The Perpetrator a Stranger in One-quarter of Child Sexual Abuse Cases
In Sweden, child sexual abuse is committed by strangers more than one-quarter of the time. Researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy 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.
Learning more about sex offenders is vitally important if we are to treat the perpetrators in a constructive way.
The typical victim in Sweden is a girl age 15 or younger who has been abused by a relative or acquaintance. This is shown by researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, that have reviewed the records of 196 people convicted of child sexual abuse in Västra Götaland County of 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,” Ms. Carlstedt says. “Among the most common offenses were indecent exposure, masturbation and sexual harassment.”
The study also 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 outside of Sweden 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,” Ms. Carlstedt says. “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 Ms. Carlstedt’s 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,” Ms. Carlstedt says, “if we are to treat them in a constructive manner and improve the results of forensic psychiatrists.”
Ms. Carlstedt defended her doctoral thesis, entitled “Child Sexual Abuse: Crimes, Victims, Offender Characteristics, and Recidivism,” on October 5, 2012.
Link to thesis: http://hdl.handle.net/2077/29705
Anita Carlstedt, Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg
Cell: +46 709 718 449
Phone: +46 31 343 87 32
The Sahlgrenska Academy is the faculty of health sciences at the University of Gothenburg. Education and research are conducted within the fields of pharmacy, medicine, odontology and health care sciences. About 4,000 undergraduate students and 1,200 postgraduate students are enrolled at Sahlgrenska Academy. Around 1,400 people work at the Sahlgrenska Academy. 850 of them are researchers and/or teachers. 2009 Sahlgrenska Academy had a turnover of 2,100 million SEK.