Resiliency in the Victim–Offender Cycle in Male Sexual Abuse

  • Ian Lambie
  • Fred Seymour
  • Alan Lee
  • Peter Adams


The prevalence of childhood sexual abuse in child molesters is considerably higher than that in the general population. This finding had led to the “victim–offender cycle” being popularized as an explanation for sexual offending. However, not all child molesters were victimized as children, so it is of interest to examine the factors that contribute to the victim–offender cycle or, conversely, resiliency. This study examined the “moderating factors” that may prevent a male victim of sexual abuse from entering the victim–offender cycle. Two groups were interviewed as part of the study: a “resilient group” (n = 47) and a victim–offender group (n = 41). After correction for age and education level, the resilient group were less likely to have fantasized and masturbated about the abuse, less likely to report deriving pleasure from the abuse, more likely to have had frequent social contact with adolescent peers and to have had more family and nonfamily support during childhood. The findings support the need for multifactorial models of resiliency, the victim–offender cycle, and sexual offending. Recommendations about the prevention of the victim–offender cycle are made, including the need for a thorough systemic assessment of all male victims of sexual abuse and the involvement of their family system in counseling.

victim–offender cycle male sexual abuse resiliency prevention 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Agresti, A. (1992). A survey of exact inference for contingency tables. Statistical Science, 7, 131-177.Google Scholar
  2. Bagley, C. (1989). Prevalence and correlates of unwanted sexual acts in childhood in a national Canadian sample. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 80, 295-296.Google Scholar
  3. Bagley, C., Wood, M., & Young, L. (1994). Victim to victimizer: Mental health and behavioral sequels of child sexual abuse in a community survey of young adult males. Child Abuse and Neglect, 18, 683-697.Google Scholar
  4. Beitchman, J. H., Zucker, K. J., Hood, J. E., da Costa, G. A., & Akman, D. (1991). A review of the short-term effects of child sexual abuse. Child Abuse and Neglect, 15, 537-556.Google Scholar
  5. Briggs, F., & Hawkins, R. M. F. (1996). A comparison of the childhood experiences of convicted male child molesters and men who were sexually abused in childhood and claimed to be nonoffenders. Child Abuse and Neglect, 20, 221-233.Google Scholar
  6. Burgess, A. W., & Hartman, C. R., & McCormack, A. (1987). Abused to abuser: Antecedents of socially deviant behaviors. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 1431-1436.Google Scholar
  7. Caliso, J. A., & Milner, J. S. (1994). Childhood history of abuse, childhood social support, and adult child abuse potential. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 9, 27-44.Google Scholar
  8. Conte, J. R., & Schuerman, J. R. (1987). Factors associated with an increased impact of child sexual abuse. Child Abuse and Neglect, 11, 201-211.Google Scholar
  9. Dhawan, S., & Marshall, W. L. (1996). Sexual abuse histories of sexual offenders. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 8, 7-15.Google Scholar
  10. Dutton, D. G., & Hart, S. D. (1992). Evidence for the long term, specific effects of childhood abuse and neglect on criminal behavior in men. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 36, 129-137.Google Scholar
  11. Everson, M. D., Hunter, W. M., Runyon, D. K., Edelsohn, G. A., & Coulter, M. L. (1989). Maternal support following disclosure of incest.American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 59, 197-207.Google Scholar
  12. Fergusson, D. M., & Lynskey, M. T. (1996). Adolescent resiliency to family adversity. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 281-292.Google Scholar
  13. Finkelhor, D. (1986). Abusers: Special topics. In D. Finkelhor (Ed.), A sourcebook on child sexual abuse (pp. 119-142). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  14. Finkelhor, D., Hotaling, G., Lewis, I. A., & Smith, C. (1990). Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristics, and risk factors. Child Abuse and Neglect, 14, 19-28.Google Scholar
  15. Garland, R. J., & Dougher, M. J. (1988). The abused/abuser hypothesis of child sexual abuse: A critical review of theory and research. In J. R. Feierman (Ed.), Adult human sexual behavior with children and adolescents: Biosocial dimensions (pp. 488-509). New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  16. Garmezy, N. (1985). Stress-resistant children: The search for protective factors. In J. E. Stevenson (Ed.), Recent research in developmental psychopathology (pp. 213-233). Oxford: Pergamon.Google Scholar
  17. Gilgun, J. F. (1990). Resilience and the intergenerational transmission of child sexual abuse. In M. Q. Patton (Ed.), Family sexual abuse: Frontline research and evaluation (pp. 93-105). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  18. Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory strategies for qualitative research. New York: Aldine.Google Scholar
  19. Gomes-Schwartz, B., Horowitz, J. M., Cardarelli, A. P., & Sauzier, M. (1990). The aftermath of child sexual abuse: 18 months later. In B. Gomes-Schwartz, J. M. Horowitz & A. P. Cardarelli (Eds.), Child sexual abuse: The initial effects (pp. 132-152). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  20. Hanson, R. K., & Slater, S. (1988). Sexual victimization in the history of child sexual abusers: Areview. Annals of Sex Research, 1, 485-499.Google Scholar
  21. Henwood, K. L., & Pidgeon, N. F. (1992). Qualitative research and psychological theorising. Journal of Psychology, 83, 97-111.Google Scholar
  22. Herrenkohl, E. C., Herrenkohl, R. C., & Egolf, B. (1994). Resilient early school-age children from maltreating homes: Outcomes in late adolescence. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 64, 301-309.Google Scholar
  23. Kaufman, J., & Zigler, E. (1987). Do abused children become abusive parents? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57, 186-192.Google Scholar
  24. Kendall-Tackett, K. A., Williams, L. M., & Finkelhor, D. (1993). Impact of sexual abuse of children: A review and synthesis of recent empirical studies. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 164-180.Google Scholar
  25. Langeland, W., & Dijkstra, S. (1995). Breaking the intergenerational transmission of child abuse: Beyond the mother-child relationship. Child Abuse Review, 4, 4-13.Google Scholar
  26. Langevin, R., Wright, P., & Handy, L. (1989). Characteristics of sex offenders who were sexually victimized as children. Annals of Sex Research, 2, 227-253.Google Scholar
  27. Lopez, F., Carpintero, E., Hernandez, A., Martin, M. J., & Fuertes, A. (1995). Prevalencia y consecuencias del abuso sexual al menor en Espana. Child Abuse and Neglect, 19, 1039-1050.Google Scholar
  28. Masten, A. S., Best, K. M., & Garmezy, N. (1990). Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 425-444.Google Scholar
  29. Masten, A. S., & Coatsworth, J. D. (1995). Competence, resilience, and psycho-pathology. In D. Cicchetti & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Risk, disorder, and adaptation (Vol. 2, pp. 715-752). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  30. Masten, A. S., & Garmezy, N. (1985). Risk, vulnerability, and protective factors in developmental psychopathology. In B. B. Lahey & A. E. Kazdin (Eds.), Advances in clinical child psychology (Vol. 8, pp. 1-52). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  31. Masten, A. S., Garmezy, N., Tellegen, A., Pellegrini, D., Larkin, K., & Larsen, A. (1988). Competence and stress in school children: The moderating effects of individual and family qualities. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 29, 745-764.Google Scholar
  32. McClellan, J., McCurry, C., Ronnei, M., Adams, J., Eisner, A., & Storck, M. (1996). Age of onset of sexual abuse: Relationship to sexually inappropriate behaviors. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 34, 1375-1383.Google Scholar
  33. Milner, J. S. (1994). Assessing physical child abuse risk: The Child Abuse Potential Inventory. Clinical Psychology Review, 14, 547-583.Google Scholar
  34. Rennie, D. L., Phillips, J. K., & Quartaro, G. K. (1988). Grounded theory: A promising approach to conceptualization in psychology? Canadian Psychology, 29, 139-150.Google Scholar
  35. Rutter, M. (1990). Psychosocial resilience and protective mechanisms. In J. Rolf, A. S. Masten, D. Cicchetti, K. H. Nuechterlein, & S. Weintraub (Eds.), Risk and protective factors in the development of psychopathology (pp. 181-214). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Ryan, G., Miyoshi, T. J., Metzner, J. L., Krugman, R. D., & Fryer, G. E. (1996) Trends in a national sample of sexually abusive youths. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 17-25.Google Scholar
  37. Scudder, R. G., Blount, W. R., Heide, K. M., & Silverman, I. J. (1993). Important links between child abuse, neglect and delinquency. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 37, 315-323.Google Scholar
  38. Spaccarelli, S., & Kim, S. (1995). Resilience criteria and factors associated with resilience in sexually abused girls. Child Abuse and Neglect, 19, 1171-1182.Google Scholar
  39. Spinetta, J., & Rigler, D. (1972). The child-abusing parent: A psychological review. Psychological Bulletin, 77, 296-304.Google Scholar
  40. Strauss, A. L., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  41. Testa, M., Miller, B. A., Downs, W. R., & Panek, D. (1992). The moderating impact of social support following childhood sexual abuse. Violence and Victims, 7, 173-186.Google Scholar
  42. Valentine, L., & Feinauer, L. L. (1993). Resilience factors associated with female survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 21, 216-224.Google Scholar
  43. Werner, E. E. (1989). High risk children in young adulthood: Alongitudinal study from birth to 32 years. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 59, 72-81.Google Scholar
  44. Widom, C. S. (1991). Avoidance of criminality in abused and neglected children. Psychiatry, 54, 162-174.Google Scholar
  45. Widom, C. S., & Ames, M. A. (1994). Criminal consequences of childhood sexual victimization. Child Abuse and Neglect, 18, 303-318.Google Scholar
  46. Williams, L. M., & Finkelhor, D. (1990). The characteristics of incestious fathers: A review of recent studies. In W. L. Marshall, D. R. Laws, & H. E. Barbaree (Eds.), The handbook of sexual assault: Issues, theories, and treatment of the offender (pp. 231-255). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  47. Worling, J. R. (1995). Sexual abuse histories of adolescent sex offenders: Differences based on the basis of the age and gender of their victim. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 104(4), 610-613.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian Lambie
    • 1
    • 2
  • Fred Seymour
    • 1
  • Alan Lee
    • 3
  • Peter Adams
    • 4
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.SAFE ProgrammeUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  3. 3.Statistics DepartmentUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral ScienceUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations