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.

Risk Factors for Perpetration

Individual Risk Factors

  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Delinquency
  • Lack of empathy
  • General aggressiveness and acceptance of violence
  • 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 environment characterized by physical violence and conflict
  • 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

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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.

  • Parental use of reasoning to resolve family conflict
  • Emotional health and connectedness
  • Academic achievement
  • Empathy and concern for how one’s actions affect others

See Sexual Violence Resources for articles and publications about risk and protective factors for sexual violence. 

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Page last reviewed: February 26, 2019