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Sexual Violence: Risk and Protective Factors

Risk factors are associated with a greater likelihood of sexual violence (SV) perpetration. They are contributing factors and may or may not be direct causes. Not everyone who is identified as "at risk" becomes a perpetrator of violence.

A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of becoming a perpetrator of SV. Understanding these multilevel factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.

NOTE: CDC focuses its efforts on preventing the first-time perpetration of sexual violence. For information on risk and protective factors related to victimization, see the World Report on Violence and Health [PDF 247 KB].

Risk Factors for Perpetration

Individual Risk Factors

  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Coercive sexual fantasies
  • Impulsive and antisocial tendencies
  • Preference for impersonal sex
  • Hostility towards women
  • Hypermasculinity
  • Childhood history of sexual and physical abuse
  • Witnessed family violence as a child

Relationship Factors

  • Association with sexually aggressive and delinquent peers
  • Family environment characterized by physical violence and few resources
  • Strong patriarchal relationship or familial environment
  • Emotionally unsupportive familial environment

Community Factors

  • Lack of employment opportunities
  • Lack of institutional support from police and judicial system
  • General tolerance of sexual violence within the community
  • Weak community sanctions against sexual violence perpetrators

Societal Factors

  • Poverty
  • Societal norms that support sexual violence
  • Societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement
  • Societal norms that maintain women's inferiority and sexual submissiveness
  • Weak laws and policies related to gender equity
  • High tolerance levels of crime and other forms of violence

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Protective Factors for Perpetration

Protective factors may lessen the likelihood of sexual violence victimization or perpetration by buffering against risk. These factors can exist at individual, relational, community, and societal levels.

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Additional Resources

  • Literature Reviews
    • Abbey A, McAuslan P. A longitudinal examination of male college students' perpetration of sexual assault. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2004;72(5): 747-756.
    • Acierno R, Resnick H, Kilpatrick DG, Saunders B, Best CL. Risk factors for rape, physical assault, and post-traumatic stress disorder in women: examination of differential multivariate relationships. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 1999;13:541-63.
    • American Association of University Women Educational Foundation. Hostile hallways: Bullying, teasing, and sexual harassment in school. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women Educational Foundation; 2001. Available from: http://www.aauw.org/research/hostile.cfm
    • American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Report of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2007. Available from: http://www.apa.org/pi/wpo/sexualization.html
    • Borowsky IW, Hogan M and Ireland M. Adolescent sexual aggression: risk and protective factors. Pediatrics. 1997;100;7-DOI:10.1542/peds.100.6.e7
    • Crowell NA, Burgess AW, editors. Understanding violence against women. Washington: National Academy Press;1996.
    • Howard DE, Wang MQ. Risk profiles of adolescent girls who were victims of dating violence. Adolescence. 2003;38(149):1-14.
    • Jewkes R, Sen P, Garcia-Moreno C. Sexual violence. In: Krug E, Dahlberg LL, Mercy JA, et al., editors. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva (Switzerland): World Health Organization; 2002. p. 213-239.
    • Loh C, Gidycz CA, Lobo TR, Luthra R. A prospective analysis of sexual assault perpetration: Risk factors related to perpetrator characteristics. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2005;20(10):1325-1348.
    • Malamuth NM. The confluence model as an organizing framework for research on sexually aggressive men: risk moderators, imagined aggression, and pornography consumption. In: Geen RG, Donnerstein E, editors. Human aggression: theories, research, and implications for social policy. San Diego: Academic Press; 1998. p. 229-45.
    • Rickert VI, Wiemann CM, Vaughan RD, White JW. Rates and risk factors for sexual violence among an ethnically diverse sample of adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 2004;158(12):1132-9.
    • White JW, Smith PH. (2004). Sexual assault perpetration and reperpetration: From adolescence to young adulthood. Criminal Justice and Behavior. 2004;31(2):182-202.

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