Sexual abusers are generally known to the victims of abuse.

Like all abusers, sexual abusers have no concept of boundaries so they invade with impunity. Often their boundaries are sexualised. This situation leads to sexual addictions like pornography, exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, indecent behaviours, and serious sexual crimes. Henry Cloud and John Townsend describe this abuser as ‘a tyrant, demanding and insatiable’. He may also be a strong consumer of alcohol.

I believe that sexual abusers are more easily able to perpetrate this appalling violence, because they do not understand the concept of intimacy. Their feelings are frozen, and this deprives them of pity or comprehending the consequence of violating another person in a very intimate way.

Obtaining statistics to give an accurate picture on sexual abuse is difficult since most studies are about adults who experienced abuse as children. But, we can say that sexual abuse is pervasive, and behind these statistics lie innumerable stories of brutality and pain. People of every age, class, race, and occupation are targets. Neither tiny infants nor the elderly are exceptions to sexual abuse. The 2002 SAVI (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland) report provides valuable insight into sexual abuse in Ireland. This was a research project carried out by the Health Services Research Centre, Department of Psychology, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland on behalf of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre This 350-page document shows that 25% of women and 12% of men over 17 years of age experienced adult sexual abuse of some kind. These statistics reflect what is happening globally. It is conservatively estimated that 25% of American women and about 10% of men have been sexually assaulted in adolescence and adulthood. The majority of perpetrators of sexual abuse seem to be male. The abusers of male victims are normally heterosexual. Despite the huge number of victims, sexual abuse is under-reported, and statistics from Canada show that less than 10% of women report sexual assault. Only a tiny percentage of men report it.

It is significant that over 70% of perpetrators are dating partners, friends, authority figures, neighbours, partners, spouses, or family friends of the victims. A small number of young adults experience sexual assault from sports coaches.

Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

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