Risk and Protective Factors for Perpetration of Sexual Violence

While there hasn’t been a lot of research on risk for individuals to commit sexual violence, the World Health Organization and the Centre for Disease Control have identified a number of risk and protective factors.[Adapted from the Centre for Disease Control: A systematic qualitative review of risk and protective factors for sexual violence perpetration. Trauma Violence Abuse. CDC reports that research examining risk and protective factors for SV perpetration at the community and societal levels remains very limited. Risk factors in their report at the individual and relationship levels have been consistently supported by research.  The risk factors identified at community and societal levels are more theoretically derived and based on findings from the World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health.]

Risk factors are associated with a greater likelihood of sexual violence perpetration. They are contributing factors that might not be direct causes. Not everyone who is identified as “at risk” becomes a perpetrator of violence. Statistics Canada reports that 97% of reported sexual assaults are committed by men. Corrections Canada reports that 10% of estimated sexual offenders are female.

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

Individual Risk Factors

  • Childhood history of sexual and physical abuse
  • Alcohol and drug use can impair judgement and escalate sexual offending behaviour
  • Coercive sexual fantasies
  • Early sexual initiation
  • Trouble with the law
  • Impulsive and antisocial tendencies
  • Preference for impersonal sex and sexual risk-taking
  • Exposure to sexually explicit media
  • Hostility towards woman
  • A sense of entitlement to have sex
  • Hyper-masculinity
  • Witnessed family violence as a child
  • Suicidal behaviour

Relationship Factors

  • Association with sexually aggressive peers
  • Family environment characterized by physical violence and few resources
  • Strong patriarchal relationship where the man is the ‘king of the castle’
  • Emotionally unsupportive family environment
  • Poor parent-child relationships, particularly with fathers
  • Involvement in a violent or abusive intimate relationship

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 causes people to struggle to survive
  • 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 by buffering against risk. These factors can exist at individual, relational, community, and societal levels. Research in this area is ongoing.

The few protective factors identified by researchers to date are:

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

Further Reading & Resources