A cognitive coping model to explain the victim-to-offender phenomenon in the sexual abuse of males

William James Ballantyne (1992)

One outcome of research over the past decade concerning the sexual abuse of children is the realization that many offenders against children were themselves sexually victimized earlier in their lives. In spite of the growing awareness of this co-occurrence of being a victim and subsequently becoming an offender, there is no consistent theory which helps to explain the relationship of these two experiences, thus, there is no clear understanding of the victim-to-offender phenomenon in child sexual abuse. One difficulty stems from the fact that most studies of victims focus on females and most offender studies focus on males. Examination of an individual's overlapping experience of victim and offender is hindered because the prevailing views of victims and offenders are exclusive. Furthermore, evaluation of the relationship between these two experiences has been precluded since the frameworks do not allow for an individual moving from one category to the other or residing in both categories simultaneously. I argue in this theoretical dissertation that application of a cognitive coping model will greatly expand our understanding of the responses of sexual abuse victims, including an explanation of why some sexually abused children subsequently target other children for sexual behavior and why others do not. This cognitive adaptation model also provides for an understanding of the outcome in which children show no residual signs of distress following their experience of being sexually targeted. The key, according to this model, is found in the individual's cognitive appraisal of his experience of being targeted for sexual behavior. This paper will emphasize the value of examining the victim-to-offender experience, since this allows us to increase our understanding of one of the recognized, but as yet unexplored, etiological pathways for the child sexual abuser. As a result of using the cognitive coping model, the motives for an abuse victim offending against another child is more readily apparent. Chief among these appear to be attempts to escape from the disempowerment and stigmatization that frequently are experienced by children encountering unsolicited sexual behavior. Since most identified sexually aggressive children were previously sexually abused, I assert that examination of the social cognition of children who have been targeted for sexual activity will also have a number of positive clinical implications, including enhancement of treatment skills and the availability of data for primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention of child sexual abuse.