Risk and Protective Factors

Risk factors are linked to a greater likelihood of sexual violence (SV) perpetration. They are contributing factors and might 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 factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.

CDC focuses on preventing the first-time perpetration of SV. Watch Moving Forward to learn more about how increasing what protects people from violence and reducing what puts people at risk for it benefits everyone.

Risk Factors for Perpetration

Individual Risk Factors

  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Delinquency
  • Lack of concern for others
  • Aggressive behaviors and acceptance of violent behaviors
  • Early sexual initiation
  • Coercive sexual fantasies
  • Preference for impersonal sex and sexual-risk taking
  • Exposure to sexually explicit media
  • Hostility towards women
  • Adherence to traditional gender role norms
  • Hyper-masculinity
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Prior sexual victimization or perpetration

Relationship Factors

  • Family history of conflict and violence
  • Childhood history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Emotionally unsupportive family environment
  • Poor parent-child relationships, particularly with fathers
  • Association with sexually aggressive, hypermasculine, and delinquent peers
  • Involvement in a violent or abusive intimate relationship

Community Factors

  • Poverty
  • 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

  • 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 sexual violence and gender equity
  • High levels of crime and other forms of violence

 

Protective Factors for Perpetration

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

  • Families where caregivers work through conflicts peacefully
  • Emotional health and connectedness
  • Academic achievement
  • Empathy and concern for how one’s actions affect others
  1. Tharp, A. T., DeGue, S., Valle, L. A., Brookmeyer, K. A., Massetti, G. M., & Matjasko, J. L. (2013). A systematic qualitative review of risk and protective factors for sexual violence perpetration. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 14(2), 133-167. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838012470031
Page last reviewed: February 5, 2021