Helpline Sexual Abuse:


0800-22 55 530 Free of charge and anonymous

details Office hours:Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 9.00 a.m. until 2.00 p.m.Tuesday, Thursday: 3.00 p.m. until 8.00 p.m.(Except on public holidays and on 24th and 31st December.)
Calls will be answered anonymously. In this context, both, the calling parties and also the team working at the helpline Sexual Abuse will remain anonymous. Compliance with data protection provisions will be guaranteed at any time.
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What is the perpetrators' strategy?

Who is most affected?

Both girls and boys can be victims of sexual violence, although the number of female victims is higher. Basically, any child and any minor can fall prey to sexual violence. However, there are special risks factors that the abusers identify and selectively exploit as part of their predatory strategy:

  • When girls and boys are often left alone, they take advantage of their need for warmth and security. They feign interest in them, take time for them and listen to them. They give them gifts, buying things that their parents are unable or unwilling to pay for.
  • Children from authoritarian and hierarchical families are easy prey for the perpetrators. They perceive adults as authority figures they must obey without questioning and struggle to set boundaries.
  • Children and adolescents who suffer or witness violence in their family are more likely to be abused than those for whom the overstepping of role boundaries is not commonplace.
  • Girls and boys who have been taught that sexuality is sinful and may not be talked about are selectively targeted. These victims present a small risk of detection since they are unlikely to dare tell anyone.
  • Being brought up in line with traditional gender roles also spells a risk for children and adolescents. Boys who must always be strong and have learned to ignore their feelings have great problems opening up about their experiences, since the victim role is at odds with their self-image. Girls raised to be submissive and care about the needs of others are at a particular risk since they have the docility perpetrators desire.
  • Girls and boys with a history of abuse are at risk of being revictimised if this history has impaired their ability to feel and defend their personal boundaries.
  • The risk of abuse is clearly higher for children and minors with disabilities or mental health problems.  

Who are the perpetrators?

In approx. 80 to 90 per cent of sexual abuse cases, the perpetrators are male, in about 10 to 20 per cent female. These rates are also borne out by international studies. 

There is no one abuser profile. Male abusers come from all social classes, live as heterosexuals or homosexuals and differ in no outer way from non-abusing males. In many cases, they have taken on the role of father or stepfather to the girl they are abusing. Boys are more often sexually abused outside the family by persons they know. Little research has been done so far in Germany into female perpetrators. Sexual abuse by females causes the victim just as much harm as by males; the acts are similar. However, sexual abuse by females is more likely to go undetected since women are unusual suspects.    

What are the reasons for sexual abuse?

Different cause models stress different factors that can lead to a person sexually abusing children or adolescents. A major motive for sexual abuse is the desire to act out power and to experience a feeling of superiority. Some male offenders and few female offenders are also sexually fixated on children (pedosexuality) which means that they - unlike most offenders - are almost not or not at all sexually attracted to adults. The commonly heard verdict “they are all sick people” is wrong. Moreover, children and minors might misinterpret it to mean that the offender is not really responsible for his or her deeds. Even if, in exceptional cases, a pathological disorder is at the root of a sexual assault, perpetrators still bear the sole responsibility for their behaviour. 

What role do the victim’s surroundings have for the offender?

Offenders always also abuse the trust of the other family members and their social environment. They selectively manipulate the perception of the child’s attachment figures so that nobody would believe they are capable of abuse and nobody sees the first signs for what they are. Even when sexual abuse inside the family becomes impossible to deny, family members are unlikely to interfere because the offenders tend to hold positions of power in the family. This is often compounded not only by the emotional ties to the offender, but also by the fear that the family will be destroyed and social outcasts.

Sexual offenders outside the family often gravitate to jobs that give them access to children without raising suspicion. They benefit from the good reputation of the acknowledged educational, sports or religious facilities where they work and from the trust the parents place in them. They frequently stand out for their educational skills and make an effort to be popular with children and colleagues or team members. So they try to make sure that nobody listens when the first rumours of misconduct come up.  

What is the perpetrators' strategy?

Most perpetrators do not act spontaneously but plan their steps so carefully that that these are referred to as “offender grooming strategies”. They selectively target children and minors by scanning their interests and weaknesses. Or they focus on girls and boys whose trust they already have or could easily gain.

  • Isolation

The offenders isolate the children and adolescents from their family or other children by favouring them or talking badly about friends and persons of trust. This way, they cut them off from help.

  • Progressively more intense abuse

Abuse often starts with slight, seemingly accidental brushing or touching. The victims frequently dismiss it as unintended because they are not sure if their hunch was real or only imagined. At this early stage already, the girls and boys become deeply confused. Then the abusers gradually step up their offending behaviour. The victims find it increasingly difficult to reject it because they had not fought against the beginnings of the abusive behaviour.  

  • Bribes and secrecy

Many girls and boys are given presents or special attention so that they feel obliged to the offender. Most commonly, the latter “spins” the abuse as a special secret they share with the child or adolescent to prevent them from disclosing it. 

  • Intimidation and guilt to exert pressure

Moreover, the girls and boys are intimidated (“or else your pet will get hurt”) and frightened with the full consequences of disclosure (“That would make your mother very ill and unhappy. Surely you don’t want that.”) Moreover, many offenders manage to evoke a feeling of complicity in the children and youth: “But you did not mind us being together in the locker room, so why do you want to tell that around now?” They make the girls or boys feel guilty and that they themselves are to blame for the abuse.   

Sexueller Missbrauch

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