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Thursday, July 16, 1998 Published at 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK


When the abused turns abuser

Violence in early childhood may be a factor in future child abuse

Victims of sexual abuse who have experienced violence in the family are more likely to turn abuser in later life, according to new research.

A study of 25 teenage boys who had been sexually abused found that experiencing or witnessing violence in the family was the most significant difference between those who became abusers and those who did not.

All 11 of the boys who became abusers had either seen or been the victim of family violence.

Only four of the remaining 14 boys had witnessed aggression in their early life. Another risk factor for abusers was being put into care or moved around in early life.

Cycle of abuse

The researchers from the Institute of Child Health, Great Ormond Street Hospital and the University of Southampton interviewed the boys' peers and mothers.

[ image: Most children who are abused do not become abusers]
Most children who are abused do not become abusers
They also assessed them for testosterone levels and put them through psychotherapy sessions.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Professor David Skuse, one of the researchers, says further research is needed. But he thinks the findings may be important for the management of sexually abused boys and for breaking the cycle of abuse.

Predisposition to abuse

Previously it was thought that children, particularly boys, with a history of sexual abuse were more likely to abuse in the future.

The research shows that other risk factors may be involved and states that most victims of abuse do not go on to abuse.

"The risk of adolescent boys who have been victims of sexual abuse engaging in sexually abusive behaviour towards other children is increased by life circumstances which may be unrelated directly to the original abusive experience, in particular, exposure to a climate of inter-familial violence," he says.

Estimates of the extent of child sexual abuse vary between 3 and 37% for boys and 6 and 62% for girls. Mental health problems, such as depression, are often a legacy of abuse.

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