continues to persist because of its simple form factor. Unfortunately, it is easier to tolerate and believe this idea rather than the fact that we live in a world where people make the intentional decision to sexually abuse a child. 



Addressing the victim to offender cycle. Living Well. (2018, February 13). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from

View all posts