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Sexual Assault Perpetrators

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Sexual Assault Perpetrators

There is no one description of perpetrators of sexual assault and abuse.  Research indicates:

  • Most perpetrators, about 7 in 10, know their victim.  This can be a dating partner, a friend, friend of a friend, neighbor, family member, spouse, coworker, teacher, or any other acquaintance (Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2010-2014) (2015). 
  • Some perpetrators, about 3 in 10, are strangers to the victim (Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2010-2014) (2015).
  • Perpetrators use emotional pressure, grooming behavior, and coercion and/or physical force to commit the assault. Weapons such as gun or knives are rarely used. Perpetrators use personal weapons such as hands, feet or teeth against victims in 2 out of 3 cases (Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. Crime in the United States, 2013) (2014).
  • Perpetrators often commit other crimes such as domestic violence, child abuse, or other sexual assaults. He or she may have a criminal history (Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties, 2009) (2013).
  • A perpetrator can be any race, age, or gender. However, most perpetrators are adult men (Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010) (2013).


    • who are perpetrators

      Perpetrators can be anyone in your life. A perpetrator can be an acquaintance, a stranger, friend, friend-of-a-friend, significant other, spouse, parent or other relative.  In the case of child sexual abuse, the perpetrators can even be older, more powerful children.

      Perpetrators can also be a person who hold positions of trust in your life as a professional, such as a doctor, therapist, coach, teacher, or faith leader.  Perpetrators frequently use and abuse trust as a way to get access to victims. They also take advantage of this trusting relationship to stop victims from reporting the assault or reaching out for help.

    • who commits abuse

      Child sexual abuse is overwhelmingly committed by a person who knows the child, is related to the child or is in a position of trust with the child. They may come from any income level, race, sexual orientation, or faith. Perpetrators may hold positions of respect or power in the community. The media often portrays child sexual abuse as committed by strangers. It is not uncommon for child sexual abuse to be committed by older, more powerful children or juveniles.

    • what causes assault

      The perpetrator. After an assault some people focus on what the victim was doing or not doing before, during and after the assault. Sexual assault victims never cause sexual assault. The focus should be on perpetrator behaviors and choices instead. 

      Those who work with perpetrators and survivors know that perpetrators act in certain ways. They isolate victims or manipulate them into situations where they are unable to find help. They target individuals who appear vulnerable or actively work to make individuals vulnerable.  They create situations where they can claim that the victim is lying about the assault. They may also use their position of power, such as parent, supervisor, boss, doctor, teacher or parent to pressure, coerce and silence victims.

    • how do perps groom

      Grooming is when a perpetrator builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust as a way to commit sexual abuse. Perpetrators may begin with tickling, giving gifts, special attention, taking a child on trips, or using a professional relationship. Once trust is established, perpetrators exploit their relationship to isolate the child from other trusted adults or friends.  They then may slowly progress to talking about sex, showing pornography, touching and continue to escalate to other types of sexual abuse. They may tell the child that their relationship is special, and this is what people do when they have a special relationship. Perpetrators often tell the child that this sexual activity should be just between them and that others may not understand their special relationship. This silences the child and can prevent her or him from telling a trusted adult. Many children blame themselves and worry that no one will believe them if they disclose.

    • what is the role of alcohol

      Perpetrators use alcohol or drugs in two ways. First, they target individuals who are voluntarily using alcohol or drugs. Second, they force or pressure victims to use alcohol or drugs.  Perpetrators do this because they believe it will make it harder for the victim to remember and report the assault. They also use alcohol or drugs to isolate the victim and make others doubt the victim’s report of the assault. 

    • Are perps mentally ill

      Mental illness does not cause sexual assault. As in the general population, some perpetrators are mentally ill. However, the vast majority of people with mental illness do not commit sexual assault.  Perpetrators may target mentally ill individuals to assault because they believe that the victim will not be able to report the assault or their report of assault will not be believed.

    • is sexual assault about sex

      Most perpetrators have access to consensual sexual partners. Researchers and those working with perpetrators and victims typically believe that some perpetrators are looking to control or dominate the victim and use sex to do this. Others just don’t care whether the victim has agreed to sexual contact.