Study Finds that Child Sex Abuse Survivors Not Uniquely at Risk to Become Sex Offenders – Professor Cathy Spatz Widom’s Research Featured in JAMA Pediatrics

Widom photo 2010  (1)Childhood sexual abuse does not pose a uniquely heightened risk for future arrests for sex crimes, according to “A Prospective Examination of Whether Childhood Sexual Abuse Predicts Subsequent Sexual Offending,” a recent paper co-authored by Cathy Spatz Widom, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at John Jay College, and doctoral student Christina Massey. This research, funded by the National Institute of Justice, was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association-Pediatrics (JAMA Pediatrics).

The researchers examined the records of 908 cases of abused and neglected children from 1967 to 1971 and matched them with 667 control individuals – non-abused and non-neglected children – from the same metropolitan area. Individuals from both groups were followed into middle age (median age, 51 years). Of those with arrests for sex crimes, 6.61% had records that included only sex offenses and only 9.52% of the sex offenders met the criteria for sex crime specialization. Individuals with histories of childhood abuse and neglect were, generally, at an increased risk for being arrested for sex crimes, compared with the control individuals. However, for individuals with histories of childhood sexual abuse, the increase in risk for arrest for sex crimes did not reach a statistical significance.

Physically abused and neglected boys had an increased risk of being arrested for a sex crime as an adult. However, sexually abused children of both genders were not at unique risk.  Most individuals arrested for a sex crime also had arrests for other types of offenses.

The authors conclude, “These results do not provide support for the common belief that being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse carries with it unique increase in the risk for becoming a sex offender, contrary to some public policy and administrative practices of jurisdictions where children may have been stigmatized, placed in restrictive settings, or barred from schools.”  They suggest that early intervention programs should target children with a history of physical abuse and neglect.

For more information about the study, click here.

JAMA Pediatrics , formerly Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, and before that, American Journal of Diseases of Children, is the oldest continuously published pediatric journal in the country, dating back to 1911. It is an international peer-reviewed medical journal published 12 times per year by American Medical Association. It covers original clinical and basic research on all aspects of pediatrics.

About John Jay College of Criminal Justice: An international leader in educating for justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York offers a rich liberal arts and professional studies curriculum to upwards of 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations. In teaching, scholarship and research, the College approaches justice as an applied art and science in service to society and as an ongoing conversation about fundamental human desires for fairness, equality and the rule of law. For more information, visit